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In a week we’ll be burying my mother’s ashes on Drummond. We’ve decided to read some of her poems, with a translation into English. She published a volume of them in the Wilhelm Andermann Verlag in Vienna in 1944 when she was 21; a miracle, since paper was so rare towards the end of the war. Her friend Stefan Hlawa provided the cover illustration.

A note on translation: With this particular poem I found you really do have to change the sequence of adjectives in English. I also found it interesting to consider the different meanings of “little” and “klein” (descriptive, diminutive, romantic/endearing…) In German, for example, Little Red Riding Hood is simply Rotkäpchen. I briefly considered writing “Tiny ancient god“. Or “Little, ancient god“, after all? Still thinking it over.

My brother Chris first introduced me to the poem when he gave me these, from a cycle he drew in the ’70s, pastels and wash on paper:

Christoph Hodgson: Kleiner uralter Gott Zyklus

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens
Getrud Berninger

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens,
der lächelt,
wenn schon die steigenden Tränen
den Schmerz bespülen.

Zärtlicher kleiner Gott ohne Namen,
ohne Gesicht,
tausendjähriger, süßer Samen
des Frühlings,

in mich vergraben, untergetaucht,
schweigend und gut,
wenn schon die Trauer der Reife
jäh überströmt.

Guter, kleiner, geliebter Gott,
Eigentum,
einsam und dunkel wie meine Träume,
die dich verschweigen,

kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens.


Ancient little god of my heart

Ancient little god of my heart,
smiling
even as tears rise
to wash over my pain

Tender little god, without a name
without a face,
sweet millennial seed
of spring,

hidden deep down inside me,
silent and good,
even as suddenly the sorrow of maturity
overflows.

Good little beloved god,
my own,
solitary and dark as my dreams
that conceal you,

ancient little god of my heart.