Günter Eich

A collection of poems in English translation by one of the leading post-war German poets, Günter Eich, is due out this year: 'Angina Days'.
Their translator, Michael Hofmann, introduces a selection.

‘There is a kind of temperament trap around Eich. One may use words like bitter, sour, grouchy, grumpy, gloomy, mordant, tart, but none of them gets the speed or the adroitness or the surprisingness or the sheer pleasure of these poems. There is nothing muddy or lingering or predictable about the writing, which is urgent, clear, and warm. The poems are not – one might think of someone like Larkin – self-steeped; each one, even the smallest of them, is a brisk and honest negotiation with the world.’
– Michael Hofmann, Translator


The existence of sea-cucumbers
bothers me,
especially the question:
did I fail
to notice them before,
or have there
really gotten to be 
more of them?


Bleached minutes
left me for my dreams.
Obedient to your eyes,
I ordered a strychnine at the bar.
I am free to go and will return
in the pattern of your blouse
as day breaks
over the ships’ lights.
Come! The bills
have been made out, 
the trumpets are clearing their throats.

Too Late for Modesty

We had tidied the house
and boarded up the windows,
had put by sufficient provisions in the cellars,
coal and oil,
and hidden death in phials
in snug folds of skin
Through the crack in the door we can
see the world:
a headless rooster
running across the yard.
He has trampled all our hopes.
We hang the sheets out on the balconies 
and surrender.

Topography of a better World

Vain the cruel hope
that the screams of the tortured
will pave the way for a brighter future:
learn to care whose voice cracks with feeling,
whose heart is stirred
when the rolls are changed
every twenty-eight minutes. 
Greetings, cemeteries!

New Postcards

Here too, the cat expects
birds in the long grass.
We always mistook the earthquakes
for slamming doors.
The children are going rather gray.
Oh, British racing green, dolphin days,
the sycamore grounds
translated into feeling.
If you’re agreed,
we’ll read
the instruction manual for survivors.
is a squabble over tips,
father-in-law, son-in-law,
the surface is collapsing into the earth’s interior,
dumping of fleeting Holderlin,
the correct attributes
because he was absent,
no interpretations
that would only make you tired.
A diseased snow
and the patients all too soluble
in footbaths –
put me down
for the penultimate consultation,
when the terminal winds 
will recite long poems.


Names with i
or names with o,
the effort to remember
seems beyond me.
It all hisses by
like the hiss on the phone,
like like.
I listen hard.
A lot of conversations
from the year 1200
concern me
but the pronunciation is different,
which throws me off.
Someone with a
is addressing me now,
a particular pressure of the hand
that I don’t return,
a sip of wine
baked dry,
a leftover u, 
an unavailing y.


Günter Eich (1907-1972) was one of the leading post-War German poets and a member of the Gruppe 47. He won the Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden in 1953, and Germany’s major literary prize, the Büchner Prize, in 1959.


Michael Hofmann edited the anthology Twentieth Century German Poetry (FSG, 2008). His translations from Günter Eich, Angina Days: Selected Poems, are due from Princeton U.P in May.