Nights Over Finland


Arkhip Kuindzhi. ‘Study for Winter Sunlight on the Hoar Frost’, 1890. State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

The works of the German Expressionist poet Paul Boldt are experiencing something of a revival in Germany at the moment. But he remains a mysterious and largely forgotten figure whose career was cut short by a combination of war, ill health and disillusionment. Not a single photograph of Boldt is known to exist. Born in 1885 in an area of West Prussia which today is part of Poland, the son of a landowner, he studied philology in Munich and Marburg before coming to Berlin. There he began to live an increasingly bohemian life and was most frequently to be found at the Café Josty on the Potsdamer Platz, an artistic and literary gathering place for the avant garde. He gave up his formal studies in 1912 and began to publish a series of poems in the leftist journal ‘Die Aktion’, attracting attention especially as the author of the celebrated poem ‘Junge Pferde’ (‘Young Horses’) and appearing at readings alongside well known writers such as Gottfried Benn. In 1914, eighteen months after the publication of his first poem, a volume of verse appeared, the only one he would ever publish. He joined the artillery in 1915 but was discharged in 1916, judged unfit because of what was described by doctors as a ‘nervous disorder’. The few poems he wrote during this period are in stark contrast to his earlier optimistic period, and Boldt’s work began increasingly to take on the general spirit of despair and imminent disaster characteristic of so many writers of the period, especially those of the Expressionist movement. Boldt began to study medicine in 1919, underwent a seemingly successful operation for unguinal hernia in 1921, then died a few days later of an embolism. The poem I have translated here, from his earlier and more hopeful period, appeared first on July 10, 1912 in the journal ‘Die Aktion’. Boldt’s original follows my translation.


Nights Over Finland

The forests of fir darken away in the East,
And from the lakes the ghost of night emerges,
The yellowed head, crowned with fire and smoke,
To taste the smell of stars of newborn night.

The trunks of spruce are felted white as mushrooms,
And branch on branch in burnished tender light,
The frozen lines, with filigree encircled,
The contours drawn in pure and ripened frosts.

Down to the ancient round and blackened ice
Of earth, the rivers lie fast frozen.
The level gneiss shines in piled moraines

And in the shining bright and polished moors.
The crows cry out forever: day–and deed–
Mist and cold fall like sack and seed.


Nächte über Finnland

Die Nadelwälder dunkeln fort im Osten,
Und aus den Seen taugt das Nachtgespenst,
Den gelben Kopf, von Feuerrauch gekränzt,
Den Sterngeruch der neuen Nacht zu kosten.

Zu weißen Pilzen filzen Fichtenpfosten,
Und Ast an Ast in zartem Lichte glänzt,
–Befrorne Linien–Filigran umgrenzt,
Zieht die Kontur aus reinen, reifen Frosten.

Bis auf das alte, runde, schwarze Eis
Des Grundes sind die Flüsse zugefroren.
In Schuttmoränen glänzt der glatte Gneis

Und in den leuchtenden, polierten Mooren.
Die Krähen schreien ewig: Tag–und Tat–
Nebel und Kälte fällt wie Sack und Saat.




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