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Great wings, spread flat gliding,
Broad wings, bearing, carrying away
High over deeps and boat, blackish and wide,
Light as light, yet slashing light, effortless
As if in play––but not play: as if the urge
Of air’s primeval breath were embodied in the wing.
And yet, who can, observes: from taut flanks
The rudder feathers are controlled sharp and hard.
And here, here, almost within reach, a majestic one
Arrow-like grazes my head, soars and leisurely
Plunges past, again and again, pierces
The immeasurable––breaks free of desire and dream.
That is you, Albatross! From my ferry
I take in the vision and greet you long,
Waving my beret, saluting you whom Baudelaire
Lauded in his poem as the poet’s image.
You the most free, him the prophet, my lip
Has strength to hail you. Storm and delusion
Are as familiar to me as to you. Of the same tribe
I, Job, traverse the timeless path of suffering.
translation © 2016 Andrew Paul Wood & Friedrich Voit
Wolfskehl woodcut © Wayne Seyb 2016
Three Worlds / Drei Welten
German and English
translated and edited by Andrew Paul Wood and Friedrich Voit
Softcover, 312pp, 210 x 145mm
In 1933 the German Jewish poet Karl Wolfskehl (1869–1948), deeply disturbed by the brutal anti-Semitism rising in his native Germany, fled into exile in Switzerland and Italy. When Italy too adopted anti-Jewish legislation Wolfskehl left Europe, seeking asylum in faraway New Zealand, where he found shelter and the peace to continue writing poetry: his Mediterranean cycle and his most important composition Job, or The Four Mirrors.
This first ever comprehensive selection of Wolfskehl’s poetry in English translation, the work of New Zealand translator Andrew Paul Wood and Wolfskehl scholar Friedrich Voit, includes poems from his beginnings around 1900, but focuses on the work from his years of exile when he emerged from the shadow of his admired poet-friend Stefan George and found his own distinctive voice. It is in these poems that the ‘three worlds’, which constituted the creative identity of the poet Karl Wolfskehl, are expressed. In the famous lines of his autobiographical poem Ultimus Vatum:
Secretive and proud, worldly-wise, humble in God
Remained I Jewish, Roman, German all at once.
A naturalized New Zealander, Karl Wolfskehl died in 1948, in Auckland. His tombstone in the Waikumete cemetery bears his name in Hebrew and German, and underneath, the Latin inscription: Exul Poeta.
“The poetry created or finished in New Zealand is his best.”
––Peter Russell, New Zealand Books 100, Summer 2012.
“I remember his size among my tomatoes: it was prodigious; and on the soft soil he left giant footprints.” ––Frank Sargeson, More than Enough.