jeremy's Reviews > Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems, 1964-2001

Across the Land and the Water by W.G. Sebald
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's review
Apr 16, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: poetry, translation
Read in April, 2012

known primarily for his nearly unclassifiable works of fiction, sebald also dabbled in the realm of poetry. across the land and the water features some ninety poems from four different collections spanning nearly forty years. as iain galbraith, the book's translator, points out in the introduction, many of sebald's poems had never previously been published, let alone translated. galbraith outlines the history and chronology of sebald's poetic writings, providing a much needed context not only for the poems themselves, but also their relationship to sebald's body of work as a whole. as importantly, he discusses the inherent difficulties of the translation process, as well as the particular hardships one inevitably must endure in attempting to render an author as distinct as sebald.

as one would expect, sebald's poems share both similar content and style with his novels. many of the included poems are but four or five lines long, while others extend to a couple of pages or more. landscape, place, travel, train passengers, and memory figure prominently into this collection. with his gentle, evocative prose and often obscure geographical references, sebald's poems, again like his fiction, are carried by both the strength of his imagery and his measured use of language. reading sebald is sometimes like viewing a distant or obscured sight, perhaps as one would see through the veil of a low-lying mist. across the land and the water serves to enrich the late german's already esteemed legacy. these poems, however enigmatic they may casually appear, are but another medium through which sebald explored the themes and ideas that have made his work so singularly expressive.


our memories are quite similar
but pickled alive
in a poison which

accompanies objects too
as a part of this emptiness

the heartening message
that pythagoras once
would listen to the stars
barely comes down to us now

then let us hope
our children are learning
to dance in the dark

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