Three poems by Alfons Petzold (translated by William Ruleman)

Vision

Knolls of shot-up bones rise everywhere
Amid this fiery, fog-filled dream
From which a broken sun and stars both stare
Like gaping wounds, with bloody gleam.

Houses shatter, fade without a trace,
While heaped-up corpses make a gruesome mound.
A strange new day commences in this place
As bride and mother rake the smoking ground.

VISION

Allenthalben erheben sich Berge zerschossener Knochen
In einen brandigen Nebel hinein.
Daraus starren Sonne und Sterne zerbrochen,
Wie klaffende Wunden mit blutigem Schein.

Häuser zerbersten, schwinden spurlos von hinnen,
Körper auf Körper häuft sich zu grausiger Wand.
Auf den Feldern begibt sich ein seltsam Beginnen,
Mütter und Bräute zerharken das rauchende Land.


Deserters

Their faces wear the pain in their homeland’s heart.
Their earth is razed by flames, stained by the foam
Of frothy blood. Not one could bear to part
From all the drabbest, quaintest things back home.

Carted back in trains for cattle, coal,
They stand there, hushed amid the platform’s rush,
And shake in fear of what they can’t control:
The threat of death inside that stony crush.

Only the curious look around; shame creeps
All through the tired to make their gazes sink.
Then, from the gaping crowd, some kid’s head peeps
And offers stale trough water for them to drink.

To all deserters, courage comes the way
A child is struck by the spirit of bashful love.
They take their bundles up, stride through the fray
Of the strident city’s angry push and shove.

FLÜCHTLINGE

Sie tragen die Qual ihrer Heimat im Gesicht,
Über deren Erde Blutschaum flockt und Flammen rennen.
Viele von ihnen konnten sich nicht
Von den seltsamsten Dingen ihres Hausrates trennen.

In Vieh- und Kohlenwagen hergekarrt,
Stehen sie stumm im wirren Bahnsteiggedränge,
In schauernder Furcht, was ihrer harrt
In der fremden, steinernen Enge.

Nur Neugierige sehn um sich; es schleicht
Scham durch die Müden und läßt ihre Blicke sinken.
Da tritt ein Kind aus dem Kreise der Gaffer und reicht
Einem alten Bauern Wasser zu trinken.

Allen Flüchtlingen kommt es auf einmal vor,
Als wäre das Kind der Geist einer schüchternen Liebe.
Sie raffen die Bündel auf und schreiten mutig durchs Tor
Hinein in das lärmende Straßengetriebe. 

An Evening Song in Wartime

Day has faded now.
Sunset’s golden red
Has paled upon her brow
As if she lay there dead.
Flocks of stars now girth
The evening with their host
Of lights to give the earth
Its spirit’s feeble ghost

Which has grown so poor
And bears such evil pain
Now this wretched war
Roars over hill and plain.
Shame’s all she can give
Of day’s bright glow and spark.
What’s left of her to live
She’s glad to shroud in dark.

No doubt horrors flare
In village, town all round,
So many lie out there
Who’ll soon sleep underground.
While the oil lamps sing,
Women strain to hear
If the wind will bring
Some distant dear one near.

Yet caught up in this hell,
Corrupted like the rest,
He watches shell on shell
Explode with starry zest
And hardly heeds the night
Whose spirit is demure
And shows the way to light
To those whose hearts are pure.

ABENDLIED IM KRIEGE

Nun ist der Tag vergangen,

Der Sonne goldnes Rot

Verblaßt auf ihren Wangen,

Als läge sie im Tod.

Der Abend von der Herde

Der Sterne eingekreist,

Beschenkt die weite Erde

Mit seinem frommen Geist.



Die ist so arm geworden

Und trägt so böse Qual,

Seitdem das grause Morden

Braust über Berg und Tal.

Nur Scham kann ihr noch geben

Des Tages blanker Schein,

Drum hüllt sie gern ihr Leben

In weiches Dunkel ein.



Wohl geht auch jetzt das Grausen

Herum im Dorf und Stadt:

Es liegt so mancher draußen,

Der keinen Schlaf mehr hat. 

Und viele Frauen lauschen,

Indes die Lampe singt,

Ob nicht ein Mantelrauschen

Den Fernen näher bringt. 



Doch der steht mit den andern,

Verderben in der Faust,

Sieht tausend Sterne wandern

Granatensturmumbraust

Und nicht den Abend kommen

Mit seinem stillen Geist,

Der allen wahrhaft Frommen

Den Weg des Friedens weist.

A note on the translator: William Ruleman is Professor of English at Tennessee Wesleyan University. His most recent volume of poems, From Rage and Hope, has appeared recently from White Violet Books. He has also published two earlier collections of his own poems (A Palpable Presence and Sacred and Profane Loves, both from Feather Books), as well as the following volumes of translation: Poems from Rilke’s Neue Gedichte (WillHall Books, 2003), Vienna Spring: Early Novellas and Stories of Stefan Zweig (Ariadne Press, 2010), and, from Cedar Springs Books, Verse for the Journey: Poems on the Wandering Life by the German Romantics, A Girl and the Weather (poems and prose of Stefan Zweig),and Selected Poems of Maria Luise Weissmann. More of his translations may be found at his blog: http://williamruleman.tumblr.com.

Alfons Petzold

Author: Alfons Petzold

Alfons Petzold (1882-1923) was well-known for his prose and verse during his lifetime, but since then, he has suffered neglect. During the Nazi era, his work was tolerated for his championship of the working classes, from which he emerged; yet his socialistic tendencies, and the sympathetic treatment of Jews in his writings, were suppressed. Afflicted with tuberculosis, Alfonso Petzold did not see active duty in the Austro-Hungarian military during WWI, yet he imagined it vividly in his verse. The poems represented here appeared in the volumes Der Stählerne Schrei, Neue Gedichte Aus der Kriegszeit (1916) and Volk, Mein Volk, Gedichte der Kriegszeit (1918).

3 thoughts on “Three poems by Alfons Petzold (translated by William Ruleman)”

  1. These poems are really stiff, but I don’t know German, or what Austrian or German poetry was like a century ago. Are the originals this stiff?

    Reply

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