In January 1912 the young German poet Georg Heym met his untimely death whilst ice-skating. At the time he was trying to rescue his friend, Ernst Balcke, who had disappeared through the ice of the frozen River Havel near Berlin when he also fell into the water and was drowned. There follows a Poet-in-Residence translation of Georg Heym's poem Das Fieberspital.
The pale screen on which the many beds
blur is a bare wall in the hospital ward.
The patients, thin marionettes, walk
in the aisles. One of their number
has all the illnesses. And with white chalk
his suffering is cleanly noted.
The fever thunders. Their innards
are burning mountains. Their eyes stare
at the ceiling and two enormous spiders
pull long threads from their stomachs.
They sit up in their cold linen sheets
and their sweats with pulled-up knees.
They bite on the nails of their hands.
Their brows glow red lights
in grey and furrowed fields
on which death's early sunrise blooms.
They extend their white arms, tremble
from cold and are dumb with horror.
Black from ear to ear their brains whirl
their fast and monstrous spinning waltzes.
The black space yawns behind their backs
and from the whitewashed walls
there reaches out the arm to clench the throat
and slowly close its hard and bony hand.
Georg Heym (1887-1912)and
Gwilym Williams (Feb 2009)