Gertrud Kolmar: Worlds
Published 25 April 2012
Translated from German by philip kuhn & ruth von zimmermann. Introduction by philip kuhn; Foreword by Regina Nörtemann
Paperback,96pp, 8.5x5.5ins, £9.95 / $17
Download a sample PDF from this book here. NB this sample contains only the English texts.
Welten (Worlds) is a cycle of poems written in the second half of 1937 by Gertrud Kolmar, who was to perish six years later in Auschwitz. In 1947, the manuscript was passed by her brother-in-law to Peter Suhrkamp, publisher at Suhrkamp Verlag—now Germany's premier literary press—and was one of the first books to appear from that press after the war.
"With Welten Gertrud Kolmar invented new landscapes for her century. These rich, heart-rendingly beautiful poems couched in long, seemingly relaxed lines, manage to be both alien and intimate, celebratory and tragic, contemplative and dangerous.
An unidentified woman with a child in her arms comes to a dark city. In a misty wood the poet and someone meet an angel who doesn't see them because, as she describes him, "er nur ist": his existence is as definite and as indecipherable as the moss and the trees.
The poet recommends patience in her findings, is not afraid of ghostly ruins, knows longing all too well, loves the everyday—clouds, roses, a bowl of soup—and wonders what exists in closed gardens. She has inhabited loneliness, notes animals familiar and legendary—a dog, a unicorn, wild goats— and shows tenderly how the fact of love can even blot out the fear of death.
The translators have brought most successfully into English the astonishing experiences recorded here in lines which sometimes glow with jewels, sometimes alarm the reader under a threatening midnight, at other times move consolingly along recognisable paths which nonetheless contain surprise. They have conveyed Gertrud Kolmar's relish of the known and her delight in the unusual with no sense of strain. All the novelty, the daring, the varied tones of the original survive in this transition of language by their skill and fellow-feeling. This has obviously been a labour of love." —Harry Guest.
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