The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Poem for Monday


Death Fugue
By Paul Celan
Translated by John Felstiner


Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Marguerite
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling
he whistles his hounds to come close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he orders us strike up and play for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at morning and midday we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margeurite
your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped
He shouts jab this earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margeurite
your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays with his vipers
He shouts play death more sweetly Death is a master from Deutschland
he shouts scrape your strings darker you'll rise then in smoke to the sky
you'll have a grave then in the clouds there you won't lie too cramped

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink
this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams
der Tod is ein Meister aus Deutschland
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith

--------

That poem is here because we visited the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden to see the Anselm Kiefer exhibit, which was as phenomenal as I had expected. There's a lot of contemporary art that sets off my bullshit meter no longer how long I look at it, study it or read about it, and there's quite a bit of that in the Hirshhorn (the oeuvre of Mark Rothko earns a special award in this category). Yet Kiefer's work is extraordinary, the kind of paintings and sculpture I feel like I could study for a year and only begin to get at everything that's going on in them. I wish I could remember when I first heard of him -- it was while he was working on mythologies of Germany, dead gods and conflagrations; he was born at the end of World War II and for a long time his work centered on Nazism, the Holocaust and how the culture of Germany which produced him also produced that. Celan's "Death Fugue" was cited by Kiefer as a source of inspiration. His more recent work is engaged with the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism as well as mythology from all over the world, but it's still often very bleak -- ashes, ruined manuscripts, the distance between earth and heaven. His canvases are enormous, museum wall-sized, and if you look him up online it's really impossible to get a sense of the immensity and texture. This exhibit only runs through next weekend so we knew we had to get there this weekend, and anyone else in DC who's at all interested in this sort of thing, I highly recommend it.

Yeah, obviously Sunday we made it downtown, determined to see everything in the National Museum of American History that we didn't get to last weekend before it all disappears for two years on Tuesday. But before we went there, we visited National Geographic Explorers Hall, which has a fabulous exhibit on castles of the Crusades, including a massive miniature replica of Crac des Chevaliers in modern Syria, which is absolutely amazing in its detail; there are also poster exhibits on dozens of other castles and the history of architecture by the Muslims and Christians who alternately held the territories. Since we were at the museum, we also walked through the delightful Soccer: Planet at Play exhibit, which had photos of everything from teenagers playing in a field near Cairo with the Pyramids in the background to a nearly empty stadium in Kiev with people playing in twenty below temperatures to David Beckham teaching kids to police protecting players from rival fans.

American History was understandably mobbed even though we avoided the big exhibits we saw last weekend, and I must say that it is rather depressing to find that one's first computer is in a gallery whose theme is, "Hahaha, look how far we've come with PCs since these dinosaurs!" We went to see the Star Spangled Banner, which will be the centerpiece of the restructured museum, and we went through the Edison and Technology exhibit, the 20th Century Innovations exhibit, the America on the Move Exhibit (last time we'd just gone through the seafaring area) and what's left of the First Ladies' Dresses -- Jacqueline Kennedy through Hillary Clinton. The museum is rather convoluted, and I'm not sorry it will be restructured, though I am sorry it will be closed for so long for the renovations! When we came home we watched the second half of Sharpe's Challenge; younger son declared when it was over that he didn't like it as much as Sharpe's Waterloo, and even though I think that one has flaws compared to earlier installments, I had to agree. I really disliked the way Sharpe spoke to the Regent, who was admittedly not a nice woman but he was humorless and without charm -- how was calling her a whore good for himself, England or anything? -- and I found him rather unnecessarily grim through the entire proceedings. Okay, I did greatly enjoy Bickerstaff telling Sharpe and Harper that they might as well enjoy one another's company because they'd be dead soon, and I liked the relationship between the English general's daughter and the Indian warlord's sister, though Celia was annoyingly passive and Lalima annoyingly underwritten. Ah well, it was a delight to see Sharpe again even if it's not my favorite. I really hope they make more.


The story of the first Labor Day at the National Museum of American History.


This was my favorite thing in the museum when I was a little girl -- the fish tank in the giant doll's house. I like that there's a dog, too.


Muppets, including a Muppet modeled on the late Jim Henson, their creator.


Since I have already been talking about Sharpe...this is a painting from the Americans at War exhibit of a farmer recruited to fight in the American Revolution. Am I crazy, or had the artist clearly been watching Sean Bean movies?


Also from the Americans at War exhibit, fragments of the Berlin Wall.


And for all those young "I'm not a feminist, I'm a humanist, feminism is no longer necessary" types...a history of modern birth control, particularly the development of the Pill as seen here. The exhibit noted that it would have been illegal to put up such an educational display in the US for more than ten years after the Pill was available. There was also a history of the movement against the Pill and all other forms of birth control, which extends quite late into the 20th century. Think your right to health care is safe? The Washington Post published "Doctors, Patients Distance Themselves From Care They Consider Immoral" just this past week.
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Have a wonderful Labor Day, everyone who has it off, and everyone else, have a wonderful Monday...we are hoping to go to the zoo to see the baby kiwi and tiger cubs!
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