Johannes Bobrowski is widely regarded as the most important German poet of this century. He began to write poetry on the Eastern Front in 1941 where, as a 24-year-old German soldier in Kaunas, he saw the "slavering wolves" of the SS drive the "grey processions" over a hill to death. A prisoner-of-war in Russia until 1949, he returned to Berlin to ...
Johannes Bobrowski is widely regarded as the most important German poet of this century. He began to write poetry on the Eastern Front in 1941 where, as a 24-year-old German soldier in Kaunas, he saw the "slavering wolves" of the SS drive the "grey processions" over a hill to death. A prisoner-of-war in Russia until 1949, he returned to Berlin to write with a purpose: to inform his countrymen of the history and myths of Eastern Europe and to preserve the memory of his childhood home. The poems in Shadow Lands reflect Bobrowski's hope, in the words of Michael Hamburger, "that he might succeed poetically in bearing witness to that vanished world, " that is, the world of Eastern Germany before the war. With an almost surreal lyrical beauty, he evokes the pre-Christian era of the gods and heroes of the ancient Prussians. The poems also resonate with the most eloquent and picturesque descriptions of Bobrowski's homeland - its rivers, its forests and quiet villages - ultimately leaving us with a sense of "the hiddenness of all perfect things." Personally intense and far-reaching, these poems have been treasured for their originality, their beauty, and their broad and lasting appeal.
Publishers Weekly, 1994-08-29 The East German poet Bobrowski (From the Rivers) died in 1965 at the age of 48, four years after his first collection of poems had appeared to critical acclaim in both Germanies. The Meads began translating his work before he died, publishing increasingly comprehensive selections in the U.K. In America, however, Bobrowski remains relatively unknown-a matter for regret, since he is a major postwar European poet. The heart of his poetry is the writer's evocation of Sarmatia, an ancient name for an area including parts of East Prussia, Latvia, Poland and Russia. This is the culturally diverse region Bobrowski grew up in and remembered lovingly, but which, as a soldier in the Nazi army serving on the eastern front, he had helped to destroy. Sarmatia is thus both a casualty of history and a zone of the guilty spirit where peoples, religions, languages and armies come and go in the shadow of migrating birds and the drifting smoke of campfires. Sarmatia is a frightening and poignant conception, in which a vision of the postwar wasteland is combined with the memory of a prehistoric and now forever forbidden peaceable kingdom. Bobrowski's poems are hushed and elliptical, composed in short, imagistic lines that are like the shards of a long German compound sentence shattered beyond repair. They have been beautifully translated by the Meads, who, while observing the peculiarities of German syntax, succeed at hitting a strange, genuinely poetic, English note. (Oct.)
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