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Ingeborg Bachmann
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message 1: by Kris (last edited Sep 06, 2010 06:26PM) (new)

Kris Kipling (liehtzu) | 8 comments When Bachmann was twelve years old, she witnessed the Nazi troops marching into her formerly peaceful Klagenfurt, a traumatic experience she has described again and again: “The pain came too early and was perhaps stronger than anything since. . . the monstrous brutality, one could feel it, the yelling, singing and marching, an attack, the first, of deathly anxiety.” Like the Plath of “Daddy” and “Little Fugue,” this Aryan poet came to despise her father (in Bachmann’s case a bona fide Fascist) and to identify with the Nazis’ Jewish victims. But, and here there is again a parallel to Plath, Bachmann’s political outrage represents a displacement from something much more personal–perhaps the pain felt in response to the betrayal of a lover with a concomitant sense of isolation, despair, and a longing for death. As she puts it in “Darkness Spoken”

Like Orpheus I play

death on the strings of life,

and to the beauty of the Earth

and your eyes, which govern heaven,

I can only speak of darkness.

or in “My Bird”:

Whatever happens; the devastated world

sinks back into twilight

the forest holds its night potion ready,

and from the tower, which the sentry deserted,

the owl’s eyes gaze downward, steady and calm.

Or in the late poem “Enigma”:

Nothing more will come.

Spring will no longer flourish.

Millennial calendars forecast it already.

And also summer and more, sweet words

such as “summer-like”–

nothing more will come.

You mustn’t cry,

says the music.


no one



This was written in 1967, some six years before Bachmann suffered the terrible accident (if indeed it was an accident) that ended her life: she died of burns induced by a fire caused by smoking in bed in her Rome apartment. But, if not quite a suicide like Plath, Bachmann was, like Rimbaud, what the French call a literaturicide (or, more accurately, poésie-icide) much earlier. Having become a celebrity for her two poetry collections in the fifties, having won every prize, having been on the cover of Der Spiegel, and appointed to the newly created Chair of Poetry at Frankfurt, in her thirtieth year, Bachmann all but stopped writing poetry and turned to prose–a prose that is, ironically, at least as “poetic” as her poetry, and more consonant with our own postmodern poetics than was her lyric of the fifties. The radio plays, the short stories, the unfinished novel trilogy Todesarten (Ways of Death)–these are the accomplishments of Bachmann’s maturity and the most lasting testimony to her genius.

Why did Bachmann stop writing lyric poems? In an interview, she remarked: “I have nothing against poems, but you must try to understand that there are moments when suddenly, one has everything against them, against every metaphor, every sound, every rule for putting words together, against the absolutely inspired arrival of words and images.” What she means here, I think, is that, in the writing of lyric, she couldn’t seem to get around the male and patriarchal voice so powerful in German poetry. “I had only known,” Bachmann admitted in 1971, “how to tell a story from a masculine position. But I have often asked myself: why, really? I have not understood it, not even in the case of the short stories.” Then, too, Bachmann feared, as did her contemporary Paul Celan, that German lyric too easily falls into the trap of “harmony,” the harmony which, as Celan puts it, “no longer has anything in common with that ‘harmony’ which sounded more or less unchallenged, side by side with the most dreadful.” The reference here is of course to the Holocaust: Bachmann was well aware of the difficulty Celan speaks of.

(from a review of Songs in Flight here: http://marjorieperloff.com/reviews/so...)

message 2: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 139 comments Mod
What's a good book to start? I was thinking of starting with Malina.

message 3: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 139 comments Mod
Ingeborg Bachmann's Poetry in Translation by Mary O'Donnell: http://poethead.wordpress.com/2013/08...

message 4: by Kris (new)

Kris Kipling (liehtzu) | 8 comments There's the prose, one novel ("Malina") and a few collections of short stories ("Three Paths to the Lake," "The Thirteenth Year"), and the poetry, of which Marjorie Perloff above far prefers Mark Anderson's long-out-of-print and by now fairly expensive collection "In the Storm of Roses" to Peter Filkins' translations, currently in print, "Darkness Spoken." Filkins and Anderson have both translated a few other stray items. Scattered Bachmann poems are translated in various European or World Poetry anthologies as well. For the real die-hards, there's the Bachmann-Celan correspondence which is, surprisingly, still in print. Between her prose and poetry I prefer the poems, though Bachmann herself did not.

message 5: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jesstrea) | 25 comments I really like her story collection, "Three Paths to the Lake." Would like to read more by her. Haven't read much of her poetry yet.

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