February 25, 2012

In times of sadness, never lose love - Erich Fried

For over a year now we have been confronted with troubling news of people being arrested, beaten, tortured, killed. No doubt, if you want a revolution to happen you have to face up to bitter reality. But the amount of disturbing information coming out of the countries of the Arab spring can be overwhelmingly depressing. The deaths in Syria everyday, the conditions in Bahrain or Yemen, the fatalities in Egypt with no serious sign of holding anyone accountable - all that can sum up to a burden hard to carry, something to make the heart heavy and result in burnout symptoms or even stress disorders.

It is in such times that I almost cling to a poem by Erich Fried, an Austrian born award winning writer, who was one of the finest love poets of contemporary times. Though living in London he wrote all his works in German and was both famous and much hailed there for his wonderful poetry. In addition, his translations of Shakespeare or Dylan Thomas into German rank among the finest today.

I had the great privilege of knowing Erich, working with him, having long conversations with him. He was warmhearted and energetic, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, a bold political activist who often clashed with the political elite, and an undeterred fighter for humanity and peace. He was hated by the conservatives for his leftist views and frowned upon by his leftist friends for constantly trying to see the human in his enemy. When he died in 1988 of cancer it was a sad day. I loved him dearly and I still miss him today.

How wonderful though that his writings remain with us to give us courage and inspiration. One of his most beautiful love poems I translated here. It shows, that even the bravest political activist can have his downs, can tire and feel worn out and yearn for something to soothe the pain: Love and security and peace of mind.

May it be uplifting to all those whose hearts are heavy these days with the sorrowful news we have to bear daily.


Words                                                  (by Erich Fried, 1921 - 1988)

When my words shed their syllables due to fatigue
and on the typewriter the stupid mistakes begin
when I want to fall asleep
and never wake to the daily sadness
of what happens in the world
and which I cannot prevent

then here and there a word starts to groom itself and hum softly
and a half thought combs itself and looks for another
that perhaps just now was still choking on something
   it could not swallow
but now turns around
and takes the half thought by its hand and says to it:

And then some of those tired words
and some typos that laugh about themselves
fly with or without the half and whole thoughts
out from the London misery over sea and plains and mountains
always across to the same spot

And in the morning, when you go down the steps through the garden
and stop and start to take notice and look
you can see them sitting or hear them fluttering
a bit cold and perhaps still a bit lost
and always silly with joy that they are truly with you


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