ARNO SCHMIDT: THE RESETTLERS


Translation: intellectual property of J Ghebrezgiabiher

i         The precocious moon pushed ricketycrookedy across the embankment; for once a good bellyful of meat. Shrubs still with trinkets of fresh rain; and start smokin’ again. A fat cloud-trollop lolled grey shoulders at the back of duskwoods; macaroni and that hard wedge of Swiss cheese, grated. Two whirlwinds came wooing me with tender dusty tresses, translucent yellow bodies, erred awkwardly nearer, gathered up their train, spinned about and delightfully sighed (but then the van from Trempenau already arrived. My two windbrides had to follow, were pulled away with wild long maenadic small of the back: bloke wi’a car stands better chances, always.)

The sunken sun left a good stretch of red blotting paper behind, and night-ink was oozing in from above. Rain then poured skew-whiff round gnarled trees; wind puffed hunched refugees’ hair and eyes, clear off!, the weathercocks squackled from their ridges. Grey slate-roofed settlement; for the devilth time the Benefeld roundo, circling the outskirts. The wind echoed in the bare sky, very loud; radio waltzed out of dreary skylights, very long; there they were, seated, flat round angry faces at 25 watts; my muddy feet hurried me along the runnels of the towpaths till t’heart became as threadbare as the coat, drolly, drolly. No war-compensation, no housekeeping money, no revaluation of savings in the East (a curse on those ministers!). The stars surfaced like thieves in mackintoshes, in crawling alleys of clouds. And for tat, three in a room; and for tat, rearmament hey: how mooncalf must one be to pick the butcher for king! The black wind behaved like a storm round the bend, jostled and screamed; the next twig he slapped across my face, hailed a mate and spat rain: that one came howling from behind, heaved up my hat, and throttled the scarf. And for tat, resettlement will ever fail: in any profession anyone over 65 will be scrapped; only the statesman, great Senile, seems to become truly mature, cold-blooded, completely inhuman, grizzled grubby grumpy graves grim. Three grey bats crossed me in long swaying cloaks, and next the black wedge of the Lower Saxon-peasant’s house materialized: Who but a farmer would have the right to talk about the horrors of war: those never-ending inspections, ye gods and little fishes! No rest for the wicked! A scraggy tu-whit to-whoo hangs stock=still in the pine webwood; by the pond: footpadding tree lads in fog rags, limbs like clubs, gnarlily raised. Inside the disgrace over the slice of bread with treeecle; mouldy walls, who can take on to heat this hole; straight into JK Wezel’s Belphegor, one of a worst-of-all-possible; (thank goodness Beier wasn’t in yet); and what we do now, is known as existing. (The wind brawl continued to rage outside.)

ii        The look down his nose at the third box made his face curl up; next he shouldered to Müller: »Block …?« »head.« replied the latter sombrely and also curved his back: »Block? …. head!«, until that hulk had been heaved into the corner. »The bed first!« and district-refugee-minder Schulz wagged his caution from below into every red wagon: »Always load it right up to the top. – Don’t waste an inch.« For us as well: »Right up to the top!« At his shoulder Lepke pronounced thoroughly: »Block…!« and Müller woe=be=gone: »head«. Even the wind was far to cold, after all, clearly just ‘n old sweeper-out, a bouncer, and then Schulz rose on tiptoes, examined his list, and chalked onto our wagon: ALZEY.

One box (without a lid) I bought from Lepke, the other one Vehlow brought along from the anthroposophical school (f.o.c.). First the books, like playing building blocks. Then the long box lined out with newspapers, followed by the toss of my wear – rubbish! the strip of canvas had to go underneath; well then: unpack, start again. Wood wool into and around the two mugs and into the big saucepan; the trophy had a proper little box, the liqueur glasses would go in the corners. One’s supposed to write one’s name on it, and so I odd-jobbed it on with drawing ink and filled in the shipment papers properly – three copies. I took my leave at midnight, as I wouldn’t have to bother with those silly faces then. A thorough stroll round town, for the last time once more, very rarely a house would still give light, I won’t shed a tear over you lot: had not the ‹German right-wing parties› at the very first bashful run-up ‹united› 24% in their vote again?! Wind blew my ear and fumbled hastily around with my coat; it was then that I knew I had to go along once more, and even the tapered star pointed chop-chop in to the woods. The roads of the Lüneburg Heath lay neatly empty around midnight: soft & shiny grey tarmac, above, the pond of light in the crude cloudlands, the gust pushed me, and I was freezingly happy, poured over lanes, flowed into more somewherish paths, a faraway motorbike dashed howling after its blob of light, water poltered geist underneath my jump and filled my shoe with drowsy chilling caress; and the driver just laughed when we pushed my few boxes onto the lorry in the morning (there the boards of the bed unbundled the first time, and I had to hunt for some rusty wire on the mocking slope). (Have another wee, just in case, and my water wriggled snakish into the bilberry tangle; weird biological world!) One cigarette each they got, for Müller and Lepke drove down to Fallingbostel to clock off anyway; once again I mulled my farewell-curse over and around, that’s it, and off we go, carter! The Lower Saxon sun was shining bright in the windy spick’n’blue November sky; even the light of day was glad to see some more refugees vanish into thin air. Some were already there tilting up cupboards, others came clattering along, that one had a trailer, one even had two goats in a crate. District-refugee-minder Schulz steered us to the waGOn; we piled my stuff zippy into one corner: Good-bye, Herr Müller: ‘til yonder the curve they waved uprightly, one hand clenching the side board. A neat little van beelined right up (…..) I held down my take-off leg (…..) cornered terribly graceful, and the dogged voice of the girl asked: »In here then!«. I liked her so much that on the spur of the moment and all hands on, along with the driver, oh you pencil moustache, pulled in her stuff: many sturdy boxes (»Careful: radio’s in there!«), cupboards tables chairs with bandaged legs, and she remunerated me greatly with her smiles.

iii      The sun brushed across the plaid skirt (behind it: heavy rime on bilberry, and frozen yellow sand that certainly could still be crumbled with ease.) ‘Twixt suitcases: »Shall we make for the Börse?«. Jack Dust, of medium height, rose and rolled broadly up the road, overran us narrowbacks. Trains appeared sternly, stopped, took hasters in & out, smoked, wormed hushrushhushrush away, little blue clouds puffed swiftly across the sunny tracks: dull. Eyes like ringing birds’ shrieks. »Let’s go?« Now they were skilfully startled under the unruffled forehead. – »Right-ho!«

Her suitcase was pretty heavy; but now she had only to stroll by my side (our furniture as well, was packed up craftily close together!), hands in coat pockets, just a wide modern game bag over her subtle shoulder. Two public rooms of the Börse; half empty still; lure of a tiny round table at the window. I pushed the tip of my shoe to the edge of the closest spot of sun and prayed: »Are you alone as well?!« She pondered, just as is right and proper; next her lips cupped & swayed adornfully: »Hmhm.« Watched me approvingly occupy those two chairs, and barricade our nook in this world with the suitcases. Sit for a bit. »Katrin,« she proclaimed sombrely: »and a poor widow.« (The husband had fallen, 44, within half a year of having married; and no, she’s not catholic neither.) Next she ate two smart buns with cold cuts and thick slices of Edam in crimson wax rind, drank loamy flask-coffee. An extended family settled at the long rectangle next to us: father, mother, six grown-up sons and daughters; over by the stove, blaring possessively along his Heath Robinson-line of twelve, Borck arrived, small and hunchbacked, bawling with his fangs. »Know that one?« Katrin asked outside as we ambled a stretch heathwards. »I was an interpreter at the auxiliary police school, and he was stores«. »But now you translate books.« Once more the sun came along the path, shadows got away on fields, the forests halled even more of wind. I laid out my soldier’s coat, Sir Walter Raleigh, on top of the tree stump, and the Queen took a seat. Looked upon the Atlas, Marburg, Westerburg, Alzey, and further. Out of the blue: »You’re not cold, are you!« Dark voice, pale Hun face, heath huntress of hearts, sauvage et non convertie, with brow-whip and bow-lips. Wind ran us over hurling its crystal burden, twigs whisked delicate bony whirls, it rustled hither’n’thither in the grass. The prey next to her, bagged in the heath. Her yellow hands flickering around the angular book, the wide grey strap sandal occasionally lifted its tip gently and tapped bushmanish signs. O skirt and blouse! Katrin smiled slyly and idly, past me, abstracted, straight through me, for me, an’ way over my head. O skirt. Blue & white the celestial chessboard with tops of trees moved. And blouse.

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8 thoughts on “ARNO SCHMIDT: THE RESETTLERS

  1. Juergen wrote ;
    German author Arno Schmidt – 1914-1979. Published over two dozen books of fiction, criticism, and translations in his lifetime. Is one of the real wordsmiths of the German language in my opinion.

    Some background to the story of the novella The Resettlers (Die Umsiedler):
    DIE UMSIEDLER goes back to Schmidt’s own experience of being resettled. Between 1944 and 1950 more than 12 million Germans were on the move trying to find a new Heimat (perhaps: homeness) in the country that had been laid waste by the war it had waged. Schmidt’s novel was published in 1953 and is considered one of the most powerful depictions of the sufferings of these people.
    The blurb of my edition summarises it as follows:
    A rainy December night in 1950. A man loads his belongings onto a goods train. He believes, like many others, that this move from Lower Saxony to the Rhineland/Hesse will offer him a new start with his life. Just before the train leaves in the morning, he meets a determined young woman who has lost her husband and a foot during the war. The journey down south takes several days, and the book-obsessed narrator and the young woman become closer.
    In a quick sequence of pictures, the novel describes the cramped conditions and the lack of near to everything the young couple is subject to. And not only them. Snapshots fly past: the arrival at their destination, a small village, the difficulties to find and make a shabby and small room inhabitable, suspicious locals, and a fragile hope of the young couple to find a way of living together. »So, we live together for the time being; what’s to come, I don’t know yet.«

  2. Lovely piece Jurgen, thank you. Luca told me a little about you, – I read your ‘The Fine Line’, which I really enjoyed.
    This translation shares much with your poems, I have to say. The prose is beautifully indebted to poetry: the brief sentences, the rythm and the tone are often lyrical. The narrative relates of everyday life incidents, sadness, preoccupation and fears. However your easthetic choice wraps this plot in a velvety thick tissue, often laconic, though highly epxressive. Beautiful translation.
    Thanks

  3. Juergen is a real concrete poet in every sense of the word. It’s second nature to him to dis-member nouns and structures- must be the Saxon origin.. He’s also a great navigator of grammar-books ( he speaks Italian & Spanish fluently..)
    Ok basta , senno’ ti monti la testa!

  4. thanks luca for inserting my Arno Schmidt piece! e per i “…” e le parole prima dei “…”, un abbraccio!

    @ fare well. Schmidt is often mentioned in a line with Joyce (has also done an incredible translation work: Finnegans Wake = Finnegans Wegh in German if i remember correctly). however, as a German and maybe even from an international point of view – though Schmidt is very little known outside Germany – i consider him absolutely unique.

    @ fedra: thanks fedra for your feedback on extract of the Schmidt piece. furthermore i am delighted to learn that you enjoyed the poetical dialogue that luca and myself put together with the publication of our chapbook The Fine Line. it’s a much loved “soul-child” of ours, i dare say.

  5. Hello Juergen. Is often more of interest when parallels which are between authors are resulting from independince or being unique. More of interest than that they might have an influence on each other.

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