Ingeborg Bachmann, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Gunter Grass in Rome

Now the journey is ending,
the wind is losing heart.
Into your hands it's falling,
a rickety house of cards.

The cards are backed with pictures

displaying all the world.
You've stacked up all the images
and shuffled them with words.

And how profound the playing

that once again begins!
Stay: the card you're drawing
is the only world you'll win.

"Bleib" ("Stay")
Ingeborg Bachmann; translation by Peter Filkins
(from Darkness Spoken, Zephyr Press, 2006)

Austria's Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) is widely regarded as one of the best European writers of the postwar period. As a poet, Bachmann had the gift of evoking a complex situation, rich in emotional undertones, with a handful of words.

The first stanza of this poem is a prime example: notice how magically its last word, "kartenhaus" ("house of cards" in English) serves as a springboard for the conceit that follows. Some of the surprise of the last two lines is that a "house of cards" generally has negative connotations; here that final "Blatt" ("card") becomes something numinous and full of promise.

In his superb translation, Peter Filkins wisely uses rhyme, and it works well, but, in the original German, the rhyme scheme (A/B/A/B) is tighter, creating an even more compelling verbal "tune". The poem comes from Bachmann's 1956 collection, Anrufung des Großen Bären, (Invocation of the Great Bear):

Die Fahrten gehn zu Ende,
der Fahrtenwind bleibt aus.
Es fällt in die Hände
ein leichtes Kartenhaus.

Die Karten sind bebildert
und zeigen jeden Ort.
Du hast die Welt geschildert
und mischst sie mit dem Wort.

Profundum der Partient,
die dann im Gange sind!
Bleib, um das Blatt zu ziehen,
mit dem man sie gewinnt.

In February 2023, Margarethe von Trotta's film, Ingeborg Bachmann: Journey into the Desert, opened at the Berlin Film Festival, with Vicky Krieps as the author. See the link below for a review.

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