A poem by Erich Wolfgang Skwara in German and English


Thanks to my connection Ingeborg Bachmann Centre, I have been working together with the author Erich Wolfgang Skwara on translating his poetry for the upcoming IBC publication Zwei Wochen England (Sonderzahl),  a commemorative collection marking the tenth anniversary of the writer-in-residence program, edited by Heide Kunzelmann, Director of the Centre. In that volume, three of Skwara’s poems will appear along with my translations. (I have also translated texts by several other former IBC writers in residence for the book.) This poem will not appear in the book, so I asked the author if he’d mind if we posted it here, and he agreed.

Here is the German poem, and after that the English version.


Erich Wolfgang Skwara



Du wachst auf, abrupt, außer Atem.

Hast geträumt von vielem das war und sein wird.

Erwartungen. Plänen. Das war dein Leben bisher

das wird morgen sein in einem Monat in einem Jahr.

Meist kommt es so wie wir glauben.

Nur selten stürzt alles zusammen nur selten bricht

das Unglück auf dich herein oder das Wunder.


Und die Summe des Ganzen die Zwischensumme

solange du lebst träumst erwachst ist das Leben.

Ist dein Leben mehr oder weniger wert

weil du dies und jenes gehabt getan unterlassen hast

es noch haben tun unterschlagen wirst

ist dein Leben nur Wachsein oder auch Schlaf

nur das Geleistete Erreichte Bestandene

oder im gleichen Maß das Versäumte Verfehlte

deine Konkurse deine Feigheit vor dem Augenblick?


Dieser Sprung aus dem Traum ins Grellwache

wund deine Brust deine Augen verklebt nur gut

daß du nichts sagen mußt in deinem Erwachen

keiner erwartet von dir eine Bergpredigt.

Du hättest keine Stimme in dir und keinen Glauben

erinnerst dich in dieser Minute – sie ist alles – an nichts.

Deine Menschen falls es die gab oder nicht gab sind dir fern

du hast sie nicht vergessen das nicht du siehst nur keinen

von deinen Menschen. Du zwingst deine Augen sich zu öffnen

der Himmel ist grau und gleich begehst du den alten Fehler

du beziehst seine Drohung seine Trauer auf dich. Du meinst

dir allein sei die Sonne entzogen dir allein stoße der Tag zu

nicht sanft selten Sanftes. Nein dein wildes Erwachen

eine Kollision ein Unfall – womit mit wem?

Sink zurück in dein Bett aber auch das kannst du nicht

es ist nicht dein Sarg dein Bett ist dein Sprungbrett

hinein in alles was weh tut was Lust bringt in dieser Folge.

Dein Bett nicht dein Sarg reib dir den Sand aus den Augen.

Werde wach gerade weil es dir schwer fällt.



Erich Wolfgang Skwara



You wake up, abruptly, breathlessly.

You dreamed of much that was and will be.

Expectations. Plans. That was your life so far

that will be tomorrow in a month in a year.

It mostly turns out the way we believe.

Only rarely does it all break down only rarely does

misfortune befall you or a miracle.


And the total of it all, the subtotal,

as long as you live, dream, wake up, is a life.

Is your life worth more or worth less

because you had, did, didn’t do this and that,

because you still have, still do, still forgo it?

Is your life only being awake or also being asleep?

Only what’s been accomplished, achieved, surmounted

or in equal measure what’s been missed, failed at,

your breakdowns, your cowardice in the face of the moment?


This leap out of the dream into dazzled waking,

your chest is sore, your eyelids glued shut, how lucky

that you must not speak in this your awakening,

no one expects from you a sermon on the mount.

There would be no voice within you.

You remember in this very minute – which is everything – strictly nothing.

Your fellow humans, whether they ever did exist or not, are far from you.

You haven’t forgotten them, no way, they are just not around,

your fellow humans. You force your eyes to open up:

the sky is gray and instantly you fall for the old mistake

to refer its threat, its mourning, to yourself. You think

the sun withdrew from you alone, the day befalls you alone,

not gently, gentleness is rare. No, your wild awakening

a collision, an accident – with what, with whom?

Sink back in your bed, but you can’t even do that

it is not your coffin your bed is your springboard

into all that brings pain, that brings pleasure, in that order.

Your bed, not your coffin, rub the sand from your eyes,

Wake up precisely because it’s hard for you.




Translated from the German by Geoffrey C. Howes


Comments RSS
  1. leifhendrik

    This Skwara poem and Geoff Howes’ great translation of it make me want to read more Skwara and more Howes. It would be hard to think of a more attention grabbing title, in German or English, than the one which this poem bears. There’s an abruptness to the title which is really striking. I like the immediacy of the poem and the fact that we all wake up each day, so we can identify with the subject.

    • Geoff Howes

      Thank you for your kind words about the poem and the translation, and above all for taking the time and effort to read the two texts. You inspired me to go back and reread them, to the get the full impact, which often gets lost as one concentrates on details of reading and translation. I’m pleased I was able to capture some of the energy of Skwara’s poem, and its challenge to the reader.

  2. To leifhendrik and everyone who wants to read more Skwara and more Howes: in October 2012 the bi-lingual anthology ” Zwei Wochen England” will appear with Sonderzahl Verlag Vienna. It contains 11 contributions by critically acclaimed authors from Austria in German and in English. Erich Wolfgang Skwara has contributed three poems and a commentary on his relationship to London. Geoff Howes has produced wonderful translations of Skwara’s poems. We will write about the project in due course – watch this space!

  3. leifhendrik

    That’s great news. Looking forward to that anthology, including Skwara’s poems and commentary.

  4. Martinho I. Correia

    Just lovely.

  5. Geoff Howes

    Thank you, Martinho!

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