Blog/20130821 Theodor Fontane

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1 Theodor Fontane - Als ich zwei dicke Bände herausgab

Admittedly I don't often post about literary topics. From reading Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker's Zeit und Wissen (around the time came out in 1992), I remembered a poem he quoted. As I do not have the book to hand, I've not been able to look this up, but after a bit of searching it turns out to be Theodor Fontane's Als ich zwei dicke Bände herausgab:

"Zwölfhundert Seiten auf einmal,
Und mit achtundsiebzig! beinah' ein Skandal.
Konntest es doch auf viermal verteilen."
Ihr könnt es, - aber bei mir heißt es eilen.
Allerorten umklingt mich wie Rauschen im Wald:
'Was du tun willst, tue bald!'

(Fontane, Theodor, Ettlinger, Josef (1908), Aus dem Nachlass, p. 166 available at the Internet Archive.) A facsimile of the poem is available here: [1].

I wasn't able to find a translation of this, but it roughly translates as

"Twelve hundred pages at once,
At seventy-eight! almost a scandal.
When you could have made this four volumes."
You are able to do this - but I must hurry.
Everywhere resounds (like rustling in the forest):
'Whatever you wish to do, do it soon!'

Obviously the translation lacks literary merit, but it conveys the meaning. (The translation is slightly misleading in that the 1200 pages were actually published as two volumes, but that's ok as literary freedom. It also turns out that the 1200 pages is an underestimate - see reference in next section.) The theme of death is also apparent in the poem "Mein Leben", see [2], written several years earlier.

2 The poem as a death poem

What I had been unaware of was that apparently this poem was found on Fontane's writing desk the day he died in 1898 (c.f. Christian Grawe (2002), Der Zauber Steckt Immer in Detail: Studien Zu Theodor Fontane und Seinem Werk 1976-2002, Department of German, University of Otago, p. 220). This effectively makes it a death poem, which is note worthy.

3 Das Trauerspiel von Afghanistan

Looking around to actually find the text of the poem above, I did come across another poem by Frontane, Das Trauerspiel von Afghanistan, see http://berlinbooks.org/brb/2010/01/the-tragedy-of-afghanistan/, about the loss of life during the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). Reading the poem, I was struck by how history repeats itself, and while the details of such conflicts may change, the human suffering remains the same.


2013-08-21 | Leave a comment | Back to blog