Translations

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Shatter the Bell in my Ear

by Christine Lavant
Translated from the German by David Chorlton

Paper. 128 pp. $18.00 U.S.
ISBN: 978-0-9862049-8-2

Available from
The Bitter Oleander Press
www.bitteroleander.com
4983 Tall Oaks Drive
Fayetteville, NY 13066-9776
USA


Born in 1915 on July the fourth, Christine Thonhauser (Lavant) was the ninth child of a miner, Georg, and his wife, Anna, and grew up in poverty. While the poetry she was later to write contained the language ofspirituality, the pain she described in it came from actual conditions which she suffered: scrofula and tuberculosis of the lungs. Being disadvantaged in health also meant she could not complete her education as intended. Unable to do hard physical work, she earned a living with knitting and weaving until she gained a reputation as a writer. Along with these health problems, she had depression to endure. Poor hearing or blindness in her poetry were
not conjured metaphors for a general condition. For example, the first stanza of a poem from
Spindel im Mond:


Shatter the bell in my ear,
slash the knot in my throat,
warm my strangled heart
and ripen my eyeballs.


Writing sometimes in rhyme, sometimes in free verse, Lavant employed directness in her language. I have chosen more of the free verse poems to translate and when there is rhyme I find it preferable to hold on to tone and meaning than attempting to replicate the echoing sounds. The use of sun and moon and stars would easily become a cliché were it not for the unusual slant in the work. So strong was Lavant’s connection to the commonplace elements that moon and stars become symbols illuminating her particular, troubled road to Heaven. Even glancing at first lines in several of the poems here displays this tendency: The moon’s halo was never so large . . . I hear the heavy moon approaching . . . Ever closer to the Milky Way’s edge . . . The
moon’s signal light
— David Chorlton
from his introduction