Friday, October 28, 2011

To My Brother Killed In Battle

An meinen gefallen Bruder
by Wolfgang Möller
Translated by Patrick Hinchy

To My Brother Killed in Battle
by Wolfgang Möller

What are you now? A pear tree or a beech tree,
A birch grove or a little ivy leaf?
My brother, I am looking for you, looking
For what it is that God has changed you to.

Is your spirit present in some form?
Is it a living form or inanimate?
I will love it in whatever form I find it.
Even in stone, it will seem familiar to me.

Perhaps a blade of grass, some lilac blossom.
Whatever you are now, I'll ask the sun
To make completely golden with his fire
You, through every being which resembles you.

I'll have compassion on the little beetle
That struggles upwards out of your grave.
I'll embrace the wooden cross and the sand on it,
And bless the bird that sings above it.

But if you're now a thought, and if in thinking it,
I could transcend the limits of the earth,
Then I would want to immerse myself in it so deeply
That I found you once again in God's presence.

from Relevance, the quarterly journal of the Great War Society.

Kind of a strange story with this poem. I read it in the context of World War I poetry and liked it very much. But when I looked up the poet, I discovered that, although he wrote about World War I, Möller was actually too young to participate in that war. He was really a Nazi propagandist during World War II. So. My question for you is -- can you enjoy the poem even so or does that cast a pall over it?

Updated to add: I think he wrote this poem in 1929.

Diane at Random Noodling has the Poetry Friday round-up today.


Diane Mayr said...

I did enjoy the poem until I read about the poet's later career. Was it a heartfelt effort or merely another example of a propagandist's work? It really colors the reading, doesn't it?

I'm Jet . . . said...

Good assessment, Diane, and a very interesting poem and question, Tabatha.

jama said...

Quite a shocking bit of backstory, Tabatha.

I enjoyed the poem nevertheless and my opinion of it doesn't change knowing who he was/what he did. The last stanza is so powerful.

Mary Lee said...

I'm okay with the poem, even knowing the back story. I like the idea of finding a loved one in a tree, or bug, or thought near the grave.

Tara said...

I wonder what happened to the poet between the poem and his propaganda work - he sounds like such a humanist. Perhaps that was his better self?

GatheringBooks said...

Thanks for providing such a mysterious and surprising context for the poem - more than anything, it has made me realize that the best propagandists (if there is such a term) are poets and musicians and visual artists. Known to be the 'cultural arm' of any revolution. :) Like Jama, I enjoyed the poem nonetheless. We can only deduce his motivations knowing what he stood for - but it may not necessarily define him. :)

Robyn Hood Black said...

Fascinating conversation, ladies, and thank you to Tabatha for sharing. I certainly teared up reading the poem, then felt repulsed learning of of the author's later actions. Yet, the poem as a poem is beautiful. Its gentleness is very hard to reconcile with the poet's choices a few years later.

Tabatha said...

My first impulse is to want to divorce art from its makers, in that a) audiences find meaning in art for themselves and b) we often can't really figure out artists' intentions anyway (and I don't think audiences need to research every artist when they run across a poem/painting/song). I'm sure there are situations that would make me want to argue this with myself, though ;-)

Irene Latham said...

Oh I agree about divorcing art from its makers! I have held some poems SO VERY DEAR.. .and then met the poet and have been disappointed ?? I think it helps to remember our relationship is with the person's WORDS, not the person. It's a gorgeous, moving poem, and I wish I didn't know those details about the poet.