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Writer's Block: Taxmen and Poetry

It's Tax Day in the U.S., a day when the mind might be too occupied with deductions and long lines at the post office to think about poetry. But let's try: what's your favorite line of poetry? Song lyrics count.

I love poetry.

So this topic kind of kills me because I have so many favorites. However I think I'm going to pick Robert Frost’s "Death of a Hired Man" It’s a conversation between a farmer, Warren and his wife Mary about a hired man they’ve employed in the past whose come to ask for work (or to find a comfortable and familiar spot to die) Warren and Mary debate the meaning of the word “Home”. Warren, in the most famous line of the poem, says that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” To which Mary replies, (and I always get goose bumps when I read it)

“I should have called it

Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

The idea that a place of comfort and peace is perhaps the one thing you shouldn’t have to work for or measure up to…makes me cry every time.  


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
Totally off-topic question (or not): what exactly is Tax Day?

That is a very powerful line you choose. I've got this one ballad that can make me tear up every time, but it's in German and therefore not really sharable in English without losing it's beauty.

It's a really stormy night at the coast and some villagers see a stranded ship on sea with a man still holding on to the mast. It's clear that he doesn't stand a chance to survive if they don't get him. So a young man, called Nis Randers and a few others want to row out there in a boat, but his mother begs him again and again not to do it, because he's her only living child left. She has already lost her husband and her sons Momme and Uwe who have never returned from the sea. But Nis Randers goes anyway and it's really dramatic, because they almost sink a few times, but then they are approaching the coast on their way back and you can hear a voice, shouting over the storm "Tell mother, it's Uwe!"
You would probably have to read it to feel all the emotions, but it's really touching.

It's probably not my "favorite" line of poetry, but one of the most touching ones I've ever heard.

Edited at 2009-04-16 11:24 pm (UTC)
Apr. 17th, 2009 02:53 am (UTC)
Tax day was yesterday, April 15. It's when federal and state income taxes are due, well they have to be postmarked by 11:59pm on that day. Most post offices stay open past midnight to accommodate procrastinators.

Robert Frost, the poet I quoted above, also said that "Poetry is what gets lost in translation"

I believe he's correct, to a point. If the translator is good and careful you can bridge the gap. There are a couple german poets that I love Rilke and Inneborge Bachmann, I keep meaning to great Goethe but I don't because I think it will be depressing.

I took (and failed!) german twice before my college figured out I had a language based learning disability that makes learning languages harder even then normal (and you have my complete respect and awe for being bilingual). So to fulfill the "culture" requirement I took german history and literature instead. Read some amazing stuff. One of my favorite shot stories of all time is The Excursion of the Dead Girls by Anna Seghers.

Which is all a lead up for me asking who wrote the balled? I'd love to find a translation because it sounds like a great story, even if you do lose the poetry.
Apr. 17th, 2009 03:51 am (UTC)
Poetry is what gets lost in translation
There's a lot of truth to that.
I love a lot of Rilke's poetry and Ingeborg Bachmann is one of those author's who sadly only get acknowledged at special courses in secondary school. I've got my personal problems with Goethe tbh. He has written outstanding literature, no one can deny it. But there's a tendency (especially in his later works) to "overdo" it a little bit. It's like a culmination of numerous stylistic devices to the point the message gets lost and it's simply boring to read. My impression was that he liked listening to himself a little bit too much for my liking sometimes. Unfortuntely this is a rather unpopular opinion in Germany, because he is officially one of our greatest poets! ;)

Oh, I'm sorry to hear about that disability! Well, German is really hard to learn for native English speaking people in general. Our grammar is horribly complicated. That's really interesting, because History (combined with Politics) and German were the two main courses I choose for my A-levels.

I'm really surprised to see the name Anna Seghers and this special short story here. She and I were born in the same city, where this excursion takes place. So I heard a lot about her, even if all you ever hear about at school is "The seventh cross". I guess, she is one of the most debated authors in this country, because of the rift between the former GDR and the FRG. Sometimes it's scary how divided people in this country still are, even 20 years after the "reunion".

You can find the original ballad here. It was written by Otto Ernst. If you find an English translation of "Nis Randers", I'd be really interested in it, too.
Apr. 18th, 2009 12:56 am (UTC)
Well I def am going to end up reading Faust at the very least, but I want to read Dr. Faustus first... one reason I've been putting it off. I tried to read the sorrows of young werther but... that wasn't exactly me.

Another thought on Poetry getting lost in translation I realized I own at least a half-dozen different translation of Rilke’s poems because I like specific translations of individual poems better than others. I have the same problem with other poets I like who didn't write in English...sigh... still I never run out of reading material.

And I know how complicated German Grammar is thanks. As I said I failed it, twice. ;)

The Seghers story is amazing. It was the piece that gobsmacked me most in that class and I had to spend years looking for a translation after I left school (we only got photocopies because the professor couldn't find a translation in a book she felt she could justify making us buy)

I have had no joy on the Ernst poem yet, but I'm not giving up. It's just going to make me work for it is all.
Apr. 18th, 2009 01:27 am (UTC)
Lol! That is an awesome coincidence. I was tortured to death with everything Faust/Goethe/Thomas Mann related at school. Our German teacher at that time was a big admirer of all of the above. We spent a whole year reading "The sorrows of young Werther", Plenzberg's adaption "The new sorrows of young Werther" (even worse) and "Lotte in Weimar" Since I was apparently the only one in class who actually bothered reading the latter, from then on I had the "honor" to get all Thomas Mann related assignments, including one about reading his diaries (boring to death, except for some historical background and the random sexual fantasy about a bell boy). The other big one happened to be "Dr. Faustus".

Of course we read Goethe's original "Faust". Part I is really worth a read, it's an example of his best writing, whereas Part II is ... let's just say difficult. It's one of those pieces I meant when I said he liked listening to himself. There's a reason it's only read by literature professors! ;)

Well, I own a lot of different translation of Shakespeare's works for the same reason.

I fear finding a translation of Ernst Otto will be even more difficult, because he isn't really well-known outside of Germany (or inside the country for that matter), whereas Anna Seghers at least had some "international success". Good Luck!
May. 20th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
I know I'm a bit (ok, a lot) behind in both reading and writing on LJ. (In my partial defense, though, I have to avoid most of your posts in order to avoid spoilers!)

Anyway...just wanted to say that is a lovely line of poetry you quoted about "home." I love it. I'd like to find or make a plaque of some sort. Or something.
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