In this week’s post we have included a copy of Bohemia Lies by the Sea by renowned Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann and translated by Frank Beck. Some might be interested to know that bearing the same name as Bachmann’s poem is the work of the internationally recognised German artist, Anselm Kiefer (pictured above). Kiefer, known for his command of scale, his unflinching confrontation of the past and his incorporation of raw materials such as straw and lead into his work, took inspiration from Bachmann’s words. In a piece that much like Bachmann’s poem ‘concerns longing for utopia’ […] recognizing that it can never be found, just as the former kingdom of Bohemia, landlocked in central Europe, can never lie by the sea.’
(Böhmen liegt am Meer)Ingeborg Bachmann translated from the German by Frank Beck
Even if houses here are green, I’ll step inside one.
If the bridges are well built, I’ll walk on solid ground.
If, in every age, love’s labor must be lost, I’ll gladly lose it here.
If it’s not me, it’s another who is just as good as me.
If a word borders on me here, I’ll let it border.
If Bohemia still lies by the sea, I’ll believe in the sea again.
And, still believing in the sea, I can hope for land.
If it’s me, then it’s anyone and might as well be me.
I want nothing more for myself. I want to go under.
Under – that means the sea, where I will find Bohemia again.
Finally grounded, I wake up in peace.
From deep inside, I know I’m unabandoned.
Come, you Bohemians, sailors and dock whores and unmoored ships.
Don’t all you Illyrians, Veronese and Venetians want to be
Bohemians, too? Act out the comedies that make us laugh
and those that make us cry. And err a hundred times,
as I myself have erred and never withstood the trials,
though I did withstand them, time and time again –
just as Bohemia withstood them and one fine day
won a reprieve to the seaside and now lies by the water.
I still border on a word and on another land;
I border, like little else, on everything more and more,
a Bohemian, a vagabond who has and is held by nothing,
whose only gift was to find, from a dubious sea, my chosen land.
This poem is taken from PN Review 228, Volume 42 Number 4, March – April 2016.