Monday, March 06, 2006

Making sense

Not knowing what to do with myself in the wee hours last night, I began rereading Scanning the Century, a poetry anthology, that documents, roughly in chronological sequence, the Twentieth Century. I am hooked as I was the first time.

The first period is 1900 - 1914, so we have this poem by Arthur Lichtenstein dated 1913:


Sometimes there comes--I have a premonition--
A deathstorm out of the distant north.
Everywhere the stink of corpses
The great murder begins.

The heart of heaven darkens,
The storm lifts its deadly claws:
The base are hurled to the ground
Actors explode, girls go bezerk.

With a crash a stable falls
Not even a fly can save itself.
Beautiful homosexual men
tumble out of their beds.

Walls of all the houses crack.
Fish are rotting in the streams.
Everything comes to its own sticky end.
Screeching buses are overturned.

Translated from the German by
Peter Forbes and P. D. Royce.

Some big events, not all of them happy, came and went during the Twentieth Century. One yearns to make sense of it all, rather like Anna Ahkmatova, who wrote this in 1919 during the Russian Revolution.

Why is our century worse than any other?

Why is our century worse than any other?
Is it that in the stupor of fear and grief
It has plunged its fingers in the blackest ulcer,
Yet cannot bring relief?

Westward the sun is dropping,
And the roofs of towns are shining in the light.
Already Death is chalking doors with crosses
And calling the ravens and the ravens are in flight.

Translated from the Russian by D. M. Thomas

Just as there were some light days during the century, there are like poems in the anthology. What remains are the memories and documents of what was seen, heard, and felt during it all, and this anthology delivers on that.


At 10:22 AM, Blogger Cuppa said...

Sounds like another book I will have to track down at my local library. Thanks for the small taste of it today.

At 1:57 PM, Blogger Lynn said...


I hope you can find it.

At 7:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lichtenstein's surname is alfred, not arthur. ;)

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Lynn said...

Thanks for the correction!


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