Sabine Lange
translation by Gráinne Toomey and Jenny Williams


May Day flags

The five flags in front of my
window always flutter red
but this year something is not quite the same:
my neighbour’s dog is dead

The flagpole is where he always used to piss
quite naturally as if
it had been placed there
just for this.



I have been deposited here
by a tidal wave which otherwise did not
kill anyone. I stayed lying on the shore

like flotsam went native
and registered with the authorities
for the tide showed no sign of wanting to turn

and there wasn’t the slightest chance of another wave,
according to the official, who straightaway
handed me a form

for an extension of a residence permit.


Not once

The trees bleed to death
your thoughts
filter through no more
the radio waves always win
the race
you wanted to say something
and the newsreader
says it.
Yet again everything is
taken out of your hands
out of your mouth, mapped out
are your paths love runs
in fine braids across parched
earth there will be no
full flow again.
That was how life was
once a moistening of lips not once
a true drinking session
and say No
and dig yourself
completely into your flesh
like into a mine
and get buried alive.



You have broken me
but I am a willow tree
and I bend,
by the time I kiss my
feet or use my toes to
comb my hair,
order has been restored
but still you have broken me.

Even if I
have always
millimetre by millimetre
bent back into place and now
the smile of the
you have broken me.

No nothing has snapped
those sounds are only
the probing words
of a therapist
they bend
like a willow.


Estranged from myself

The well has run dry
The flower blooms no more
I’m estranged from myself
Hate myself to the core

I blunder all day
My face blank and inert
And search in you
For a counterweight

And so I drift on
Hate myself to the core
The well has run dry
The flower blooms no more


The Blue Day

The day in blue
stockings blue
shoes blue
a thought is changing colour just now
don’t disturb it – blue
under the umbrellas
corrugated asbestos roofs the
seal of secrecy it turns blue
as well by the path a cornflower
blue like a cornflower my
blue steps intensify
in colour I always wanted
to be a painter blue
the paper on which I write instead
with blue pen and ink blue teeth blue
blood and it is you darling
back again



Gather me up
to your blossoms

entice me
with your nectar

embrace me
with your branches
(arms, let me branch out)


After Eight

without peppermint filling
my meagre word
is plain

as a child
I threw blank sheets of paper
from the attic window
after eight



from my piano stool
I reach lands with no
borders travel with no

away on my own two hands



I say
I have resigned myself
no illusions any more
und yet a small machine has woven me
a skin of soft silk
and I have seen hands again
open and outstretched towards me
and kindred eyes
rest briefly on me
seconds wherein the years I have lived
are bundled into archives
and the millipede of hope
with each shoe kicks
open a door


From Verschwiegene Gedichte (© Edition Rugerup, 2006) by Sabine Lange. Translations © Jenny Williams and Gráinne Toomey.


Sabine Lange was born in 1953 in Stralsund in what was then the German Democratic Republic and grew up in a very musical family. Following her studies in Mathematics and Education she taught briefly at a secondary school in Feldberg in Mecklenburg. It was here that she began to write poetry as a form of escape, a way of expressing her longing for a different life. She subsequently studied Music in Rostock, and Literature in Leipzig. From 1984 to 1999 she worked as the archivist in the Hans Fallada Archive in Feldberg, a period in which she began to publish her poetry as well as essays and books on Hans Fallada. Her first volume of poetry, Immer zu Fuß, appeared in German in 1994 (and in English translation, The Fishermen Sleep, in 2005). She has completed two further volumes of poetry Das Ohr meiner Katze (2005) and Verschwiegene Gedichte (2006). In addition, she has written a study of the role of the Stasi in the Writers’ Centre in Neubrandenburg (Fallada -Fall ad acta? [2008]), and her first novel, Schlüsselbund, appeared in 2007. She lives in Feldberg and works as a musician and freelance author. (For more information, see:

Gráinne Toomey is a freelance translator, researcher and PhD candidate in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies at Dublin City University. She first worked on Sabine Lange’s poetry towards her MA dissertation and subsequently became involved in the co-translation of Verschwiegene Gedichte with Jenny Williams. Aside from literary translation, she has had her own poetry published in the Irish national school curriculum.

Jenny Williams is Professor Emeritus at Dublin City University, Ireland, and a freelance editor, translator, researcher and writer. She has published on the life and work of Hans Fallada as well as on Translation Studies. She wrote the first biography of Hans Fallada in English, More Lives Than One (1998) and has co-edited his 1944 Prison Diary, In meinem fremden Land (2009). She co-authored, with Andrew Chesterman, The Map: A Guide to Doing Research in Translation Studies (2002 /2007) and has translated The Fishermen Sleep by Sabine Lange (2005). She has just completed Theories of Translation (2013) for Palgrave Macmillan and is currently co-translating with Grainne Toomey a second volume of Sabine Lange’s poetry.

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MadHat, Issue 14, Spring 2013