Out of the halls of books
Appear the butchers.

A new translation of Bertolt Brecht’s “1940,” by J.D. Knight.


by Bertolt Brecht


Das Frühjahr kommt. Due linden Winde

Befreien die Schären vom Wintereis.

Die Völker des Nordens erwarten zitternd

Die Schlachtflotten des Anstreichers.



Aus den Bücherhallen

Treten die Schlächter.


Die Kinder an sich drückend

Stehen die Mütter und durchforschen entgeistert

Den Himmel nach den Erfindungen der Gelehrten.



Die Konstrukteure hocken

Gekrümmt in den Zeichensälen:

Eine falsche Ziffer, und die Städte des Feindes

Bleiben unzerstört.



Nebel verhüllt

Die Straße

Die Pappeln

Die Gehöfte und

Die Artillerie.



Ich befinde mich auf dem Inselchen Lidingö.

Aber neulich nachts

Träumte ich schwer und träumte, ich war in einer Stadt

Und entdeckte, die Beschriftungen der Straßen

Waren deutsch. In Schweiß gebadet

Erwachte ich, und mit Erleichterung

Sah ich die nachtschwarze Föhre vor dem Fenster und wußte:

Ich war in der Fremde.             




by Bertolt Brecht


Spring is coming. The mild winds

Free the ridges from the winter’s ice.

Shivering, the people of the north await

The naval fleets of the house-painter.



Out of the halls of books

Appear the butchers.


Pressing her children close

The mother scans the sky, dumbfounded,

For the inventions of the scholars.



The engineers sit

Hunched over in the design rooms:

One wrong figure, and the enemy’s cities

Remain intact.



Fog envelops

The street

The poplars

The farms and

The artillery.



I’m living on the island of Lidingö.

But the other night,

I had troubled dreams and I dreamed I was in a city

And discovered the street signs

Were in German. I woke up

Bathed in sweat, and with relief

I saw the pine, black as night, outside my window and knew:

I was in a foreign land.



translated from German by J.D. Knight

Enclosed you will find the missing map. I hope it leads you in the right direction.

While on a Fulbright grant to Berlin, Germany, poet and translator Sharmila Cohen is experimenting with various approaches to collaborative translation of contemporary German poets. Here she shares the result of one of those projects.

This series is part of a project that investigates poetry translation as a correspondence or communication between author and translator. For this translation, the basic outline was that Ann would send me a poem to interpret and respond to, and then she would respond to my response—this is a way of addressing the fact that responding to poetry is a type of translation in and of itself. To my surprise, after her first poem, Ann switched languages and wrote her responses in English; thus, I was translating from English into English and she was translating me in the same way. As we got further into our exchange, I started getting the feeling that we were playing into the responsive nature of the project; we were writing poetry letters; we were creating texts that invited a reaction from the other writer, while bringing some of each other’s voice into our own text. I think that in most forms of collaboration, we are in some respects translating one another—you must for the project to continue.

—Sharmila Cohen

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