Statement of Record

EXCERPTS FROM AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF ERIKA BURKART 

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Transcendence 14 / humans without prayer

Erika Burkart

Prayer.—Who prays nowadays, and why? It’s frightening, the idea that people, collectively, could no longer pray one day, which would be tantamount to losing a dimension that cannot be substituted by anything else, whether it be skill or knowledge. The very word “God” is a password.

Existence 11 / life secret

Every person is his secret. If you take this away from him, his integrity is ruined. Human beings cannot live without secrets. These manifest early in the secretiveness of a child who guards his hidden “treasures,” who has his secret language and secret writing, who communicates in signs and drawings. Later, agitation arrives with the mysteries of love, the metamorphoses the lover undergoes—La vita nova—. All the secrets and mysteries of our existence converge in the mystery of God. Our lives are borne and nourished by the fact that this mystery perennates indestructibly. A world without secrecy is an empty nutshell.

Existence 12

The image-echo, echo-image of a memory. Quieter and quieter, more and more distant, pallid. Finally, the white stillness; the acoustics of absolute silence. One’s own heartbeat is the echo of a great, tremendously inaudible sound.

Epitome 22 / of security

Fantasy, back then: I am sitting in the grass or heather, my arms wrapped around my knees. The evening seeps in as a clear, cloudless gloaming. Stillness. A person walks up, sits down next to me, and says a few kind words that reach to very the bottom of my heart.

Memory 12 / flooding E.

Memories change. How true: they “pale,” lose color and contour, like old photographs. Until they die out into a shapeless, sallow cloud.—Others have a hidden hearth where they continue to burn, or merely to smolder, giving off a charred smell and a blackish smoke.—And then there are also the images one gazes at as though through the windows of a stranger’s house. You can see in through the strange windows, see yourself in action, sleeping, walking back and forth, as a child, as a woman. Most of those in the house with you are no longer alive, they’ve died, or were lost without a trace.—The landscapes, the gardens, the fields you walked through remain, a map in the brain, your personal geography and topography. That they have enough room in there, the woods, the cities dreams conjure up in order to reanimate them, to transform and blend them! The city becomes woodland, and woodland city, and in both places you encounter, also with transposed or transformed faces, the people you knew, know, thought you knew, all of whom you ultimately do not know, stranger.

On poetry 23 / Hölderlin’s rushing

When something “rushes” in Hölderlin, whether it’s a coach driving away in the night, a tree in the light of dawn, a fountain at midnight, a distant river, the paths of the stars, this rushing has such a unique sound that one listens for it one’s whole life long.

On landscape 11 / beloved l.

A beloved landscape is Heaven on Earth. One has grown up with its trees, the child has walked along these paths as the wayside grass reached up to her mouth.—Its phenomena keep memory alive; quicken it; tire; the landscape contains one together with everything one has experienced with it, in it, through it, including the suffering over and for it throughout this century of destruction. When I die, it remains behind as my earthly part. Whoever searches for me should search in it for me.

On light 17

Merely to write about light is an infinite adventure. Every day, from the sky, it streams to every creature, through house and garden and soul.—Think about the connections between light and music. The darker aspects of sound. Schumann’s wonderful Scenes from Goethe’s Faust.

Existence 11 / death & love

One seldom speaks or writes about the things one thinks of most often: death and love.

Love 20 / waiting for letter

Waiting for a letter. When one has long awaited a letter that does not arrive, first the pain of disappointment becomes greater each day, until, after an unforeseeable length of time, it begins to wane. Like an object, it wears out, consumes itself like something used on a daily basis. The day comes when we no longer wait, and the moment comes when we no longer even notice that we are no longer waiting. Waiting and no longer waiting fade away into forgetting; by chance, perhaps, we remember that there was a time when we waited, wished, perhaps, to continue waiting, and we are already glad after a few minutes of this rekindled wish to no longer have to wait because time and life and forgetting have extinguished the pain of waiting—and with it the anxious joy to be permitted to wait for anything at all.

Existence 22 / moments of being touched

What one lives from. The brief moments of happiness when one encounters something, a person, a plant, an animal, a phenomenon that touches one in the most profound way, speaks to one, captures, delights one, like chemical elements that attract one another, do not wish to separate. A moment of this kind can be triggered by a musical modulation (Mozart, Chopin, Wagner…) that “strikes” like lightning, pierces the heart so deeply that one never forgets this moment, brief as it might be.—Leafing through an encyclopedia, we are taken by the portrait photo of someone long since deceased, as fierce as love at first sight; the gesticulation of a tree branch catches our eye and, it seems to the viewer, is directed at him; the particular hue of a pond in a watercolor is perceived as a “soul color,” a butterfly as messenger, a lonely cloud as a being that was waiting for one to finally see it; the sudden comprehension of another being; an elective affinity, entered into in a trice with creatures or things of an entirely different provenance. These magical connections between things ordinarily foreign to one another can be induced by works of art, in moments when we are completely open to the point of endangerment, or physically weakened by an ailment; the nerves are raw, the mind is wide awake, perceives, draws connections it would not have in a stronger state.—Spoke to Jannis Zinniker yesterday about these redemptive moments.

Ad me ipsam 12 / the woman I was

The distance to the woman I once was. Her heart-rending joy to be in the world and in love. I look at this figure as though to a distant star.—Like a flash, a golden thread flares up in the dark carpet. Rare and painful.

Existence 12 / in memories

When lying awake at night, I search in the house of my life for rooms I would care to occupy again, hours I would care to live through once more, I find only very few niches. I see them clearly, but into most of them no light shines, that is, I see them, but feel nothing except, for a moment, the sting of an ardent yearning.

Existence 11

Learning to live in the ruins of one’s own continually revised thinking.

Looks 16

The look of fear, of disgust, the look of the detective, of curiosity, of boredom, of the city dweller, the rural man, the botanist, the military man, the geologist, the fool, the child.

Thinking – speaking – writing 17

I think, write, speak. I do not write the way I speak, I try to write the way I think, I cannot speak the way I think, thought has its own language that I labor to translate into writing. I remember islands that shine onto dark regions, they are the islands that do not extinguish even when the paths leading to them grow dark, are re-laid or covered over. I remember paths that no longer lead anywhere, that end in a gravel pit, before a stack of wood, a shed, a puddle. Thought language is to the spoken as a dream is to reality that is poorer than the dream, which is of a polyphonic nature in which overtones resonate, motifs are reworked, the dream, a theme with variations, progresses through all scales while spoken language, if it wants to be understood, mustn’t stray too far from the theme—a device that could record the entirety of what is thought, that is, in polyphone.—Writing is the attempt to make the polyphony of parallel and conjoined thoughts visible and audible in a sequence that does justice to the dream nature of thought.

Art 9

In any case, art is a solace. Not because it proposes solutions (it doesn’t), but because it shows, renders things visible. Which calls for a clear view, distance, and the power of decision. Every successful work of art, even if it depicts chaos, is a reduction to an essential transmitting substance.

Poem 21 / arcanum

Of all literary forms, poetry is the true arcanum; after all, it originates in a mental space that evokes the word’s aura (its unwritten spiritual context) for eyes that have retained their First Glimpse throughout life’s flickerings and eclipses.

Dream 19 / music

Dream. I want to dust, tidy up. When I open the secretary (at a spot where, in reality, no opening exists), music from Wagner’s “Tristan” begins to play. This music, which I recognize immediately, also sounds out from the chest, the table (as though from a gramophone contained within it). I close the box, the drawer, painfully reminded and remembering. It must be my life melody. When I awaken, I could cry.

Nature as metaphor 11

Nature, its states, manifestations, deeds are to me metaphors for something else altogether. The term “lyric poet of nature” is too limiting. A fifty-year traditional reviewers’ error. Only Elsbeth Pulver, Ernst Halter, Hannes Schaub, Jürgen Egyptien, and Dieter Fringeli saw deeper.

Nature as metaphor 13

Why a crow’s tracks in snow are almost a consolation, I can’t explain. Are they signs leading back to my own interior, where never and always coincide in the marginal hours that are my life surrendered neither to writing nor conversation?

Demonic transformations 20

Obsession. Where there are two eyes, there is a face: in stone, in leaves, on the crumbling wall, the tree’s bark, in the seafoam and in—the air. The wind face.

Old-age darkening 23 / withdrawal from everything

June 2008

For about one year, a colossal dark cloud has been casting a shadow over everything, what and where I have lived. Sentiments that seemed imperishable to me fade or expire, often abruptly, at times gradually. No letter, no reunion can arrest this process, its execution is practically elementary as it revokes, obstructs, distorts, and one way or another annihilates everything that was once dear to me. I always thought that the so-called soul or however one wants to name this unverifiable, evidently operative organ of a non-physical nature was, in alliance with the mind, stronger than the afflictions and devastations, once inconceivable, that plague the body and soul in later years. They creep into the memory, too, changing it, overshadowing it.

God 12 / the flight of God

In my childhood, God hovered over me as a marvelous eagle; circling, he departed. Now that I most need the redemptive bird (Holy Ghost!), it shrinks, withdraws in ever-distant circles, becomes a line, a point. The light-bestowing star, the white eagle has been robbed of its nature, has become a black hole.

In order to resist the power of his suction, I create, in a counterspell so to speak, words.

Godforsaken 24

God, omnipresent in his absence? Sometimes I think I’m dreaming, am in a dream, inescapably entangled. No possibility to flee. Waking up would mean death.—We know nothing whatsoever. Inconceivable, a godless world. We live from something that we cling to in spite of every probability of its existence, as to the last hope.

About the author

Swiss poet Erika Burkart (1922-2010), born in Aarau, Switzerland, published over 24 collections of poetry and nine prose works. She received numerous literary prizes during her lifetime, including the Johann-Peter-Hebel-Preis (1978), the Wolfgang-Amadeus-Mozart-Preis (1990), the Joseph-Breitbach-Preis (2002), and the Gottfried-Keller-Preis (1992). To date, she is the only woman ever to have been awarded Switzerland’s highest literary prize, the Grosser Schiller-Preis (2005).

About the author

Contributing Editor Andrea Scrima studied fine arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York and the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin, Germany, where she lives and works. A German translation of her first book, A Lesser Day (Spuyten Duyvil), has just been published by Literaturverlag Droschl, Graz, under the title Wie viele Tage.

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