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The Midnightmouse -- Christian Morgenstern

(Poem #252) The Midnightmouse
It midnights, not a moon is out.
No star lives in the heavenhouse.
Runs twelve times through the heavenhouse
        The Midnightmouse.

She pipes upon her little jaws.
The hellhorse from his nightmare roars...
Runs quietly, her allotted course.
        The Midnightmouse.

Her Lord, the Spirit great and white,
Has gone abroad on such a night.
She keeps watch in his heaven; all's right.
        The Midnightmouse.
-- Christian Morgenstern
translated by W. D. Snodgrass and Lore Segal.

This is Morgenstern at his best. Surreal, hypnotic, eerie - this poem seems to
breathe darkness and night, a velvet curtain drawn over the senses. In its own
haunting way, it's both weirdly grotesque and shimmeringly beautiful. Shivers
down my spine.


PS. I especially like the wordplay - the use of 'midnights' as a verb, the pun
on 'nightmare', the artificial compounds... they all contribute to the dreamy


The Web has zillions of sites devoted to Morgenstern, but strangely enough, they
all seem to be in German (funny, that. I wander why.). Here's the best I could
do; the parts in square brackets are words I didn't know:

Christian Morgenstern was born in 1871 in Munich, to Carl and Charlotte (nee
Schertel) Morgenstern . He studied philosophy and art history at Jura and
Breslauer University; while there, he published (with some friends) a book of
criticism titled 'German Spirit'.

In 1893 Morgenstern was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

In 1894 he moved to Berlin, where he became the culture and literary critic for
the New German [something] and the Artbook. Over the next few years, he became a
prominent figure in the literary establishment, with the publication of works
like 'Youth', 'Free [something]', 'The Company' and especially 'In a Dream
Castle: a New Style of Humorous Fantasy' (a work which presaged the idea of the
theatre of the grotesque. Around this time, he met August Strindberg and Henrik
Ibsen, who influenced his thinking substantially; so much so, in fact, that he
moved to Switzerland and started writing satires and parodies of the Berlin art

In 1903 he formed a theatre company with Bruno Cassirer (1872-1941), and put
many of his dramatic ideas into practice. The next few years were very creative
ones, as he produced '[something] Songs' and 'Melancholy', more satires, and
several pieces exploring the grotesque.

Morgenstern died in 1914.

So there you have it. Incidentally, the one sentence of English I found after
going through several hundred sites was this: "Poet and mystic, Morgenstern
united a ripe and perfected sense for and formal power in language with a
brilliant playfulness. "

[Minstrels Links]

There seems to be a hint of Robert Browning's Pippa Passe in the last stanza;
see for yourself at poem #133

And as usual, you can read all our previous poems at

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