Franz Josef Czernin
translation by Henry Holland


sonnet, with the plough

with flames. tongues, out and playing at us, up, wild lashing,
and edged vivacious wheels which are heat in our hands,
what heave us up to heaven, fiery in their prompting,
until they off they fly, show distant, yet still akin:

standing in star-eyes, turning all our tables,
leaping the gap, utterly changed, burning us out,
and still on the kip, tongue-tied in the balance,
weighed up, yes, wound up past all recall:

from highest bows of rain a-sparking, ringéd bright
balls lustily bursting, though curled-up illuminate
through colours exulted, willing our favour, know-

ingly well-intended; light, the sources,
reaching around themselves, articulately
blowing it, calm to the last, facing it all.


From the poetry volume elemente sonette by Franz Josef Czernin, (© Carl Hanser Verlag München 2002). Translation © Henry Holland


Franz Josef Czernin (1952 - ) lives and works in the Steiermark region of Austria. His poetry reminds many critics of the early German Romantics: Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis to your man on the street) & Clemens Brentano. It reminds me (the translator) of Gerald Manley Hopkins. Czernin himself is interested in what members of literary establishments are reminded of when they read poetry, or, to put it more specifically, what their standards are for sorting out the good from the bad. That’s what lead him to write and publish, in conjunction with Ferdinand Schmatz, a book of purposefully bad poems in 1987: Journeys. Around the World in Eighty Poems (as the title could read if translated into English), tricking his own publisher, Residenz, in the process. It only became clear that Czernin & Schmatz had done this when they brought out, later the same year, an exposé of their arty stunt: The Journey. Into the Whole Deep Ditch in Eighty Squashed Dogs (as the title could read if translated into English). Since then he's recieved a swathe of literary honours, presumably for intentionally good poetry and other writing. I'm convinced that in the poem I've translated, ‘sonnet, with the plough’ Czernin has achieved a genuinely meaningful poem, and not just a clever bait for certain publishers.

Henry Holland (1975 - ) lives and works in Neugraben, Hamburg, right beside an old heather-heath landscape of Manley-Hopkin-esque standards of beauty, and pretty near a big rusty-fat belt of provinicial suburbia. After growing up in the New Town in Edinburgh and realising that most other urban places just won't do it, he began contenting himself with contemporary German literature and other secondary pleasures. While waiting for a contract to work as a translator on the first ever complete edition of the works of Rosa Luxemburg - which is being published right now, in fifteen volumes by Verso (details here) - to get going, he writes his blog, Goethe's Gonna Getya, about the mechanisms through which literature gets at us, transforms and inspires us. He's already had short translations of works by Uwe Tellkamp and Peter Rühmkorf published. All of which distracts from his kids & his wife Rebekka, who are, no jokes, the real apples of his eye.

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MadHat, Issue 14, Spring 2013