Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"The Dandelion" by Wolfgang Borchert (1947). Translated by PeterWortsman.

World War Two German Soldier that hated the War

"Then There is Only One Thing to Do". (A very powerful anti war poem, universal in power)

By Wolfgang Borchert

Translated by Ryan Wilcox. (Placed in public domain by Ball State University)

You. Man at the machine and man in the workshop. If they order you
tomorrow to stop making water pipes and cook pots and start
making helmets and machine guns, then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Girl behind the counter and girl at the office. If they order
you tomorrow to fill hand grenades and mount scopes on sniper rifles,
then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Factory owner. If they order you tomorrow, to sell gun powder
instead of talcum powder and cocoa, then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Researcher in the laboratory. If they order you tomorrow, to
invent a new death to do away with old life, then there’s only one
thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Poet in your room. If they order you tomorrow not to sing
love songs, but songs of hate, then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Doctor at the sick bed. If they order you tomorrow to certify
men as fit for war, then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Minister in the pulpit. If they order you tomorrow to bless
murder and praise war as holy, then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Captain on the steamer. If they order you tomorrow not to
transport wheat but cannons and tanks, then there’s only one
thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Pilot at the airfield. If they order you tomorrow to carry
bombs and incineraries over cities, then there’s only one thing to
Say NO!
You. Tailor at your table. If they order you tomorrow to start
sewing uniforms, then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Judge in your robe. If they order you tomorrow to report to
the military court, then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Man at the train station. If tomorrow they order you to
give the signal for the ammunition and the troop trains to
depart, then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Man in the village and man in the city. If they come for
you tomorrow and with your induction papers, then there’s
only one thing to do:
Say NO!
You. Mother in Normandy and mother in the Ukraine, you, mother
in Frisco and London, you, on the banks of the Huang Ho and the
Mississippi, you, mother in Nepal and Hamburg and Cairo and Oslo –
mothers in all regions on earth, mothers all over the world, if
they order you tomorrow to bear children – nurses for military
hospitals and new soldiers for new battles, mothers all over the
world, then there’s only one thing to do:
Say NO! Mothers, say NO!
Because if you don’t say NO, if YOU don’t say no, mothers, then;
In the noisy port cities, hazy with steam, the large groaning ships
will grow silent, and like titanic, mammoth corpses, filled with
water, they will lethargically totter against the lifeless, lonely,
algae-, seaweed-, and shell-covered walls of the docks, the body
that previously appeared so gleaming and threatening now reaking
like a foul fish cemetery, rotten, sickly and dead –
the streetcars will be senselessly bent and dented like dull,
glass-eyed birdcages and lie like petals beside the confused, steel
skeletons of the wires and tracks, behind rotten sheds with holes
in their roofs, in lost, crater-strewn streets –
a mud-gray, heavy, leaden silence will roll in, voracious
and growing in size, will establish itself in the schools and
universities and theaters, on sport fields and children’s playgrounds,
horrible and greedy and unstoppable –
the sunny, juicy grapes will spoil on the neglected slopes, the rice
will dry up in the desolate earth, the potatoes will freeze in the
plowed fields and the cows will stretch their dead, rigid legs into
the sky like upturned milking stools –
in the institutions, the ingenious inventions of the great physicians
will become sour, rot, mold into fungus –
the last sacks of flour, the last jars of strawberries, the pumpkins
and the cherry juice will spoil in the kitchens, chambers and cellars,
in the cold storage lockers and storage areas – the bread under the
upturned tables and on splintered plates will become green and the
melted butter will smell like soft soap, the grain on the fields will
have bent down to the earth alongside rusty plows like a defeated army,
and the smoking, brick chimneys, the food and smokestacks of the stamping
factories, covered by eternal grass, will crumble, crumble, crumble –
then the last human being, clueless with slashed intestines and
polluted lungs, will wander alone under the poisonous, glowing sun and
vacillating constellations, wander lonely among immense mass graves and
cold idols of the gigantic, concrete-block, deserted cities, the
last human being, scrawny, mad, blasphemous, complaining – and his
terrible complaint: WHY? will trickle away unheard into
the steppe, waft through the burst ruins and die out in the rubble of
churches, slap against inpenetratable bunkers, fall into pools of blood,
unheard, answerless, the last animal-like cry of the last animal human being – 
all of this will come about, tomorrow, tomorrow perhaps, perhaps
already tonight, if – if – if – you don’t
say NO.

     I highly recommend this collection of short stories

I am estatic to once again be able to Participate in German Literature Month, elegantly and lovingly hosted by Lizzi's Literary Live and Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. This is my fourth year as a participant.   On the host blogs you will find the particularities of the event but the basic idea is to read literature first written in German (translated or not) and share your thoughts.  I began accumulating works for the event soon after the event ended last year and I began reading for it in mid-September.  

Works Read for G L V So Far

1.  Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada. A brilliant recreation of life in Nazi Germany. 

2.  Ostend, Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth and the Summer Before the End by Volker Weidermann. A fascinating social history 

3.  Buddenbrook Ths Decline of a Family by Thomas Mann.  Must reading 

4.  "The Governess" by Stefan Zweig

5.  Demian:  The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth by Herman Hesse.  Read the major works first.

6.  The Tanners by Robert Walser. a serious work of art

Wolfgang Borscht 1921 to 1947

The short stories of Wolfgang Borchert  let us see how a German draftee who hated being a soldier so much he probably shot off one of his own fingers in a vain effort to get of the army.  The public Anglo-American image of a German soldier is that of a blood thirsty savage loving nothing more than killing for his Furher.  History is written by the winners but we have the short stories of Wolfgang Borscht to let us see at least one man did not fit this pattern.  

"The Dandelion", published posthumously in 1947 in a collection of that name is luckily included in Tales of the German Imagination From the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg edited, introduced and translated by Peter Wortsman.  I featured some stories included in this wonderful anthology last year and have several more on my list for this year.  I also found a webpage with lots of translations of his stories besides "Dandelions".  (You can find it at the link at end of this page.)

"Dandelion" is told from within a German military prison toward the close of World War Two.  Most of the prisoners are army deserters, those seen as subversives, i somehow imagined this was a story of what might have happened had Robert Walser been drafted into the German Army!   

The first person narrator is in cell 242. The action of the story takes place in the exercise yard.  The men are marched around chain gang fashion.  The narrator fixates and begins for no provoked reason to hate the man in front of him. His description of the man shows how he himself has been brutalized by his experience  into hating a man who has done nothing to harm him.

"Why must Hairpiece –let me hereby dub him, it’s simpler that way –why must he keep walking and living, while young sparrows that haven’t yet learnt to fly fall to their death from the gutter on the roof? And I hate Hairpiece for his cowardice –how cowardly he is! He feels my hatred burning the back of his head while trotting around there before me, always in the circle, the same damned little circle surrounded by grey walls,"

I will leave the rest of the plot untold as I hope some will read this story.   

Wortsman provides us with a very interesting biography of Borchert

 Wolfgang Borchert (1921–47), whose searing poems, short stories, plays and anti-war manifesto made him a major proponent of what has come to be called Tr├╝mmerliteratur (rubble literature), hardly lived long enough to leave footprints on posterity. Born in Hamburg, he fled his apprenticeship to a book dealer to study drama and joined a travelling theatre group. But military service in the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front in the Second World War provided more drama than he could bear. Writing home about the horrors he’d witnessed and the miserable conditions, he was arrested by the Gestapo and charged with treasonous statements. A death sentence was commuted to eight months in prison, whereupon he was returned to the Front. Thereafter, one day returning from sentry duty with the middle finger of his left hand missing, he was accused of self-mutilation to evade military service and once again arrested, this time being placed in solitary confinement, after which he was yet again returned to the Front. Frostbite and hepatitis reduced him captured by the French, he escaped and walked all the way home to Hamburg. In the little time left he wrote poetry, short fiction and drama that scorch the page and sizzle on stage. He died in 1947 in a hepatic sanatorium in Basel, after drafting his anti-war manifesto Dann gibt es nur eins! ( Then We Have Only One Choice!)"

A link to a number of stories in translation. Most are brief.  If I have time, I will post on a few more of his short stories.

Mel ├╝


Lizzy Siddal said...

I can't recommend this anthology highly enough. it was my book of the year in 2013, and I was deeply impressed by Borchert's contribution to it. I wanted to read more by him, so especial thanks for the link,

Suko said...

This anthology does sound fascinating, Mel. Enjoy your reading this week, Mel (as if I really needed to say that to such an avid reader).

East African Films said...

I would love to do a short film based on The Dandelion. Any producer interested? German educated filmmaker from Kenya.

East African Films said...

Also studied German Literature. TU Berlin