Morphine: Three Poems by Emmy Hennings


Emmy Hennings

We are waiting for a final adventure.
Why should we care about the shining sun?
High piled days collapse
Restless nights—prayer in purgatory.

We no longer read the daily news, either.
Only sometimes do we smile, silently, into our pillows,
Because we know everything, and clever
We fly here and there in a feverish chill.

People may hurry and strive
Today the rain falls even more somber
We float through life adrift
And sleep, confused, beyond…

(Translated by Glenn Wallis)

Emmy Hennings

Wir warten auf ein letztes Abenteuer
Was kümmert uns der Sonnenschein?
Hochaufgetürmte Tage stürzen ein
Unruhige Nächte – Gebet im Fegefeuer.

Wir lesen auch nicht mehr die Tagespost
Nur manchmal lächeln wir still in die Kissen,
Weil wir alles wissen, und gerissen
Fliegen wir hin und her im Fieberfrost.

Mögen Menschen eilen und streben
Heut fällt der Regen noch trüber
Wir treiben haltlos durchs Leben
Und schlafen, verwirrt, hinüber…

After the Cabaret
Emmy Hennings

I go home early in the morning.
The clock says five, it will soon be bright.
But the light still burns in the boarding house.
The Cabaret is finally over.
Children huddle in a corner,
Already, farmers are off to the market,
Someone, silent and old, walks to church.
Bells ring from their towers in earnest,
And a whore with crazy curls
Still stumbles around, bleary-eyed and cold.
Love me pure of all sins.
See, on certain nights, I have watched.

(Translated by Glenn Wallis)

Nach dem Cabaret
Emmy Hennings

Ich gehe morgens früh nach Haus.
Die Uhr schlägt fünf, es wird schon hell,
Doch brennt das Licht noch im Hotel.
Das Cabaret ist endlich aus.
In einer Ecke Kinder kauern,
Zum Markte fahren schon die Bauern,
Zur Kirche geht man still und alt.
Vom Turme läuten ernst die Glocken,
Und eine Dirne mit wilden Locken
Irrt noch umher, übernächtig und kalt.
Lieb mich von allen Sünden rein.
Sieh, ich hab manche Nacht gewacht.

Emmy Hennings

To you, it is as if I were already marked
And stood on the list of those to die.
It keeps me from committing certain sins.
How slowly I am draining life.
And my steps are so often fearful,
My heart has a sickly beat
And weakens with each passing day.
An angel of death stands in the center of my room.
Still, I dance until I’m out of breath.
I will soon lie in the grave.
And nobody will snuggle with me.
Ahh, give me kisses until I die.

(Translated by Glenn Wallis)

Emmy Hennings

Dir ist als ob ich schon gezeichnet wäre
Und auf der Totenliste stünde.
Es hält mich ab von mancher Sünde.
Wie langsam ich am Leben zehre.
Und ängstlich sind oft meine Schritte,
Mein Herz hat einen kranken Schlag
Und schwächer wird’s mit jedem Tag.
Ein Todesengel steht in meines Zimmers Mitte.
Doch tanz ich bis zur Atemnot.
Bald werde ich im Grabe liegen
Und niemand wird sich an mich schmiegen.
Ach, küssen will ich bis zum Tod.


Emmy Hennings (1885-1948). German Dada poet and performer.

Spectral Twilight: Three Poems by Georg Trakl



Spectral Twilight
Georg Trakl

Silence at the forest’s edge encounters
A dark beast;
On the hill, evening’s breeze quietly fades,

The plaint of the blackbird hushes
And the gentle flutes of autumn
Fall silent in the reeds.

You float on black clouds
Drunk on poppies
The nocturnal pond,

The starry sky.
Forever sounds the lunar voice of the sister
Through the spectral night.

(Translated by Glenn Wallis)


My commentary.

It is the silence of matter annihilating the sacred dream—mind’s weft, the works of the yearning spirit.

Are you not a dark beast? Did you think your were a god? For the gods are the wind and their naming. Silence is a mode of mute beasts, who live in the forest, our home, of timber, stone, and shit.

The gentle flutes of autumn fall silent in the reeds; the beast and the blackbird respond.

Languidly, we gaze into the nocturnal pond, beguiled by our own reflection. We see ourselves everywhere. The danger here, though, is more than the willfulness of our human narcissism. Hovering above the earth in the black wisdom of our “knowing,” that poppy of forever makes us drunk.

But the poet has the kindness to remind us that the night is spectral. Long before forever, every star in the nocturnal pond will burn out. Our heaven, once lit, however dimly, by our pale lunar sister, will become perfect darkness. The resplendent glories of heaven and earth will become coal-like husks of collapsed matter. Stellar corpses will lumber, for one final instant, through space. Then, the last atom will dissolve.

The poet awakens in us a searing, living memory of our ancestral scope. His “edge” is a line of horizon that renders facile all notions of homo sapiens as guardians of the axis mundi, and of earth, indeed, the cosmos, as “home.” How much more so does Trakl’s edge obliterate fantasies of an unscathed exit, such as heaven or rebirth? How infinitesimally puny does the ostensible cognitive fizzle known as “enlightenment” appear against the cosmic catastrophe. This is ancestral anamnesis. It means: remember, remember! Remember what you are!

The German original:

Geistliche Dämmerung
Georg Trakl

Stille begegnet am Saum des Waldes
Ein dunkles Wild;
Am Hügel endet leise der Abendwind,

Verstummt die Klage der Amsel
Und die sanften Flöten des Herbstes
Schweigen im Rohr.

Auf schwarzer Wolke
Befährst du trunken von Mohn
Den nächtigen Weiher,

Den Sternenhimmel.
Immer tönt der Schwester mondene Stimme
Durch die geistliche Nacht.


Georg Trakl

In evening, the lament of the cuckoo
grows still in the woods.
The grain bends its head deeper,
the red poppy.

A black thunderstorm is threatening
above the hill.
The crickets’ ancient song
dies in the field.

Leaves on the chestnut tree
no longer stir.
Your dress rustles
on the spiral stair.

The candle glows silently
in the dark room;
a silver hand
puts it out;

windless, starless night.

(Translated by Glenn Wallis)


Georg Trakl

Am Abend schweigt die Klage
des Kuckucks im Wald.
Tiefer neigt sich das Korn,
der rote Mohn.

Schwarzes Gewitter droht
über dem Hügel.
Das alte Lied der Grille
erstirbt im Feld.

Nimmer regt sich das Laub
der Kastanie.
Auf der Wendeltreppe
rauscht dein Kleid.

Stille leuchtet die Kerze
im dunklen Zimmer;
eine silberne Hand
löschte sie aus;

windstille, sternlose Nacht.

Autumn of the Lonely
by Georg Trakl
(Translated by Glenn Wallis)

Dark autumn returns full of fruit and bounty,
Golden luster of beautiful summer days.
A pure blue alights out of a fallen hull;
The flight of birds resounds from ancient sagas.
The wine is pressed, the mild silence
Suffused with the quiet answer of dark questions.

And here and there a cross on a desolate hill;
In the red forest a herd is lost.
A cloud wanders over the surface of a pond;
The peasant’s calm gesture rests.
Quietly, the blue wing of evening stirs
A roof of dry straw, the black earth.

Soon stars will nest in the brows of the weary one;
In cool rooms a silent modesty returns
And angels step quietly out of the blue
Eyes of the lovers, who suffer more softly now.
The reed breathes; a boney horror attacks
When the thaw drips blackly from barren fields.

Der Herbst des Einsamen

Der dunkle Herbst kehrt ein voll Frucht und Fülle,
Vergilbter Glanz von schönen Sommertagen.
Ein reines Blau tritt aus verfallener Hülle;
Der Flug der Vögel tönt von alten Sagen.
Gekeltert ist der Wein, die milde Stille
Erfüllt von leiser Antwort dunkler Fragen.

Und hier und dort ein Kreuz auf ödem Hügel;
Im roten Wald verliert sich eine Herde.
Die Wolke wandert übern Weiherspiegel;
Es ruht des Landmanns ruhige Geberde.
Sehr leise rührt des Abends blauer Flügel
Ein Dach von dürrem Stroh, die schwarze Erde.

Bald nisten Sterne in des Müden Brauen;
In kühle Stuben kehrt ein still Bescheiden
Und Engel treten leise aus den blauen
Augen der Liebenden, die sanfter leiden.
Es rauscht das Rohr; anfällt ein knöchern Grauen,
Wenn schwarz der Tau tropft von den kahlen Weiden.

The Silence of Georg Trakl

The poems of Georg Trakl have a magnificent silence in them. It is very rare that he himself talks—for the most part he allows the images to speak for him. Most of the images, anyway, are images of silent things.

In a good poem made by Trakl images follow one another in a way that is somehow stately. The images have a mysterious connection with each other. The rhythm is slow and heavy, like the mood of someone in a dream. Wings of dragonflies, toads, the gravestones of cemeteries, leaves, and war helmets give off strange colors, brilliant and sombre colors—they live in too deep a joy to be gay. At the same time they live surrounded by a darkness without roads. Everywhere there is the suggestion of this dark silence:

The yellow flowers
Bend without words over the blue pond

The silence is the silence of things that could speak, but choose not to. The German language has a word for deliberately keeping silence, which English does not have. Trakl uses this word “schweigen” often. When he says “the flowers/Bend without words over the blue pond”, we realise that the flowers have a voice, and that Trakl hears it. They keep their silence in the poems. Since he doesn’t put false speeches into the mouths of plants, nature has more and more confidence in him. As his poems grow, more and more creatures live in his poems—first it was only wild ducks and rats, but then oak trees, deer, decaying wall- paper, ponds, herds of sheep, trumpets, and finally steel helmets, armies, wounded men, battlefield nurses, and the blood that had run from the wounds that day.

[From a preface by James Wright and Robert Bly]
Georg Trakl (1877-1914).






On the sabbath the sorcerers: Georges Bataille


I’d dream to touch
Georges Bataille

I’d dream to touch the sadness of the world
the bog of unenchant upon the eaves
I’d dream the waters’ grave from I’d retrieve
the lonely channels of your mouth’s inter

I’ve felt to hand corruption’s caudal fur
the night of harrow wood it had elide
and saw this were the sinister you died
I limn it laughing sadness of the world

lucific crack in mad a thunder scree
your limit licking laugh long nudity
immense in splendor last illumine me

I saw your sad as if a charity
in radiant in night long morphic sheen
and tears the tomb of your infinity.

(trans: Mark Daniel Cohen)


The Dung among the Head
Georges Bataille

For sake the dung among the head
I detonate I execrate the sky
the clouds expectorate
it’s bitter to immensity
my eyes are pigs
my heart is ink
my balls become dead suns

the fallen stars gone fathomless grown grave
I weep my language leaks
it imports no immensity’s a round
and rolled and bound in sound
I passion death petition it
in Holy Father’s butchery.

(Translated by Mark Daniel Cohen)

From Library Journal
Georges Bataille (1897-1962), French avant-garde critic, editor, and novelist, is best known for provocative “erotic” novels and offbeat philosophical theories. His overlooked poetry… mingles religious and scatological imagery. Nonbelieving, anti-Puritan, aspiring to freedom of thought without “moral and social constraint,” Bataille’s world is one in which love and passion are obstacles to openness of mind. Using X-rated erotic motifs, Bataille turns visceral functions into a “headless bird with wings that beat the night;” idealism becomes the “funereal immodesty of dead bones,” and stars “anguish beyond compare.” Like the better-known Jean-Paul Sartre, Bataille fends off “self-annihilation” by envisioning a beleaguered and austere existence: “the immense universe is death/ I am the fever/ the desire.” Confronting “the void,” Bataille bravely concludes, “I was grimacing and laughing, lips wide apart, teeth naked.” This is the audacious, frightful side of surrealism.? (Frank Allen)

From Publishers Weekly.
Bataille’s poetry is definitely the poetry of a philosopher, but it is also a poetry with an obsessively erotic, often scatological edge, frequently pushing the boundary of what is or isn’t obscene. Bataille believed that everything relates to the workings of desire and death in sexuality, but he also believed that poetry was the product of “hate” (and other extreme emotions), just as much as erotic pleasure accedes to self-annihilation. But Bataille was interested in actual action, not just disengaged hypothesis concerning the sexual act. Bataille produced some of the most transcendent, pointedly filthy literature of the century.


Georges Bataille

Laugh and laugh
at the sun
at the nettles
at the stones
at the ducks

at the rain
at the pee-pee of the pope
at mommy
at a coffin full of shit.

Nick Land’s comment (from The Thirst for Annihilation).

This poem introduces three of the most crucial themes traversing Bataille’s writing: laughter, excrement, and death. Such “themes” are suspended only momentarily at the lip of philosophical intelligibility, and then released into a euphoric immolation upon the burn-core of literature, disintegrating into a senseless heterogeneous mass. His texts obsessively reiterate that the decomposed body is excremental, and that the only sufficient response to death is laughter. The corpse not only dissolves into a noxious base matter analogous to excrement, it is also in fact defecated as waste by the life of the species. For the corpse is the truth of the biological individual, its consummate superfluity. It is only through the passage into irredeemable waste that the individual is marked with the delible trace of its excess. It is because life is pure surplus that the child of “Laughter”—standing by the side of of his quietly weeping mother and transfixed by the stinking ruins of his father—is gripped by convulsions of horror that explode into the peals of mirth, as uncompromising as orgasm. “Laughter” is, in part, a contribution to the theory of mourning. Laughter is a communion with the dead, since death is not the object of laughter: it is death itself that finds a voice when we laugh. Laughter is that which is lost to discourse, the hemorrhaging of pragmatics into excitation and filth.

It is said that on the sabbath the sorcerers would lift their naked asses toward the sun, and would put a flaming sheet of toilet paper in their assholes to cast light on the mass.

Intense sensation is what destroys order, and I don’t think it has to do with anything but that. It is essential that people manage to totally destroy the servile state they’re kept in, due to the fact that they built their world, a human world, a world I live in, er, a world I live off, but which either way has a kind of charge to it, something infinitely heavy that is found in all our anxieties, and which need to be removed in one way or another.

A film about Georges Bataille.


Image: Gerhard Richter, “Bergsteiger,” 1964



What Is The Word
Samuel Beckett

folly for to—
for to—
what is the word—
folly from this—
all this—
folly from all this—
folly given all this—
folly seeing all this—
what is the word—
this this—
this this here—
all this this here—
folly given all this—
folly seeing all this this here—
for to—
what is the word—
seem to glimpse—
need to seem to glimpse—
folly for to need to seem to glimpse—
what is the word—
and where—
folly for to need to seem to glimpse what where—
what is the word—
over there—
away over there—
afar away over there—
afaint afar away over there what—
what is the word—
seeing all this—
all this this—
all this this here—
folly for to see what—
seem to glimpse—
need to seem to glimpse—
afaint afar away over there what—
folly for to need to seem to glimpse afaint afar away over there what—
what is the word—

what is the word

[Something like a comment. By Glenn Wallis.]

What is the word

That is not a question, is it? Notice the lack of punctuation. A question mark would be nice, though, wouldn’t it? We could read it as a persistent probing for a word, for the word, for the right word. We could then join in on the fun, and perhaps even accomplish something: “What is the word I am looking for? Ah, yes…” But here is no “I,” no agent, no someone, and  no some thing to get.  And here, too, is no “?” for us to doodle with.

We could place a period at the end. Then, it is a declarative statement. It is an answer. “What” is the word. I found the word I was looking for: it is “what.” But then I wonder: an answer to what question; an answer to what?

What folly.

This here, this this here—is this not enough for us, this this? This what? This what. This what? This—. How much this would be enough? What word could we use to say?  Do you have the right word?                           What is enough

The poet may have been suffering from aphasia when he wrote the poem. Yet, it captures a life-long obsession, or concern—of his, of ours: to name the unnamable. But the unnamable is not some

What folly. What folly for to need to seem to glimpse afaint afar away over there what—


The poet’s sort-of-friend, E.M. Cioran, says that “a sudden silence in the middle of a conversation suddenly brings us back to essentials: it reveals how dearly we must pay for the invention of speech.” I wonder if being still, cultivated, practiced stillness, “meditation,” could do the same. I would, though, as a working hypothesis, rephrase Cioran:

A sudden silence in the midst of this reveals         what

Painting: Alberto Giacometti (1906-1966); no title

Two Nature Poems


Poems of Air
Mark Strand

The poems of air are slowly dying;
too light for the page, too faint, too far away,
the ones we’ve called The Moon, The Stars, The Sun,
sink into the sea or slide behind the cooling trees
at the field’s edge. The grace of light is everywhere.

Some summer day or winter night the poems will cease.
No one will weep, no one will look at the sky.
A heavy mist will fill the valleys,
an indelible dark will rain on the hills,
and nothing, not a single bird, will sing.


Michel Houellebecq

I have no time for those pompous imbeciles
Who go into ecstasies before bunnies’ burrows
Because nature is ugly, tedious and hostile;
It has no message to transmit to humans.

How pleasant, at the wheel of a powerful Mercedes,
To drive through solitary and grandiose places;
Subtly manipulating the gearstick.
You dominate the hills, the rivers, and all things.

The forests, so close, glitter in the sun
And seem to reflect ancient knowledges;
In the depths of their valleys must lie such marvels,
After a few hours you are taken in;

Leaving the car, the irritations begin;
You stumble into the middle of a repugnant mess,
An abject universe, deprived of all meaning
Made of stones and brambles, flies and snakes.

You miss the parking-lots and the smell of petrol,
The serene, gentle glint of the nickel counters;
It’s too late. It’s too cold. The night begins. The forest enfolds you in its cruel dream.


On Mark Strand



In his short story, “Homage to Hemingway,” Julian Barnes has his writing-instructor protagonist use Finnish composer Sibelius (1865-1957, as I learn from the somewhat frazzled fictional instructor), as an example of a particular process; that, namely, from complexity to simplicity, or perhaps better said, from expansiveness to compression.

Seven symphonies… They start – the first two – with the great melodic expansiveness. You hear a lot of Tchaikovsky, a bit of Bruckner, Dvorak, perhaps, anyway, the great 19th century European symphonic tradition. Then the Third – shorter, just as melodic, and yet more restrained, held back, moving in a new direction. Then the great Fourth, austere, forbidding, granitic, the work where he most engages with modernism… Then the Fifth, Sixth, and that epitome of compression the Seventh. To my doubtless fallible years, one of the things Sibelius is asking, from the Third to the Seventh, is: What is melody? How far can we compress it, reduce it to a phrase, even, but make that phrase as charged and memorable as some Big Tune from the good old days? Music that seems to question itself and its underlying justification even as it beguiles you. (The New Yorker, July 4, 2011, p.63.)

I am interested in exploring the same matter with meditation. That is, to what extent can we compress meditation? how can we reduce it to its “epitome”?

When I read Barnes’s story, it made me think of how I have followed a similar process in terms of meditation practice. Continue reading

You Who Wish to Conquer Pain


I offer you here a moment’s respite from a world full of pompous bloviators. I offer you here the balm of humility, the elixir of not knowing. 


Leonard Cohen: You mean, why, why do the people come to see me?
German interviewer: Well, why are they so fascinated?
L.C: ……………………….I don’t know.
Interviewer: Is it because they understand, you think?
L.C: I mean, there are, you know, I, I, if you just stand on a corner there, and hold up a stick with a curious sign on it, Continue reading