Thursday, 11 November 2010

On Certain Survivors

On our research project we’re planning a book of our findings and have been trying to think of a title that reflected the notion that developments in English teaching in London after 1945 should be seen within the more general process of post-war reconstruction. I’d come up from somewhere in the back of my mind with Out of the Ruins: [plus the usual more explanatory subtitle].

It occurred to me a couple of days ago that where the phrase came from was an East German Poem by Gunther Kunert that I used to use in school a lot and that came from an anthology by Michael Hamburger. (I see I've mentioned this before -- see this this.

Now I’ve found the poem, as typed out by me long ago, and ‘out of the ruins’ doesn’t come from there at all, so the mystery remains (maybe it’s from David Lodge’s Out of the Shelter, a quite early novel that I’d read only recently about coming out of the war) but it’s such a great poem that I'm moved to share it here.

On Certain Survivors
(Uber einige Davongekommene)

When the man
Was dragged out from under
The debris
Of his shelled house,
He shook himself
and said:
Never again.
At least, not right away.

Gunther Kunert, trans. Michael Hamburger (I think)
From East German Poetry, An Anthology. Carcanet, 1972

I've found the book second-hand on Amazon (of course) - practically free as so often these days -- public libraries and university libraries discarding stock like crazy -- so it’s on its way and I'll be able to check I typed the poem correctly.

PS How many of the many brilliant poems from communist East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia get used in English lessons these days as they were by me and lots of others in the 1970s?

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