Keep an eye on the tiny fishing hut,
For the sun will set
Before you’ve put ten miles behind you.
The dark water, thousand-eyes,
Opens its white-foamed lashes
To peer at you, wide-eyed and long,
For thirty days,
Even when the ship pitches hard
And takes an uncertain step,
Stand steady on the deck.
They are seated at the tables now,
eating the smoked fish;
later, the men will kneel
and mend the nets;
nights, though, they will sleep,
an hour or two
and their hands will soften,
free from salt and oil,
soft as bread of the dream
they have broken.
The first wave of night hits the shore,
The second has already reached you.
But when you cast your gaze beyond,
You can still see the tree
Raising a defiant arm
- The wind has already robbed it of another
- and you wonder: how much longer
How much longer
Will the twisted timber weather these storms?
There is no land in sight;
You should have dug into the sandbank with your hand
Or tied yourself to the cliffs by a strand of hair.
Blowing into conches, sea monsters float
On the crests of waves, they ride and slice
The day to pieces with bare sabres, leaving a red trail
In the water, where sleep overcomes you
For the rest of your days
And your senses leave you.
Suddenly, something has happened to the ropes,
You are called, and you are happy
To be needed. Best of all
Is to work on ships
That sail far away,
Tying knots in the ropes, bailing water
caulking walls and guarding the freight.
Best of all is to collapse in exhaustion,
When evening comes. Best of all, at daybreak,
With the first light of dawn, to awaken,
To stand against an immovable sky,
Ignoring the impassable water,
And to lift the ship above the waves,
Sailing toward the ever recurring shore of the sun."
Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) was born in Carinthia and began editing and writing scripts for Austrian radio. She studied extensively, earning her doctorate in philosophy for work on Marin Heidegger’s thought. She was close to other poets and writers including, Ilse Aichinger, Paul Celan, and Max Frisch. Bachmann died from complications as a result of a fire in her apartment in Rome, when she lived from 1953 on. These facts, combined with her complex vision of 20th century historical events, lent an air of mystery to this feminist before her times. Her poetry is infused with images from Art Nouveau and Surrealism.
Images: by Odilon Redon
1. The Path to the Sea, no date, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
2. Flower-Clouds, 1903, Art Institute of Chicago.
3. Underwater Vision, 1910, Museum of modern Art, NYC.
4. Nocturne, no date, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
5. Orpheus, c. 1903-1910, Cleveland Museum of Art.
6. Mysterious Boat, c. 1897, private collection.7. La Coquille, 1912, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
8..Visionary Head, 1907, private collection.
9. The Yellow Sail, c. 1905, Indianapolis Museum of Art.
10.Decorative panel for residence at Dommency, 1902, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.