To the German Language
To my own ruin, to my own contradiction,
Like a moth flying toward a midnight flame,
I want to make an exit from our speech
For all that I will owe to it forever.
There is between us praise without flattery,
And friendship to the hilt, without dissembling,
So let us learn some seriousness and honor
In the West, from a foreign family.
Poetry, you are well served by tempests!
I remember an officer, a German –
The handle of his sword was snared in roses
And on his lips was the goddess Ceres…
The fathers in Frankfurt were still only yawning.
There was as yet no word of Goethe.
Hymns were composed, and horses pranced
And leaped in place, like letters.
Tell me, my friends, in which Valhalla
Did you and I crack nuts together?
What kind of freedom did we inherit?
What were the landmarks that you left me?

Freund! Versäume nicht zu leben,
Denn die Jahre fliehn
Und es wird der Saft der Reben
Uns nicht lange glühn!

—Ewald Christian von Kleist*

And directly from the page of a yearbook,
Directly from its perfect freshness,

You stepped into the grave unfearful

As if going to the cellar for a bottle.
A foreign speech will be my outer skin,
And long before I dared to be born

I was a letter, I was a grapevine verse,
I was the book about which you dream.
When I slept without form or feature,

I was awakened by friendship, as by a gunshot.
God Nachtigall, give me the fate of Pylades

Or else pull out my tongue – I do not need it.
God Nachtigall, I am still being recruited

For new plagues, for seven-year slaughters.

The sound has narrowed, the words hiss and riot,
But you are alive, and with you I am undaunted.
8–12 August 1932

   *Friend! Fail not to live, / For the years fly / And the juice of the grapes / Will not long warm us!

   Translated by Ilya Bernstein