From My Commonplace Book - 64

On 9 June 1904

by W. G. Sebald

according to the Julian
calendar, 22 June
according to our own,
Anton Pavolich and
Olga Leonardovna reach
the spa at Badenweiler.

The tariff is sixteen maks
for board and lodging
at the Villa Friedericke
but the spelt porridge
and creamy cocoa
bring no improvement.

Suffering from emphesema
he spends all day
in a reclining chair
in the garden marveling
again and again at how
oddly quiet it is indoors.

Later in the month the weather
is unusually hot, not
a breath of wind, the woods
on the hills utterly still,
the distant river valley
in a milky haze.

On the 28th Olga travels
to Frieberg specially
to buy a light flannel
suit. At the Angelus hour
the following day
he has his first attack, the

second the following night.
The dying man, already
buried deep in his pillows,
mutters that German
women have such
abominable taste in clothing.

As dawn breaks
the doctor, placing
ice on his heart,
prescribes morphine
and a glass of champagne.
He is thinking of returning

home with Austrian
Lloyd vie Marseilles
and Odessa. Instead
they will have him transferred
in a green, refrigerated
freight car marked

FOR OYSTERS
in big letters. Thus
has he fallen among dead
mollusks, like them packed
in a box, dumbly rolling
across the continent.

When the corpse arrives
at Nikolayevsky Station
in Moscow a band
is playing a Janissary
piece in front of
General Keller's

coffin, also newly
arrived from Manchuria,
and the poet's relatives
and friends, a small
circle of mourners
which from a distance

resembles a black
velvet caterpillar,
move off, as many
recalled, to the strains
of a slow march
in the wrong direction.


W. G. Sebald (German, 1944-2001) spent most of his adult life in England where he taught at the University of East Anglia. He has been widely acclaimed for his innovative four novels, which are part historical analysis, part travelog, part memoir. A collection of of his poetry, Across the Land and Water: Selected Poems 1964-2001, translated by Ian Galbraith, has just come out and includes this poem about the death of the great Russian writer and physician Anton Chekhov.

Comments

I did enjoy that Merry, and having a little less pain enjoyed the idea of a glass of champagne too. Beautifully written poetry.
 
Hello, Enid. I'm happy you liked the poem. I admire W. G. Sebald's understated, dignified style and dry sense of humor, among other fine qualities (including his ability to write a sentence -- in one of the novels -- that goes on for nine pages).

I hope you mean that the pain you are experiencing today is enough less that a glass of champagne will do rather than a shot of morphine. What I wish is that you'd experience a day without pain.
 
The right words in this world are among one of our greatest healers. Never under estimate the power of beautiful words. Our brains are hard wired to tell stories and to hear them. Words should be read aloud. Thanks Mary!
 
Thank you, Xandoff, for your interest and wise words. Although mostly I read words, rather than hear them spoken, I do hear them in my head.
 
Enjoyed your comment - champagne/morphine Merry. Not allowed either but the glass of champagne will certainly cheer when allowed again ..........the very thought does right now - my break is mending. Thank you for your kind thoughts.
 

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