Week 207: The End of the Owls, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

This poem by the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger (born 1929) may seem very much of its time with its Cold War imagery, but is surely just as relevant today: if the natural world appears to have become less threatened now by swift execution in the form of a nuclear Armageddon, it is only to face instead the slow death of a thousand cuts. I suppose you can call it progress.

I give the poem in its exceptionally fine English translation by Jerome Rothenberg.

The End Of The Owls

I speak for none of your kind,
I speak for the end of the owls.
I speak for the flounder and whale
in their unlighted house,
for the seven cornered sea,
for the glaciers
they will have calved too soon,
raven and dove, feathery witnesses,
for all those that dwell in the sky
and the woods, and the lichen in gravel,
for those without paths, for the colorless bog
and the desolate mountains.
Glaring on radar screens,
interpreted one final time
around the briefing table, fingered
to death by antennas, Florida’s swamps
and the Siberian ice, beast
and bush and basalt strangled
by early bird, ringed
by the latest maneuvers, helpless
under the hovering fireballs,
in the ticking of crises.
We’re as good as forgotten.
Don’t fuss with the orphans,
just empty your mind
of its longing for nest eggs,
glory or psalms that won’t rust.
I speak for none of you now,
all you plotters of perfect crimes,
not for me, not for anyone.
I speak for those who can’t speak,
for the deaf and dumb witnesses
for otters and seals,
for the ancient owls of the earth.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger (translated By Jerome Rothenberg)

1 thought on “Week 207: The End of the Owls, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

  1. “seven cornered sea” – seven corners because people have sometimes claimed there are seven seas? “early bird” – a reference to a nuclear early warning system? (Apparently some owls eat other birds so will themselves be subject to (natural) early bird warnings!)

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