War

He is risen, who lay long asleep,
Risen again from caverns deep.
In the twilight, the towers, huge and unknown,
And with one black hand, he crushes the moon.

Across the cities’ evening noise and crush
Fall frost and shadow -a strange dark hush.
The markets’ ceaseless milling freezes and slows.
Each man stares at his neighbor, why, no one knows.

Every man on the street feels a grip on his arm
Like an unanswered question -and pales with alarm.
From far off, a jangle, like bells, faint and thin,
Make the beard hairs stiffen on every chin.

On the mountain peaks, he begins his dance
Crying: “Up all you warriors! Out of your trance!”
Every toss of his head brings an echoing clang
From the thousand skulls that in chains around him hang.

Towering, he stamps out the twilight’s last gleam
Where rivers of blood already stream.
In the reeds, countless bodies lie empty of breath
White flecked and covered by the strong birds of death.

Through the night he drives fire over field and farm,
A red pack with wild mouths all baying alarm.
Out of the dark springs the black world of night
Lit by frightful volcanoes to left and right.

Flames pointed like nightcaps, he flings far and wide
Over the dark plain on every side.
And the roads’ surging swarm of refugees
He hurls into firestorms of blazing trees.

Grove after grove is devoured in turn
By wild sparks -yellow bats that cling tightly and burn.
He wields his great rod with a charcoal man’s skill
Poking, stoking each log to flare up with a will.

A great city, strangled in a thick yellow mist,
Hurtles soundlessly down in the deep abyss.
On the smoldering ruin he stands, arm raised high
Whirling his torch three times through the wild sky

High up past the storm-tattered clouds’ shining face
Into the cold desert darkness of space
To shrivel and scar night itself with his brand
While fire and brimstone rain down on the land.

– Unpublished English Poetry translation –
Original in German by Georg Heym 1911 “Der Krieg” (The War)

20 thoughts on “War

  1. This poem takes my breath away, Bridget. Current circumstances in Ukraine take my breath away, and buckle my knees. This poem says what I do not have the ability to say on my own. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

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