Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Bohemia Lies by the Sea"

German painter Anselm Kiefer has taken the title of this landscape—Bohemia Lies by the Sea (1996)—from that of a poem by Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann (1926 – 1973). She may have been inspired by Shakespeare's stage direction in his play The Winter's Tale, Scene III, "Bohemia. A Desert Country near the Sea." Both painting and poem explore the longing for utopia, a longing that can never be realized (just as the former kingdom of Bohemia, landlocked in Central Europe, can never lie by the sea).


Ingeborg Bachmann (1926 – 1973)
Bohemia Lies by the Sea


by Ingeborg Bachmann

If houses here are green, I’ll step inside a house.

If bridges here are sound, I’ll walk on solid ground.

If love’s labour’s lost in every age, I’ll gladly lose it here.



If it’s not me, it’s one who is as good as me.



If a word here borders on me, I’ll let it border.

If Bohemia still lies by the sea, I’ll believe in the sea again.

And believing in the sea, thus I can hope for land.



If it’s me, then it’s anyone, for he’s as worthy as me.

I want nothing more for myself. I want to go under.



Under – that means the sea, there I’ll find Bohemia again.

From my grave, I wake in peace.

From deep down I know now, and I’m not lost.



Come here, all you Bohemians, seafarers, dock whores, and ships

unanchored. Don’t you want to be Bohemians, all you Illyrians,

Veronese and Venetians. Play the comedies that make us laugh



until we cry. And err a hundred times,

as I erred and never withstood the trials,

though I did withstand them time after time.



As Bohemia withstood them and one fine day

was released to the sea and now lies by water.



I still border on a word and on another land,

I border, like little else, on everything more and more,



a Bohemian, a wandering minstrel, who has nothing, who
is held by nothing,
gifted only at seeing, by a doubtful sea,
the land of my choice.
- translated by Peter Filkins





painters and poets

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