Monday, April 21, 2014

A Translation of "Verfolgungswahn?," a Poem by Thomas Bernhard

Paranoia? [1]

When I suddenly became peckish
in Hainburg
I went into a tavern
and ordered myself,
having just arrived from Krakow,
some roast pork with dumplings
and a half-liter of beer.
En route through Slovakia
my stomach had grown empty.
I had a chat with the owner;
he said the Polish Jews
should all have been killed
without exception.
He was a Nazi.

In Vienna I went into the Ambassador Hotel
and ordered myself a cognac
a French one, of course, I said,
preferably a Martell
and had a chat with a painter
who incessantly kept maintaining
that he was an artist
and that he knew what art was,
the entire rest of the world had no clue
what art was
it soon became evident
he was a Nazi.

In Linz I went for a demitasse
at the Café Draxelmeyer
and chatted with the headwaiter
about the Rapid-LASK football match
and the headwaiter said
that the Rapid side all deserved to be gassed
that Hitler would have more to do today
than during his lifetime,
and it had soon become evident
he was a Nazi.

In Salzburg I ran into my old religion teacher
who said to my face
that my books
and pretty much everything I had so far written
was crap,
but today one could publish the worst crap,
he said, in an age such as ours
that was nothing if not crappy;
during the Third Reich none of my books
could have been published, he said,
and he expressly averred that I was a swine
and a disloyal dog
and he bit into his sausage sandwich
and with both hands hiked up the skirts of his soutane
and stood up and left.
He is a Nazi.

Yesterday I received from Innsbruck a postcard
that bore a picture of the Goldenes Dachl,
and on which was written minus any citation of evidence:
“People like you deserve to be gassed!  Just you wait!”
I read the postcard several times
and grew frightened.

[1] First published in Die Zeit, Hamburg, January 1, 1982.
The editors of the newspaper commissioned five authors to write a poem commemorating the end of the year.  The headline above all five poems reads: “Mourning, Which Now Speaks in the Cold.  Five German Poems in Commemoration of the End of the Year.”


Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011), pp. 213-214.


Anonymous said...


In the German original, the first city name is "Hainburg", not "Hamburg". This is important, since Hainburg is, as Vienna, Linz, Salzburg and Innsbruck, an Austrian city (in Lower Austria).


Douglas Robertson said...

I just checked the original, verified the city name, and corrected "Hamburg" to "Hainburg." Sorry about the misreading, and thanks for pointing it out: it certainly did make the poem seem inexplicably less Austrocentric.