Sunday, March 1, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 50 (Georg Büchner)

Büchner, Georg
Complete Works and Letters


Purchased online, this is another volume in the Paul Celan Collection. I bought the book after reading Rosmarie Waldrop's translation of Celan's essay "The Meridian," which he wrote as an acceptance speech upon receiving the Georg Büchner prize in 1960. Reading Celan's speech lead me to search for Büchner's short story, "Lenz." This in turn lead me to purchase this book. Purchasing the book lead me to read the short story "Lenz." Reading the short story "Lenz" lead me to read it several more times. Reading it several more times lead me to read the play "Danton's Death." Reading "Danton's Death" lead me to see Andrzej Wajda's film, "Danton," and to read a little bit about the French revolution. Seeing Wajda's "Danton" lead me to read "Woyzeck" and then to watch Werner Herzog's film version starring Klaus Kinski. I had seen the film many times before, in fact I owned a copy on DVD, but had never read the play. All of this lead me back to Paul Celan, which in turn lead me back to myself. Going back to myself lead me to write, which helped me to produce my first book of poems, To Be Sung. It was a fruitful digression.

If you haven't read Georg Büchner's short story, "Lenz," I sincerely hope you do. It begins:

On the 20th Lenz went through the mountains. The peaks and high slopes in snow, gray rock down into the valleys, green fields, boulders, and pine trees. It was cold and damp, water trickled down the rocks and spring over the path. Pine branches hung down heavily in the moist air. Gray clouds moved across the sky, but everything so dense, and then the fog steamed up, and trailed, oppressive and damp, through the bushes, so sluggish, so shapeless. He went on indifferently, the path did not matter to him, sometimes up, sometimes down. He felt no fatigue, but at times he was irritated that he could not walk on his head. At first he felt tension in his chest when stones jumped away, when the gray forest shivered beneath him, when at times the fog enveloped the shapes or partly revealed the powerful branches; he felt an urge, he searched for something, as though for lost dreams, but he found nothing. Everything seemed him to be so small, so close, so wet, he would have liked to set the earth behind the stove, he could not understand why he needed so much time to climb down a steep slope, to reach a distant point; he felt he should be able to cover any distance in a few steps. Only at times when the storm hurled the clouds into the valley, the forest steamed up, and voices awakened on the rocks, often like thunder echoing in the distance and then raging up violently, as if they wanted to celebrate the earth in their wild rejoicing, and the clouds galloped along like wild neighing horses, and sunshine pierced through them and emerged and drew its flashing sword along the snowy slopes, so that a bright, dim, blinding light cut across peaks down into the valleys, or when the storm forced the clouds downward and tore a light blue sea into them, and then the wind died down, humming up like a lullaby and chiming bells from deep within ravines, from the tops of the pine trees, and base, few woods, but all in gray, somber hue, a view toward the west into the country and to the mountain range running straight from south to north, immense, grave or silent peaks standing like a dusky dream. Huge masses of light gushing at times from the valleys like a golden river, then clouds again, hanging on the highest peak, then climbing down the forest slowly into the valley or sinking and rising in the sunbeams like a flying silvery web; not a sound, no movement, no birds, nothing but the wailing of the wind, sometimes near, sometimes far. Dots also appeared, skeletons of huts, boards covered with straw, a somber black in color. People, silent and grave, as though not daring to disturb the peace of their valley, greeted them quietly as they rode past. The huts were full of life, people crowded around Oberlin, he instructed, gave advice, consoled; everywhere trusting glances, prayer. People told of dreams, premonitions. Then quickly to practical affairs, laying roads, digging canals, visiting the school. Oberlin was tireless. Lenz his constant companion, at times conversing, attending to business, absorbed in nature. It all had a beneficial and soothing effect on him, he often had to look into Oberlin's eyes, and the immense peace that comes upon us in nature at rest, in the deep forest, in moonlit, melting summer nights seemed even nearer to him in these calm eyes, this noble, serious face....

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