Günter Grass (1927-2015)

günter-grass-2012Though best known as a novelist, artist & polemicist, Grass was also a poet. A good obit here, an excellent article here & his last interview here in the Guardian. Salman Rushdie tweeted: “This is very sad. A true giant, inspiration, and friend. Drum for him, little Oskar.” (See also Rushdie’s piece in The New Yorker). I will reread some of the work, and watch Schlöndorf’s  film version of “The Tin Drum.” Here some of his poems translated by Jerome Rothenberg, from the latter’s New Young German Poets (City Lights, 1959):


When the silence seemed to have been subdued,
Aurelius came with the bone.
See my flute and my white shirt,
see the giraffe peering over the fence,
that’s my kin that’s listening.
Now I’m going to beat down all those thrushes.

When the yellow dog ran over the meadow
the concert died out.
Nobody ever found the bone after that.
The notes were laid out under the chairs,
the concertmaster raised his air-rifle
and shot down all the blackbirds.


The shoes are on the bottom.
They stand in terror of a beetle
On title way out,
Of a penny on the way back in,
Of a beetle and a penny on which they can step
Till it makes an impression.
On top is the Kingdom of Headwear.
Head where it’s safe. Head nowhere.
Impossible feathers,
Tell me the bird’s name,
Where did his eyes roll
When he found himself trapped in so much color?
The tiny white balls, asleep in the pockets,
Are dreaming of moths.
Here a button was lost,
The snake in the girdle grew tired.
Sorrowful silk,
Asters and other highly combustible flowers,
Autumn transformed to a dress.
Every Sunday stuffed full of meat and the
Salt of ruffled panties.
Before the wardrobe grows still, turns wooden,
A distant kin of the pine tree —
Who’s going to wear your topcoat
Someday when you’re dead?
Moving an arm through your sleeve.
And every movement so friendly?
Who will turn up your collar on top,
Will continue to stand in front of the pictures,
And be alone under the windy bell?


The Clock

The doll is playing with the minutes,
but no one’s playing with the doll —
unless the clock should take three steps
and then say, Nana, Nana, Nana, Nana …

The Hairdresser

The doll is playing with the rain,
she braids it, she covers her ears with its locks,
then she pulls out a comb from a miniature box,
and combs the rain with the comb.

A Full Moon in March

The doll wakes up, the children are asleep,
the moon’s entangled in the curtains,
the doll helps out by shaking the curtains,
the moon plays possum and the doll wakes up.

A Humid Day

The doll got a yardstick sent as a gift,
it was yellow so she played Hurricane.
When it bent she got lightning without any hitch,
but making it thunder was really a bitch.


The doll discovered a hollow tooth,
she dropped it into a glass.
The glass blew up, but the tooth was safe,
so it bit the leg of a chair in half.


The doll is playing with a spider,
the spider has a yo yo.
The doll is yanking the line, this could give us all a rough time,
so much depends on a line.


The doll is happy, celluloid!
the roof drops water on her head
and makes a hole —
the doll is happy, celluloid!


The doll is playing with the market,
currencies and poplars quiver.
The leaves drop down like colored bonds,
the deutschmark’s up the river.

At the Zoo

The doll rode up to the zoo
and stared an owl in the eye.
Since then the doll’s had mice on the brain,
if it only was pre-owlic times again.

The Longest Song

The doll is singing the carpet.
But because the carpet has so many stanzas
the doll will soon be hotter than that —
who knows the last line of the carpet?

Careful Love

The doll sat under the grownups’ bed and dug every sound.
When she decided to try it out with the rocking horse
she kept on repeating, during the breaks:
Be careful what you’re doing, man, be careful what you’re doing!

Lousy Marksman

The doll was nailed on a piece of wood
and bombarded with darts —
but none of them hit her
because she blinked.

The Torso

The doll wound up without any arms,
and after her legs had migrated too,
she thought for a long time whether to stay in this country —
when she stayed, well, she said, what could be better than Europe?


The doll grew so tall she could look over the dresser.
Each time the ball bounced she just couldn’t help feeling gay
where she was. The children down below refused to believe it:
they never would have dreamed their doll would act that way!

Doll’s Last Sermon

Now that the doll has spoken out, the weary slotmachines
grow dumb, they stop rattling peppermints,
the houses crumble to their knees
and turn devout — and all because the doll has spoken out.


The doll fell into the tea,
dissolved like sugar in that tea —
and whoever drank her got all dolled up
till everyone looked like everyone’s doll.

In Memoriam

This doll will cost you a dollar ten —
at that price she doesn’t look bad at all.
But if you want prettier dollies,
then you’ll have to pay more than a dollar ten.

GASCO,  or

In back of our town
there’s a toad who squats on
    the gasworks
when he breathes in and out
    we can cook

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