Poetry by Jürg Halter

Jürg Halter is an extremely versatile writer who works across numerous different genres. His poetry reflects upon and refracts many aspects of human identities, including the notion of a European identity. We are pleased to present a selection of his poetry, translated into English by Sheridan Marshall.



Switzerland, a grain of sand


We don’t live in a country,

we live on a grain of sand

in Napoleon’s cupped hand,

under his keen gaze.

We live in a vacuum

of bloody stories,

in the blank white cross,

inside fluid borders.


We’re part of the world

under a cheese cover,

the last to be affected

by its demise – who’d have thought!


We lean on the cool walls

of air-raid shelters,

looking dumbly at boxes

with old things,

before we go up again,

to close the shutters resignedly

ahead of the approaching enemy

– is he here yet?

Take your coat off


I come to you

with few provisions.


Follow the lines on your hand,

well-known, unfathomable territory.


The doctor says to you: take your coat off.

And you say: but I’m nothing underneath.


Yet we lie with one another

and that is still the present!


I follow you as long as you are here

and further still.


I am no less nothing

than you are.


Follow the lines on my hand,

occupy no-man’s-land.

The holy family


The mother rocks the child to sleep at the window.

Her face distorted by shadow.

Two screens illuminate the room.


The father sits in front of one, the daughter in front

of the other.

Hours pass, or is it days?

The mother lies on the sofa, the child in her arms.


Father and daughter have nodded off in front

of the screens.

The family hasn’t left the house for weeks.

The mother sits at the piano, plays the child a song.


The surface of the water in the bath

in the room next-door ripples a little.

Days pass or is it years?


The mother rocks the child to sleep at the window.

Two screens illuminate the room.

Something has begun, is going on or is past.

Poem for a random nation


A farmer goes to a demonstration in the capital,

alone among loud suit-wearers.


A monk sits on an electric toilet

in a fully booked seminar hotel and yawns.


Party boats float in front of a bay, tourists sunbathe on the beach,

inland the ruined country has been in flames for years.


The hand with future debts – a legal business.

Everything has its validity – only it’s too late for that.

The Station


I am the station

at which I once thought of arriving.


But this thought

no longer derails me.


I am the landscape,

just as I am the train that passes it by.


Fickle as I am,

my heart never knows in the morning in which breast

it will come to rest in the evening.




Halter image

Jürg Halter was born in 1980 in Bern, where he lives most of the time. Halter is a writer, musician and performance artist. He is one of the foremost Swiss authors of his generation and is a pioneer of the new German spoken word movement. He studied visual arts at the Bern University of the Arts. His works include the play Mondkreisläufer, first performed in 2016 and published in 2017 by Der gesunde Menschenversand; Das 48-Stunden-Gedicht (Wallstein, 2016), with Shuntaro Tanikawa; and the novel Erwachen im 21. Jahrhundert (Zytglogge Verlag, 2018). 



Halter cover


‘Switzerland, a grain of sand’ & ‘The holy family’ from Wir fürchten das Ende der Musik (2014) © Wallstein Verlag

‘Take your coat off ’ & 'The Station' from Nichts, das mich hält (2008) © Ammann Verlag

‘Poem for a random nation’ from an unpublished manuscript 2019 © Jürg Halter, Bern


Sheridan Marshall lives in London and works as a freelance translator. She has worked for New Books in German since 2011 and is co-editor of this issue. Her publications include Forgetting to Remember: Religious Remembrance and the Literary Response to the Holocaust (Valentine Mitchell, 2014).