Poems by Morgenstern

Clifford Venho

Butterblumengelbe Wiesen

Butterblumengelbe Wiesen,
sauerampferrot getönt –
o du überreiches Sprießen,
wie das Aug dich nie gewöhnt!

Wohlgesangdurchschwellte Bäume,
wunderblütenschneebereift –
ja, fürwahr, ihr zeigt uns Träume,
wie die Brust sie kaum begreift.


Fields of Buttercup-yellow

Fields of buttercup-yellow
tinged with sorrel-red—
O you, overflowing growth,
I could watch you forever!

Trees swelling with sweet song,
blossoms of wonder ripened by snow—
yes, you truly show us dreams
our hearts can hardly fathom.



Herbst Gedichte

Zu Golde ward die Welt;
zu lange traf
der Sonne süßer Strahl
das Blatt, den Zweig.
Nun neig
dich, Welt, hinab.

Bald sinkt's von droben dir
in flockigen Geweben
verschleiernd zu -
und bringt dir Ruh,
o Welt,
o dir, zu Gold geliebtes Leben,
Ruh.


Autumn Poem

The world has turned to gold;
the sun’s sweet ray
has struck too long
the leaf, the branch.
Now, world,
bow down.

Soon, from above
flaky fabric will
veil you round—
and bring you rest,
O world,
O you, dear life turned to gold,
rest.





Nebel am Wattenmeer

Nebel, stiller Nebel über Meer und Land.
Totenstill die Watten, totenstill der Strand.
Trauer, leise Trauer deckt die Erde zu.
Seele, liebe Seele, schweig und träum auch du.

Mist on the Tidelands

Mist, still mist over sea and land.
Deathly still the tidelands, deathly still the sand.
Sorrow, soft sorrow blankets the earth anew.
Soul, dear soul, hush and dream now too.



Winter

Der Fjord mit seinen Inseln liegt
wie eine Kreidezeichnung da;
die Wälder träumen schnee-umschmiegt,
und alles scheint so traulich nah.
So heimlich ward die ganze Welt…
als dämpfte selbst das herbste Weh
aus stillem, tiefem Wolkenzelt
gliebter, weicher, leiser Schnee.

Winter

The fjord with its islands lies
like a chalk drawing there;
the forests dream, snow-nestled,
and everything seems snug and close.
The world grows hushed,
as if autumn’s own grief were steaming
from the still, deep tent of clouds
as dear, soft, silent snow.



Neuschnee


Flockenflaum zum ersten Mal zu prägen
mit des Schuhs geheimnisvoller Spur,
einen ersten schmalen Pfad zu schrägen
durch des Schneefelds jungfräulicher Flur -

Kindisch ist und köstlich solch Beginnen,
wenn der Wald dir um die Stirne rauscht
oder mit bestrahlten Gletscherzinnen
deine Seele leuchtende Grüße tauscht.

New Snow

To print for the first time the flaky foam
with the shoe’s mysterious track,
to slant a first narrow path
through the snowfield’s virginal meadow—

such beginning is childish and delicious,
when the forest swirls around your brow
or sends radiant greetings to your soul
from the shimmering glacial peaks.



Der Abend

Auf braunen Sammetschuhen geht
der Abend durch das müde Land,
sein weiter Mantel wallt und weht,
und Schlummer fällt von seiner Hand.

Mit stiller Fackel steckt er nun
der Sterne treue Kerzen an.
Sei ruhig, Herz! Das Dunkel kann
dir nun kein Leid mehr tun.

Evening

With brown shoes of velvet,
Evening walks through the tired land,
his broad mantle sweeping and swaying
as slumber falls from his hand.

With his still torch he lights
the faithful candles of the stars.
Keep quiet, heart! The dark
can frighten you no more.


In selecting and arranging this series of poems by Christian Morgenstern, my intention was to create for the reader an experience of moving through the seasons of the year. The final poem, then, rounds the series off with a description of the movement from day to night, movement which on a smaller scale mirrors the passage of time in the seasonal poems.

In this series, we observe how the poet finds his relationship with the mysteries of the natural world through direct experience of the soul in nature. With lyrical sensitivity, and a painter’s eye, Morgenstern evokes powerful impressions of nature’s spiritual landscapes. This is not surprising from someone who came from a family of landscape painters, and who once wrote of himself, “I am a painter to the very last drops of my blood […] and this wants to go out into the realm of the Word, of sound —a strange metamorphosis”.

Morgenstern delights in the possibilities of his native tongue when describing nature. Unlike the English language, which relies on prepositions to forge connections between words, the German language can create meaning by bringing separate words into a single one. In “Fields of Buttercup-yellow”, Morgenstern uses this attribute of the language to great effect, engendering an experience of “overflowing growth” that courses through the whole poem. For example, the single word “wunderblütenscheebereift” (which is formed out of four separate words) produces a flood of language that mirrors the exuberant, youthful energy flowing through nature in springtime.

By contrast, in the quieter atmosphere of “Winter”, Morgenstern uses commas to give the words some space to breathe. For example, in the final line of the poem, he writes, “dear, soft, silent snow”. This use of punctuation evokes a feeling of spaciousness that corresponds to the experience of snowfall gently descending over the landscape. He also uses the repetition of words for a similar effect in “Mist on the Tidelands”. In the first, third, and fourth lines of the poem, Morgenstern repeats the initial word, adding an adjective for emphasis, “Mist, still mist”, “Sorrow, soft sorrow”, “Soul, dear soul”, while in the second line he repeats the phrase “deathly still”. This repetition lends the poem a solemn, processional mood that enchants the reader into a dreamlike world.

In the final poem of this series, we find Evening, personified, walking through the landscape of the “tired world” with “brown shoes of velvet”. Details like these lend the evening a concrete presence and make one think of the Nordic gods who were seen moving through the forests of Jotunheim.

Reading these poems feels like walking through a dreamscape, but fully awake. This waking dream of Morgenstern’s poetry uplifts us into a world where nature and imagination intertwine in a beautiful harmony. Rainer Maria Rilke expressed it best when he wrote of Morgenstern: “You child of joy, I’m willing to bet your pockets are full of stars”.

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