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Gertrud Berninger (written ca. 1943-5)

Das Kinderzimmer gelb und blau,
der Mann im Mond, die Nebelfrau
und rosenrote Tapeten;
zubettegehn beim Angelus
den jeder Christ beten muß,
den frühen und den späten.

Den frühen und den späten:
er ruft nicht einen Jeden,
das haben wir gelernt.
Die Nacht war mit Kometen,
mit Glanz und Glück besternt –
wer kann da Ave beten!

Die Nacht ist prasselnd ausgebrannt
zu Morgengraun und Niemandsland,
zu Asche auf unsern Zungen.
Wir wachten bis zum Angelus
den jeder Christ beten muß:
Die Glocke war zersprungen.

Die Glocken warn zersprungen
und die Erinnerungen.
Wir bauten uns ein Haus aus Leid
– kein Lied ward da gesungen –
und siedelten stumm in der stummen Zeit
in des Tityrus Niederungen.

Da schlägt die Wachtel früh am Fluß,
der schlafenden Stadt zum Überdruß,
uns aber zum Herzen, zum Herzen:
Das ist der neue Angelus
den jeder Christ beten muß
zum Dank für Schmerzen.

Off to see my mother for a week. She wrote the above undated poem towards the end of WW2.


3 Responses

  1. Hello,

    I am a high school English teacher in France and I was reading an article on the Anne Frank House Museum that will open in 2010 when I came across this poem. I would truly be honored if a translated version could be rendered in English. I spotted a few words whose meaning I can make out, but the global sense of the poem still eludes me. Would you be willing to translate the poem in your own voice?

    Thank you,

  2. Dear Matteo,

    Thank you very much for your interest. My mother spent the last year or so of the war in the Franconian countryside helping her father in his doctor’s practice, and they were a very Catholic (anti-Nazi) family. She was born in late 1922, so she was 22 at the end of the war. I think she must have written this after the summer of 1943, when she moved back to the village after the theaters closed to mobilize for the “total war”, and she said goodbye to her bohemian life as an actress and writer. She later married my father, an American soldier and administrator in post-war Germany. Here’s an attempt at translation:

    The children’s bedroom in yellow and blue,
    the Man in the Moon, the Fog Woman,
    and wallpaper in pink;
    bedtime round the Angelus
    which every Christian must pray
    both early and late.

    Both early and late:
    but not everyone heeds his call,
    that much we learned.
    The night was filled with starry comets,
    with bright lights and happiness –
    who could pray “Hail Mary” under such circumstances!

    The night burned out, crackling,
    to the horror of dawn in a no man’s land,
    to ashes on our tongue.
    We held watch to the Angelus
    which every Christian must pray:
    But the bell had burst.

    The bells had burst
    And so had our memories.
    We built ourselves a house of pain
    – no song was sung there –
    and settled silently in that silent age
    in the lowlands of Tityrus.

    But then the quail calls out in the early morning down by the river,
    though the sleeping city won’t listen,
    but we take heart, we take heart:
    This is the new Angelus
    which every Christian must pray
    grateful for the pain.

    Angelus: prayer at daybreak and nightfall, including the “Hail Mary”
    Tityrus: father of Helen of Troy

  3. Thank you very much, Anne! I truly appreciate the gesture and I hope it didn’t cost you too much effort. I love the imagery and the language this poem uses to convey a life of its own. Your mother was a talented writer and allowed the objects in her poem to speak for themselves. That is a rare gift not many poets—let alone, writers—possess.

    Best wishes,

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