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Franz Werfel: Advent of air war and apocalyptic visions


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

Franz Werfel: Selections on war


Franz Werfel
From The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933)
Translated by Geoffrey Dunlop


A Turkish air squadron was on its way across Istanbul, dropping swirling clouds of proclamations. Though he could not tell why, it grew clear to Johannes Lepsius that these planes above him should be named “Original Sin and Its Pride.” He wandered about within this perception as he might have in a huge building – in the Ministry of the Interior. Curtains fluttered out from before the doorways; they waved, like flames, and he thought of a passage in the Apocalypse, which he had meant to use in his next sermon: “And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle…and they had breast-plates, as it were breast-plates of iron, and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle…And they had tails, like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails, and their power was to hurt men five months.”


This time Enver Pasha had listened with not merely his usual attention, but intense eagerness. And now Herr Lepsius saw and heard a thing he had never experienced in his life. It was no sneering cruelty, no cynicism, that transfigured the boyish look on this war-lord’s face. No. What Herr Lepsius perceived was the arctic mask of the human being who “has overcome all sentimentality” – the mask of a human mind which has got beyond guilt and all its qualms, the strange, almost innocent naïveté of utter godlessness…

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