Eva PicEva Bourke is originally from Germany but has lived in Ireland most of her life. She has published six collections of poetry, most recently piano  (May 2011, Dedalus Press, Dublin), two comprehensive anthologies of contemporary Irish poets in German translation, as well as a collection by the German poet Elisabeth Borchers (Poetry Europe Series, Dedalus Press). Together with Bórbala Fárago she edited an anthology of immigrant poets to Ireland, entitled Landing Places  (2010, Dedalus Press). Her work has been translated into many languages, her collections The Latitude of Naples  and piano appeared in Italian translation in 2010 and 2011. She has lectured on poetry and taught creative writing at universities in the United States and Ireland. She teaches in the MfA program at NUI Galway, has received numerous awards and bursaries from the Arts Council and is a member of Aosdána.

Four German poets translated  by Eva Bourke


Gottfried Benn*


Not much of a conversationalist,
opinions were not his forte,
opinions don’t get to the point;
whenever Delacroix expounded his theories
he became restless, he himself couldn’t
account for the Nocturnes.

Frail lover,
mere shadow in Nohant
where George Sand’s children
ignored his disciplinary

His tuberculosis
was the kind that drags on
with internal bleeding and scar formation;
a quiet death as opposed to
one in throes of agony
or by firing squad:
the piano (Erard) was moved to the door
and Delphine Potoka
sang for him a song of violets
in his last hour.

He travelled with three pianos to England:
Pleyel, Erard, Broadwood,
for twenty guineas
he would give fifteen minutes recitals
in the soirees
at the Rothchilds’, the Wellingtons’, in Strafford House
and to the assembled Order of the Garter;
then, dark with fatigue and near death
he went home
to the Square d’Orleans.

Then he burns his sketches
and manuscripts,
no leftovers, fragments, notes,
those indiscrete clues –
said at the end:
“ I have accomplished what I set out to do
as far as my abilities allowed.”

Each finger was to play
according to its natural strength,
the fourth being the weakest
(mere twin to the middle finger).
When he began they rested on the keys
E, F sharp, G sharp, B and C.

Anyone who heard him playing
certain Preludes
in a country house or
in the high mountains
or through French doors
opening onto the terrace of a sanatorium
will scarcely forget it.

He composed no operas,
no symphonies,
only those tragic progressions
from artistic conviction
and with a small hand.

*Gottfried Benn, 1886-1956, central, magnetic and controversial figure in 20th century poetry in Germany. Considered the diametrical opposite to Brecht due to his (brief) flirtation with Nazi ideology, he has recently been rediscovered and his importance as an innovator in poetry is again being acknowledged.

Harald Hartung*

Glance into the Yard

As it begins to snow
the girl in the yard
swings herself deep
into the growing white darkness
Happiness is a sleep of seconds
I look up, the empty swing
still sways a little.

*Harald Hartung, Born 1932 in Herne . He is a poet, literary  critic for  the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,  chair of the Literarische Colloqium Berlin among other things, essay writer, professor of literature and  grand old man of German letters.

Thomas Rosenlöcher*

The Garden

I sit in the garden at the round table
and prop my elbow on it so it marks
like the point of a compass
the centre of the world.
A tree enfolds me with its many greens,
and slowly the sea of the early year
rises, luxuriant with blossoms.
The birds shout like lunatics.
Beautiful shadows wander over me
and flower petals fall onto the table
and melt away, snow! The boughs drip black
and from the road comes a sound,
that was my life. Suddenly I’m air
and am still sitting here and talking to the tree,
whether it might not exchange countries
to perform its outrageous blossoming,
where no one yet has marked
with his elbow the centre of the world.

*Thomas Rosenlöcher, was born1947  in Dresden.  He studied at the  famous Literaturinstitut Leipzig.  Well known for his witty poetry, he writes  among other things about the profound changes in the former GDR  after unification.

Friedrich Hölderlin*

When I was a boy

When I was a boy
A god would rescue me often
From the clamour and lash of men.
I would play with the flowers
In the kind woodland shelter
And the gentle winds of the sky
Would join in my play.

And as you delight
The hearts of plants
When they reach out to you
With delicate arms,

You also made my heart glad,
Father Helios, and like Endymion,
I was your favourite,
Mother Luna!

O you faithful
Kindly gods.
If only you knew
How my soul loved you!

Although then I did not call you
By name yet, nor did you
Ever name me, like men do
As though they knew one another.

But I knew you better
Than I ever knew men.
I understood the stillness of the ether
But never the words of men.

The melodies of the woodlands
Were my teachers
And I learned to love
Among flowers.

I grew tall in the arms of the gods.

*Friedrich Hölderlin, 1770-1843, major Romantic German lyrical poet and author of the prose work Hyperion. He was closely associated with German idealism.


Four poems by Eva Bourke


Homage to Leland Bardwell

The poet feels light-hearted in her house by the sea –
now that she is almost ninety she can say
that all ill spirits, despair, guilt, regret have long fled
her threshold and are engaged elsewhere.

She only remembers now if and what she wants – the honeyed light
of late summers, winter winds, salty and brazen, the healing bitterness
of poems, stars slipping down August dawns, and most of all
she loves the spectacle just outside her windows

performed daily in her honour: the maritime birds
whizzing back and forth on their trapezes, the dizzy
stunts of the tides and the way the storm conjures
a polished coin from a pocket of rain clouds at night.

Blackberry lanes wind downhill to the last spit of land
where she lives alone in a house with a blue door
and the sea comes and goes freely
high up over White Beach.

It’s the home of music and courtesy, safeguarded
for the moment by her non-judgmental cat since the poet
has just gone out to her trampoline and now flies high
with a breeze from Ben Bulben caught in her wild grey locks.

From a height she sees the whole bay ringed by the glistening
horizon, a friend’s cottage and himself at his keyboard as he writes
his scorching, witty lines, she sees her children
and grandchildren at different ends of the earth,

she sees islands setting out like ships from their ports
and fields like green baize tables in libraries, and what she sees,
and her books freed from the shelves sail the air with her– Hope against Hope
in dark times, also Baudelaire the flâneur’s perfumed volumes,

all the women saints, and one by one her old lovers, husbands and friends,
as well as countless noble beasts of the wilderness
join her, tigers in amber and black, proud lions
and panthers, shining as liquid tar

They surround her to tell her their stories, dreams and
terrors and joys above dust, ashes and pain
elevated by the scent of wild flowers,
upheld by the silent earth’s golden white light.

*The poet told me that after an illness she temporarily had hallucinations as described above and that she felt it as a loss when they ceased during recovery.

Snow Story

If I had one wish it would be
to have been born two or three
hundred years earlier in Japan.

I’d adopt a new name:
Banana Tree or Blue Ink Pot,
or even Cup of Tea

and talk to crickets and swallows
knowing that the Milky Way
was reflected in their eyes, too.

I might take to the road,
the one to the Deep North
or live in seclusion complaining of too many visitors.

I would study how a tree
stands for itself and nothing else
and try to learn from it.

I’d teach important things
like ideograms, meaning “polite frog”
or “snail climbing Mount Fuji”

and on my wanderings fix my broken sandal thongs
or tears in my knapsack,
listening to the small songs of the insects.

At the end of my life I might find myself alone
living in a grain store with snow
falling through holes in the roof.


Feeding Time

for Ruby, Lesy, Clea and Julian

It’s not the simulated wave behind glass
that thunders every three minutes
against the rocks

nor the conger eel, dark lord of drain pipes
and sea caverns, not even
the saw teeth

of the starry smooth hound
on its restless back and forth glide
that can detain the children

but pulling us fast by the hand
they stop to linger, point, call out
at a round shallow basin

where they would see them
as a bird or a god might see them
from a height

in their shadowy universe
where the earth and all its creatures
are flat

and everything is buoyancy, silence
and circular, glass-
sealed horizons:

schools of plaice grown huge in captivity
speckled discs, dim moons
that orbit indolently

or rays, kite-tailed, more intricately patterned
than the most fanciful
Japanese fabric,

the fluid stroke and flap of their wing-like fins
that glint in the milky underwater light
as tin foil might

trimmed with fine copper wire trim around
the rippling edges, adrift and cruising
on their otherworldly cruise,

flashing the odd Morse message
with tiny tinsel-backed mirrors that go on
and off on their languid bodies.

At feeding time they rise in a twinkling, lift
blunt heads, ogle lop-sidedly from the water,
mouths agape as if they wished

to have a word with the young man in blue overalls
whose offering – an iridescent dollop
of hake – they accept

without as much as a blink of close-set eyes,
then one toss of their pelerines
and they sashay

back into their universe, singularly aloof,
bewitching and more

than the pale sand on the ground
with which they blend
so seamlessly.

There is no hope on earth for us
they might reveal the measure
of their insight.

But the children, the bravest first,
slip their hands into the basin.
They touch the fish,

they feel the skin of a poem composed by fish
rough as sand paper or cool
and slippery as silk

with their fingers and something −
a memory from long ago surfaces
and touches them –

shadow world


Evening near Letterfrack

I’d brought the papers into the house, the saddest
stories for years, newsprint wet from rain or was it tears
blackened my hands and now I watched the mountains
– old herd of nags – lower themselves around the bay,
hippodrome-style. The sky was clearing, islands reappeared.
Clare Island, Bofin, Inishturk and way out High Island
seesawed among the breakers. Fast forward breezes
shook quaking grass, sorrel, colt’s foot, rhododendrons
fuchsia shrubs, the rustling of some broad-leafed bush
sounded as if a score of blades were being sharpened.
Out near the strand a rock, a fossilized cetacean
was inch by inch submerging in the rising tide.
A feather of a cloud in the sheer sky withstood
the inroads of two transatlantic vapour trails
for longer than two minutes. Dog bark and pheasant call,
a donkey heehawed like a rusty barn door hinge
and on the trade routes of the birds
the evening traffic went on, swift and purposeful..
Such clarity of air, voices were carried far across
from a sandy beach beside the pier. Two women
walked the tidemark together in complete intimacy
picking up flotsam, stones and shells, the keepsakes
of a day they wanted to remember.
The one, young, black, wore a Nubian crown
of plaited locks, the other’s head shone in the evening light
like weathered driftwood, smooth, bleached and silvered.
They talked as friend to friend, mother to daughter,
old to young, black to white. Two dogs were chasing
one another around them in the tidal surf.
Where were divisions now? The line between
the water and the sky, all binaries and opposites
dissolved here at the end of Europe
among the quartzite stones and soft black bog.
Don’t be afraid, someone sang in the distance,
and, I’ll stay with you!
The air was brimful of avowals and annunciations.