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Die Zeit ist hin, du löst dich unbewußt
und leise mehr und mehr von meiner Brust,
ich suche dich mit sanftem Druck zu fassen,
doch fühl ich wohl, ich muß dich gehen lassen.

So laß mich denn, bevor du weit von mir
Im Leben gehst, noch einmal danken dir,
und magst du nie was rettungslos vergangen,
in schummerlosen Nächten heimverlangen.

Hier steh ich nun und schaue bang zurück,
vorüber rinnt auch dieser Augenglick,
und wieviel Stunden dir und mir gegeben,
wir werden keine mehr zusammen leben.

—-

Poetry is very difficult to translate into another language. Here is my humble and awkward attempt to convey the meaning to those of my readers that do not understand German:

The time is gone, you withdraw subconsciously
and softly ever more from my chest,
I try to hold on to you with gentle pressure,
but still I feel I have to let you go.

So let me thank you one more time,
before you’re far away from me in life,
and may you never wish back in sleepless nights
that which is hopelessly lost and gone.

Here I stand and look back anxiously,
as even this moment vanishes from us,
no matter all the hours we have spent,
we may never have another one together.

This is actually a song. Here is the music.

And here, thanks to J.S., the actual song:

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I have been following the slam poetry scene for some years now, and Corey Taft is my favorite poet in the genre. Here is one of his older poems, from a number of years ago. I saw it live at the time and it gave me pause. Enjoy.

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The Full Moon Poets have their poetry slam in Encinitas on the evening of a Blue Moon – Tonight. We just got back. As always, it was an amazing contest. Rudy Francisco and Corey Taft, the usual finalists, both superstars of the local slam poetry scene, were actually tied for first place at the end, something that had never happened before. So both pulled a fourth poem out of their mental drawers and blew us away at the end. Mind you, neither knew that they needed to prepare more than three poems, but both had one ready.

Rudy won in the end – and he deserved it.

If you have never been to a poetry slam before, do yourself the favor and go. Always, when leaving the event, I hear people say to their partners or groups that “this was much better than I would ever have expected.” A poetry slam is a different art form altogether, and some of these guys are amazing.

It’s a great way to spend a blue moon night in Encinitas.

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Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

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The German poet and writer Annette von Droste-Hülshoff was born in 1797. Her poem Die Vergeltung (the retaliation) is about a shipwreck during a storm. A passenger survives and floats in debris, knowing that he will eventually sink and die. When he finds a sick man clinging to a strong log, he dislodges and drowns the sick man to save himself. Eventually he is rescued and his journey turns into another unexpected direction…

I cannot translate this poem into English, just as I could not translate Shakespeare into German. Some things need to remain what they are.

When I was 14 years old, in German class, we had a teacher who occasionally made us memorize poems. We hated him for that. We thought he did it because he was able to keep us busy without having to do any preparation work himself. While that might have been right, I am amazed that over 40 years later I still remember a number of the poems I had memorized in his class, the longest of which is Die Vergeltung, and I am grateful for having done it.

Granted, there were sections that were no longer on the surface now. My endeavors with memory, after reading Moonwalking with Einstein, have motivated me to spend a couple of hours dusting off Die Vergeltung so I’d have it on instant recall for the rest of my life.

My teacher is surely no longer alive, but if he knew that I still know his assigned poems today, I think we would be happy.

For those of you that read German, enjoy:

Die Vergeltung – Annette von Droste Hülshoff

Der Kapitän steht an der Spiere,
das Fernrohr in gebräunter Hand,
dem schwarzgelockten Passagiere
hat er den Rücken zugewandt.
Nach einem Wolkenstreif in Sinnen
die beiden wie zwei Pfeiler sehn,
der Fremde spricht : “Was braut da drinnen!”-
“Der Teufel”, brummt der Kapitän.

Da hebt von morschen Balkens Trümmer
ein Kranker seine feuchte Stirn,
des Äthers Blau, der See Geflimmer,
ach, alles quält sein fiebernd Hirn!
Er läßt die Blicke, schwer und düster,
entlängs dem harten Pfühle gehn,
die eingegrabnen Worte liest er:
“Batavia. Fünfhundertzehn.”

Die Wolke steigt, zur Mittagsstunde
das Schiff ächzt auf der Wellen Höhn.
Gezisch, Geheul aus wüstem Grunde,
die Bohlen weichen mit Gestöhn.
“Jesus, Marie! wir sind verloren!”
Vom Mast geschleudert der Matros’,
ein dumpfer Krach in aller Ohren,
und langsam löst der Bau sich los.

Noch liegt der Kranke am Verdecke,
um seinen Balken fest geklemmt,
da kommt die Flut, und eine Strecke
wird er ins wüste Meer geschwemmt.
Was nicht gelang der Kräfte Sporne,
das leistet ihm der starre Krampf,
und wie ein Narwal mit dem Horne
schießt fort er durch der Wellen Dampf.

Wie lange so! – er weiß es nimmer,
dann trifft ein Strahl des Auges Ball,
und langsam schwimmt er mit der Trümmer
auf ödem glitzerndem Kristall.
Das Schiff! – die Mannschaft! – sie versanken.
Doch nein, dort auf der Wasserbahn,
dort sieht den Passagier er schwanken
in einer Kiste morschem Kahn.

Armsel’ge Lade! sie wird sinken,
er strengt die heisre Stimme an:
“Nur grade! Freund, du drückst zur Linken!”
Und immer näher schwankts heran,
und immer näher treibt die Trümmer,
wie ein verwehtes Möwennest;
“Courage!” ruft der kranke Schwimmer,
“mich dünkt, ich sehe Land im West!”

Nun rühren sich der Fähren Ende,
er sieht des fremden Auges Blitz,
da plötzlich fühlt er starke Hände,
fühlt wütend sich gezerrt vom Sitz.
“Barmherzigkeit! ich kann nicht kämpfen.”
Er klammert dort, er klemmt sich hier;
ein heisrer Schrei, den Wellen dämpfen,
am Balken schwimmt der Passagier.

Dann hat er kräftig sich geschwungen
und schaukelt durch das öde Blau,
er sieht das Land wie Dämmerungen
enttauchen und zergehn in Grau.
Noch lange ist er so geschwommen,
umflattert von der Möwe Schrei,
dann hat ein Schiff ihn aufgenommen,
Viktoria! nun ist er frei!

Drei kurze Monde sind verronnen,
und die Fregatte liegt am Strand,
wo mittags sich die Robben sonnen,
und Bursche klettern übern Rand,
den Mädchen ists ein Abenteuer,
es zu erschaun vom fernen Riff,
denn noch zerstört, ist nicht geheuer
das greuliche Korsarenschiff.

Und vor der Stadt, da ist ein Waten,
ein Wühlen durch das Kiesgeschrill,
da die verrufenen Piraten
ein jeder sterben sehen will.
Aus Strandgebälken, morsch, zertrümmert,
hat man den Galgen, dicht am Meer,
in wüster Eile aufgezimmert.
Dort dräut er von der Düne her!

Welch ein Getümmel an den Schranken! –
“Da kommt der Frei – der Hessel jetzt –
da bringen sie den schwarzen Franken,
der hat geleugnet bis zuletzt.” –
“Schiffbrüchig sei er hergeschwommen,”
höhnt eine Alte, “ei, wie kühn!
Doch keiner sprach zu seinem Frommen,
die ganze Bande gegen ihn.”

Der Passagier, am Galgen stehend,
hohläugig, mit zerbrochnem Mut,
zu jedem Räuber flüstert flehend:
“Was tat dir mein unschuldig Blut?
Barmherzigkeit! – so muß ich sterben
durch des Gesindels Lügenwort,
o, mag die Seele euch verderben!”
Da zieht ihn schon der Scherge fort.

Er sieht die Menge wogend spalten –
er hört das Summen im Gewühl –
nun weiß er, daß des Himmels Walten
nur seiner Pfaffen Gaukelspiel!
Und als er in des Hohnes Stolze
will starren nach den Ätherhöhn,
da liest er an des Galgens Holze:
“Batavia. Fünfhundertzehn”

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Very seldom do I stumble across poetry that really touches me. Mondnacht (moon night) is one such poem. I saw it as a youth, memorized it, thanks to a persistent, and at the time loathed, German teacher. I wrote it into the cover of a book some time later. Then I completely forgot about it. Last week, I happened upon the book that lay dormant in a box for 40 years, opened the cover, and there it was. It touched me deeply once again.

[I cannot convey this in English. If you can read German, may it lift your soul and fly away with you.]

Mondnacht

Es war, als hätt’ der Himmel
Die Erde still geküsst,
Dass sie im Blütenschimmer
Von ihm nun träumen müsst’.

Die Luft ging durch die Felder,
Die Ähren wogten sacht,
Es rauschten leis’ die Wälder,
So sternklar war die Nacht.

Und meine Seele spannte
Weit ihre Flügel aus,
Flog durch die stillen Lande,
Als flöge sie nach Haus.

–Josef von Eichendorff

Addendum Jan 8, 2017 – a German friend, whom I shared this post with (WI), reminded me that there was a musical version by Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856). I found this excellent 1974 recording by baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925 – 2012), who passed away in 2012 at age 86.

I have, in these pages, often decried Germans and the harm and hurt they have collectively caused the world in the 20th century. To be fair, they have also immensely contributed to the world’s treasures in literature, poetry and music. All three are represented in the musical rendition of Mondnacht above. Enjoy!

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Joe is my brother-in-law (accurately: boyfriend of my sister). He runs a language school in Germany, and he is a hobby songwriter and poet. He is also a fellow Bob Dylan fan. He wrote the ballad below as a present to Bob Dylan for his 70th birthday.

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Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

by Robert Frost, New Hampshire,  1923

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Dedicated to all you teachers out there:

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Invictus

Invictus – by William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

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Another Poetry Slam

Tonight we went to attend another Poetry Slam put on by the Full Moon PoetsWe were there last year and enjoyed it very much.

This year I was one of the five judges. I was judge number three, the one that was booed most of the time for giving the low scores – in case you are reading that and you were there.

Again, I was impressed with the quality of the work. This contest was again a battle of the two giants, Rudy Francisco and Corey Taft. Corey recited the last work of the day: “Say Anything to Me” and he took the only score of  the night of a perfect 50, five judges all with a perfect 10. Corey is amazing. Rudy won the contest by a tenth of a point ahead of Corey. I was a little disappointed because Rudy used his poem “Stripping” as his number two work, even though he had used it last February when he also won. I deducted a half a point for that. Most of the other judges do not appear to have known or noticed that — of course, you had to have been there last year to know.

If you ever have a chance to see a poetry contest, or if you live in the San Diego area and can go to the poetry slam, do it. You will be surprised how much your expectations will be exceeded by the experience and the quality of the work you will witness.

Job well done, all 17 contestants. It was an honor to listen to you.

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Poetry Slam – Full Moon Poets

Last night we went to the “Poetry Slam,” a poetry competition put on by a local group called the Full Moon Poets.

I expected a few quirky and bookish people sit and read sentimental stuff. I was way off. The La Paloma in Encinitas, an alternative movie theater, was at least half full with spectators and contestants. There were 20 competing poets, who each had three minutes to recite their original poems. The poets all presented their own material. There were judges, andout of the 20 contestants, seven winners went to a second round, and four more to the final round. Then there was a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, cash prizes collected church style, albeit in large popcorn buckets from the audience.

OK, there were about ten so-so poets. I could have done as well as any of them. Then there were another 5 or so pretty good ones,  with clever material, either funny, or thought provoking, or outlandish in some way or other. For instance, there was one older man who had a poem about an older man taking a piss at a bathroom in a casino, I kid you not. It was graphic, but in the end, it actually worked. Talk about creativity.

Then there were about five or so superb poets. Their writing, their creativity, their imagery, and finally,  their powerful delivery just blew me away. I have never been in a situation where the delivery of a poem was a powerful experience. I have written many a poem over  the years, and I have always considered myself pretty good at it. Many times I have felt sorry for myself  that my poems are  just that, poems and they can’t really convey emotion very well to audiences. A poem written in a book is just words on paper, that was my excuse. I always wished I had more musical skill, because then, rather than writing a poem, I could write a song, and then play it with a guitar or piano; now I could convey emotion. Now I could send a message.

How wrong I was with my attitude. After last night, I know that reciting a poem can be ever so powerful as a song. The two winners, number two Corey Taft,  and number one Rudy Francisco, are both very young men in their early to mid twenties, and they are consumate professionals in their art. It is an adventure to watch them recite one of their poems, it is something you don’t forget.

Rudy Francisco has one of his poems on his MySpace (above) site so you can get a taste. Corey Taft’s style is entirely different, but utterly refreshing. He should post some work, too.

I was blown away. This event exceeded my expectation by several orders of magnitude.

Am I going to attend the next slam? Hell yes.

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