Home > Uncategorized > Franz Werfel: Don’t you hear the roar of the bombers, the clatter of heavy machine guns that envelop the globe?

Franz Werfel: Don’t you hear the roar of the bombers, the clatter of heavy machine guns that envelop the globe?

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

Franz Werfel: Selections on war

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Franz Werfel
From Star of the Unborn (1946)
Translated by Gustave O. Arlt

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Stern eyes have been looking at me for some time. They are becoming ever sterner and now they even address me…Don’t you know what’s going on in the world today? Weren’t you yourself a persecuted victim? Aren’t you still? Don’t you hear the roar of the bombers, the clatter of heavy machine guns that envelop the globe, a Nessus garment woven of explosions? Worse than the noise, don’t you hear the death rattle of the mortally wounded in a thousand places and at every hour? And worse than this death rattle, don’t you hear the cry of torment and the dying gasp of the millions who are first ravished, then tortured, and finally massacred? Isn’t it your responsibility to keep your eyes focused on this monstrous reality that outfancies the maddest visions of a pain demon and is, at the same time, as final as a mathematical process? What higher duty have you than to catch the cry of torment and the gasp of the tortured and to preserve them in the graven word, at least for the brief span in which the experience and the expression of one generation remain intelligible to the next?

I can do nothing, oh, stern eyes, but lower my own before you. I confess and acknowledge: my time is short and I am wasting it unscrupulously. I have not forgotten that I, too, am persecuted. Nor have I become too deaf to hear the roar of the bombers, the clatter of heavy machine guns, the death rattle of the mortally wounded, the cry of torment and the dying gasp of the ravished, the tortured, the massacred. The monstrous reality, the mad visions of a pain demon, constrict my throat by day and night, where I walk and stand, on the street and in my room, at work and at play. Of course I am neglecting my duty. But this reality does not leave me even enough breath for an echoing groan to the cry of torment.

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