The Drugs, The Words — Web Exclusive


By Ingeborg Bachmann
Translated by Peter Filkins


Said it,
and the toad leapt
onto the table,
blew the match out
and the lightning
struck under the table,
lifted the glass,
and the drop
spilled into the sea,
meaning tears,
none of them dried,
which means a sea,
something quite other,
though there's only one,
suffering not being
the worst thing
to popes, to ideas,
to states, but rather
a torture for the sane.
The sick know
that a color, a breath of air,
a hard step, indeed a
whimper of grass in the world
turns the heart inside
the body, causing them to hope
for peace the more they sense
war, as the war goes on.
They love
the white uniforms
of the nurses.
They hope that
from the white
something good will come.
They are not
white at all.


Ingeborg Bachmann was born in Carinthia and studied philosophy and psychology in Austria. She is considered one of the major figures in Austrian literature. In 1952, she achieved a breakthrough by reading her lyrical poetry at a "Gruppe 47" meeting, a loose confederation of writers known for their ardent interest in theory and debate. Her subsequent poetry collections Gestundete Zeit (Deferred Time) and Anrufung des Großen Bären (Invocation of the Great Bear) were highly successful. In 1971, she wrote her first novel, Malina. Her novels Der Fall Franza (Franza's Case) and Requiem für Fanny Goldmann (Requiem for Fanny Goldmann) were published posthumously in fragmented form.

Peter Filkins is a poet, translator, and critic. His translation of the complete poems of Ingeborg Bachmann, Songs in Flight, was selected as an outstanding translation by the American Literary Translators Association. He has also translated two novel fragments by Bachmann and an expanded edition of her poems, Darkness Spoken. His books of poetry include After Homer and What She Knew. He is the recipient of Stover Prize in Poetry (2007), Austrian Translation Award (2007), Berlin Prize (2005), and fellowships to Yaddo, Millay, and MacDowell colonies.

Original text of "Die Drogen, die Worte" appears in Ich weiss keine bessere Welt, edited by Isolde Moser, Heinz Bachmann, and Christian Moser. Munich: Piper 2000.

Translation published with the permission of Zephyr Press from Darkness Spoken: The Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann, published in 2005.

Read more world literature at TWO LINES Online.