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.