Robert Gernhardt is dead. He died in Frankfurt at the end of June. That's so hard to believe. He has accompanied me the last years with his brilliant poems. They were comfort and joy for me.
Robert Gernhardt was one of Germany's most-loved poets. He was born in 1937 in Reval in Estonia, Gernhardt studied painting and German in Stuttgart and Berlin. From 1964 until his death he lived in Frankfurt, where he worked as writer, painter and caricaturist. His lively cross-genre publishing activities soon made him the leading figure of the "New Frankfurt School" of writers and artists behind the satirical magazine Pardon
in the 1960s and 70s and after 1979, Titanic
Here is a small selection of his poems translated into English by Ursula Runde, some of which have appeared in Poetry Magazine
.All about the artist
(Alles über den Künstler. In Lichte Gedichte
, p. 87)
The artist skates on ice that's thin:
Creating art – straight for the bin?
The artist to his fate is blind:
Will he gain glory? Lose his mind?
The artist falls with end unknown.
Soared like a star? Dropped like a stone?Last Call
(Ach. Lichte Gedichte, p. 206)
Right up to my final hour
I'll be obliging and polite.
Should I hear Death firmly knocking
I'll shout at once: come in! Alright?
What’s on the schedule? Is it dying?
Well, that’s something rather new.
But I’m sure that we can swing it,
showing them a thing or two.
What is this? Your hour glass?
Interesting! And good to grasp.
And the scythe is for grim reaping,
did you say? I’d thought I’d ask.
Which way should I turn from here?
To the left? From where you stand?
Well, alright then. To the graveyard?
Where I take my final hand?
Yes, the glass is out of sand now.
Oh, I see, you want it back.
May I ask you where you got it?
So unusual, all in black.
Is it antique? Oh well, whatever.
I only meant to ask, old chap –
What? No questions? No more talking?
That's fine by me. I'll shut my -Not really, no
(Eigentlich nicht, Lichte Gedichte, p. 15)
It's not really a process of looking
when someone knows where something is.
It's not really a process of finding
when you find something you didn’t miss.
It's not really a process of loving
when you're holding to ransom your love.
It's not really a process of holding
when you drop her as push comes to shove.Guarding my Body
(Siebenmal mein Körper)
My body is without defence,
how lucky it's got me.
I keep it warm in woollen cloth,
it gets it all for free.
My body's well provided for
with bread and wine and stews.
It never seems to get enough
and afterwards it spews.
My body does not what it's told,
it does what I may not.
I'm fond of pictures, music, words,
it just finds bodies hot.
My body turns out lots of things
like blood and sweat and tears.
I wash it, dry it, keep it neat
from toenails to the ears.
My body knows no common sense,
just greed and sloth and lust.
I watch it as it falls apart
and mend it in good trust.
My body hasn't thanked me yet,
it’s often hurting me.
I move it up the hill and down
and drive it to the sea.
My body never talks to me,
it has no social skill.
I pander to its slightest whim,
it’s waiting for the kill.