An extraordinary collection of poetry and prose from the master of German expressionism
The first poem in Gottfried Benn's first book, "Morgue" (1912) written in an hour, published in a week, and notorious ever after with its scandalous closing image of an aster sewn into a corpse by a playful medical student, set Benn on the path to celebrity and notoriety. And indeed, mortality, flowers, and powerful aesthetic collisions typify much of his subsequent work.
Over the decades, as Benn suffered the vicissitudes of fate (the death of his mother from cancer; the death of his first wife, Edith; his brief attempt to ingratiate himself with the Nazis, followed by their persecution of him; the suicide of his second wife, Herta), the harsh voice of the poems relented and mellowed. His later poetry from which "Impromptus" is chiefly drawn, many of the poems translated into English for the first time is deeply affecting: it reflects the routines and sorrows and meditations of an intelligent, pessimistic, and experienced man. Written in the low, unupholstered monologue of the poet talking to himself, these works are slender ribbons of speech on the naked edge of song and silence.
With this collection of poems and essays edited and translated by the award-winning poet Michael Hofmann Benn, at long last, promises to attain the presence and importance in the English-speaking world that he so richly deserves.
About the Author
Gottfried Benn (1886-1956) earned his medical degree in 1910 and began publishing poems two years later. The leading poet of German expressionism, and the author of brilliant essays and dialogues, he spent both world wars as an officer attached to the German Medical Corps. Benn lived and practiced in Berlin, was married three times, and won the Georg Buchner Prize in 1951. Michael Hofmann is the author of several books of poems and many translations from the German. He edited Twentieth-Century German Poetry (FSG, 2006) and teaches at the University of Florida in Gainesville.