How does poetry vary through languages

PoetryComposed language to read aloud

In childhood we experience language as a realm of sound. Mind and understanding drive us out of it at some point, but luckily they never quite succeed. The verses of the Austrian poet Franz Joseph Czernin have been building on sound for decades - in the footsteps of Ernst Jandl, H.C. Artmann and in general: the Vienna School. You have to read your poems out loud. And several times. Because of the density and the beauty.

As is well known, language can construct worlds. Czernin himself once described the work of his poetry - as if "a ladder is emerging from step by step into the void". At first he imitated sentence melodies and epigrams. Loud sounds drove some ideas forward. In the last few decades he has pursued the "vision" of a reconciliation of our modernity with the verses of other times and other countries in his poems. First he transmitted Shakespeare sonnets, later he wrote his own modern "variations" on Dante poems, including verses by Gryphius, Goethe and Rilke.

Now - this spring - the volume "zungenenglisch" has been published in the Edition Lyrik-Kabinett. Subtitle "visions, variants". This time, as the title suggests, Czernin brought English-language verse fragments into his word space and varied them - in addition to Shakespeare, also John Keats, Lord Byron, Swinburne and Wallace Stevens. Even lines by Hölderlin and Dante, translated into English, expand his sensual perception. Czernin turns all these poets from earlier times into contemporaries, even avant-garde in today, in order, as the announcement says, "to evoke the vision of those realities that can be attested to through poetry alone".

also earth fruit, sinister

all at once remains, rough boards.
you write-red intoxicating.

always flaming, hearts.
also us flawless. living expenses.

as fast as you can tell me
how deep throat gold.

but throat smoke, hereditary too.
to judge bleeding.

that cried out to me, crumbs
Gourmet poor, sipping

breaking off the rest of us, bitter red.
yes very daring, wine proceeds.

No complete sentences, but made up words

Like all poems from "tongue English", this one is also made of two lines, but verse boundaries and stanza boundaries do not mark any boundaries of meaning. There are no complete sentences. Many of the compounds - earth fruit, writing red, flaming, hereditary - are made up words. Vowels spin threads of sound, syllables meet, nestle against each other and divide again - Czernin collects chunks of word rocks that sometimes clump together, sometimes threaten to crumble. Single words keep reappearing, interweaving the poems; for example "crumbs" - a word that has a large association in this volume: there is gray bread, raubrot, grubrot and writing red.

Czernin's verses wander through heavenly and hellish circles, are twisted and turned in a cabalistic manner; Compounds reveal different meanings depending on their pronunciation. "By mistake" can also be read as "verse-marrying", "screaming bread" also as "writing-red", "very daring" also as "daring coffins".

One hears that there is a similar pleasure in the poetry of this Austrian as in real life: we may not always understand what is said, but we perceive what has been said. Language, composed in this way, spreads its crystalline structures in front of us and in this way demonstrates how undreamt-of world there is in it. A song of praise for complexity and plurality. Line endings, verse spacing and poetic breaks, so it says in the accompanying essay, reflect - also - one's own mortality, the boundary between the living and the dead.

Linguistically confident, the author has laid a trail to the poet Dante, who once described himself as a "crumb reader", by sprinkling the word "crumbs" across the book. In his poetry, he said, he collected the crumbs that fell from the table where "the bread of the angels" was eaten. - Czernin has apparently completely new and completely in the here and now under the table of angels. Namely, the title - "tongue English" - associates the word "angel tongues". One thinks of speaking in tongues of the Pentecost miracle, in which the disciples of Jesus were gripped by a new spirit across all time and language barriers.

Czernin's poetry holds a secret. He succeeds in generating an enigmatic sphere of meaning through his powerful constellations, variations and associations. The verses can be read over and over, and each time they are new to us.

Franz Joseph Czernin: "English language. Visions, variants", Edition Lyrikkabinett by Hanser Verlag, 96 pages, 14.90 euros.