Sunday, January 11, 2015

Only a golden birch is snowing

'From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind' 
- Henry David Thoreau, 1862

The second volume of Autumn Richardson and Richard Skelton's Reliquiae arrived over Christmas.  Among its poems and texts there is a recurring theme of nature passing, from the last wolf in England, to the bullfinches and hawfinches, cowslips, cornflowers and corncockles that still populated farmland after the war.  Expressions of sadness and pain are reprinted from writers who have lamented the loss of trees and the 'poor woeful woods'.  These losses are profound, as a passage from the Kalevala implies: 'Where does the music come from?  Here's where: from an oak tree...'  An impossible Chippewa cure for bad blood requires the bark of 'white poplar, yellow poplar, white birch, yellow birch, large oak, small oak, small kinnikinik, large kinnikinik, and all the trees south of you.'  There are moments in Reliquiae where nature can be found reclaiming the overlooked corners of the city or achieving a foothold in the Arctic's 'harsh tracts / where even snow cannot rest', but the last fragmentary words of its closing piece are these: 'Everything lost.  Only a golden birch is snowing.  Trembles'.

In writing here about the first Reliquiae I highlighted its extracts from Fluss ohne Ufer (Shoreless River), a novel by Hans Henny Jahnn.  Here again I was most intrigued by some translations from the German - including that line about the golden birch - by Jahnn's contemporay Jürgen von der Wense.  A Dadaist poet and composer, he became an obsessive walker of the landscape around Kassel, Göttingen and Paderborn and left at his death in 1966 over 300 folders of writings, translations, letters, photographs and musical compositions.  An as-yet untranslated selection of his later work, Wanderjahre, sounds wonderful (in the words of Amazon/Google Translate it has 'anthemic landscape and soul descriptions whose imagery will leave an intoxicating dream of colors in the reader.')  The selections in Reliquiae include material from Wanderjahre and two other books that have appeared in Germany.  They will be published later this year in A Shelter for Bells: From the Writings of Jürgen von der Wense, edited and translated by Kirston Lightowler and Herbert Pfostl.

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