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Franz Werfel: To a Lark in War-Time


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Franz Werfel: Selections on war


Franz Werfel
Translated by Edith Abercrombie Snow

The First Transport of Wounded

Careful! No outburst now! Tremble! Hush!
You people, you folk, it is true! Yes, it is true!
Do not sob out, you people!
Hold the scream tight in your throat!
Still! Lower your head
That now is bowed down forever, you women!
Your kerchief, your hand hold to your mouth! Hush!
People, you folk, it is true!
Not a word more, no more wailing!
Quietly pass on that horror-stricken look,
And touch each other, oppressed ones, with a gentle touch!
Look there, over there, where now I point with my hand!
Bow down lower, sleep-walkers, pain-begotten ones,
You wretched, oh you lamentable age!


To a Lark in War-Time

Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert SHELLEY

Thou heavenly quivering beneath the deathlike above!
Thou ethereal whirring above the deadly beneath!
Thou ever prolific, prolific soul!
Oh hope, not ours,
In the midst of this tearless abyss!
We lift our hardened feet
To drums and convicts’ march.
Trumpets, whips on the open flesh
Flog us and force us ahead.

Still we can feel thee aloft
Over our slavish necks,
Thee, little ardent one,
Thee, God’s flamelet of song.

Oh thou life, thou innocent speck,
Thou art not of us!
Because we lie,
We bellow and glare
When the guard herds us to soup.
We fear just one thing,
Our master, the whip.
And so we are not what we are.

But thou, tiny lark,
Thou unblemished, exquisite truth,
Thou doest thy life,
Thou livest thy song, and
Thou art what thou art.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. J. Lindsay Kellock
    August 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    Powerful, reverberating prose and poetry for our times.


  2. richardrozoff
    August 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Agreed. Like most people I had thought of Werfel as a novelist – The Song of Bernadette, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh – and didn’t realize he had written such fine, such sublime, lyric poetry.
    Tried to find a decent version of “Skylark” in German to accompany the translation, as the use of the second person familiar in English is always problematic, but the only one online contains typos and other flaws that couldn’t be corrected. Does anyone know of a good original?


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