Alexander Xaver Gwerder
translation by Marc Vincenz


Temple Dance

The path, in Shandong, to the middle kingdom,
crosses a track leading from the sea; left into the moor—
no trace of permanent footsteps,
but a voice goes silent, a whole chorus …

A trembling knee joint, a slithering shadow,
a dissatisfaction lost long ago—
that long wait suffering without end,
you drew back the curtain for yourself once again.

From the ancient swathes in the dream of the delighted,
a deadly, lurching figure emerges;
the blossom fell! And out of the circle of stooped

ascetics a hand rose to make a pledge …
Your raised your glance—until now! O you are
just a madman in the middle of all the kingdoms—


Donít Ask

An eddy circles, ash swirls up over there;
a tram accident, withstanding a grin—
the world’s champagne foams up out of the bottle:
drink your own, don’t ask for whom …

The evening’s already rustling. We still have parties to go to:
terraces, riverbanks and that glance of movement—
then it sinks down and the meteor
remains arid leaf left deposited by the wind.

You recall the past in cool pillows,
conceive every hour to be the resurrection—
no luminescence, only a twilight of distant kisses.
Forget it, and don’t ask about the rest—nor for whom—



That waving of some kind of hurtling
machine, and then
the landscape dries up. The houses
crumble into the rubble of bubbling
chalk and the end
gnashes its poison tooth
between tracks.

“Never again that refuge under chattering
leaves; never again the ladybugs’ raining
heart; and certainly never
that mesh of rays
on the breast’s flowers-pillows—never!”

O Ragusa! Become that smoggy sulphur city—
The south sea dosed in kerosene and everything
burning! Your cloudy seconds,
take them—, devour
the bright poison of these bites—after you
have mummified yourself
in the sarcophagus of forgetting …



Alexander Xaver Gwerder was born to a Swiss working-class family. After attending primary and secondary school in Wädenswil and Rüschlikon, he trained as a printer’s apprentice. Shortly thereafter, he completed his obligatory military training and active service, which proved to be an extremely traumatic experience. In 1944, he married Gertrud Wälti. In 1947, Alexander and Gertrud moved to Zurich with their two children, Urban and Heidi, where Alexander worked in a print shop.

Gwerder began writing poems when he was sixteen years old. In this early period he was strangely obsessed with Adolf Hitler. In 1949, some of Alexander’s poems were published in the Zurich newspaper Die Tat. His talents were recognized by a handful of Swiss editors.

Gwerder refused to continue his obligatory military service—this culminated, in 1951 in a series of letters with the Head of the Military Department of the Swiss Confederate. In 1952 he was openly criticized as anti-establishment in the Swiss newspapers. This series of incidents sent him into bouts of deep depression, finally culminating in a nervous breakdown.

Frustrated, he left his wife and children for his nineteen year-old mistress, Salomé Dürrenberger. On the trail of the spirit of Vincent van Gogh, Alexander and Salomé set off to Arles, France; their plan: to commit suicide together. Salomé survived the double-suicide attempt; Alexander did not. He was just 29 years old.

Most of Gwerder’s work was published posthumously. He was clearly influenced by Gottfried Benn and Rainer Maria Rilke. Alexander’s poems are highly imagistic, written in a rhythmical language and infused with the Swiss dialect of his childhood towns. Alexander is highly critical of the bourgeoisie and the conservative institutions of Swiss government and the military. During his lifetime he was a complete outsider to the Swiss literary establishment and little acknowledged for his poignant and stirring visions. It was only 45 years after his tragic death that Alexander’s work was re-released in German and he was finally recognized for his extraordinary poetic talent.

In 2014, Coeur Publishing will be releasing Alexander’s first-ever translations into English.

Casting A Spell in Spring, translated by Marc Vincenz, will feature selected poems written by Gwerder, 1949–1952 (weeks, if not days, before his death).


Marc Vincenz bio here.


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MadHat, Issue 15, Winter 2013-2014