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The Moonsheep -- Christian Morgenstern

Guest poem submitted by Amit Chakrabarti:
(Poem #424) The Moonsheep
The moonsheep stands upon the clearing.
He waits and waits to get his shearing.
        The moonsheep.

The moonsheep plucks himself a blade
returning to his alpine glade.
        The moonsheep.

The moonsheep murmurs in his dream:
'I am the cosmos' gloomy scheme.'
        The moonsheep.

The moonsheep, in the morn, lies dead.
His flesh is white, the sun is red.
        The moonsheep.
-- Christian Morgenstern
Translated by Max Knight.

[Personal feelings]

The first time I read this surrealistic beauty of a poem, it was about 2.30
a.m., I was almost sleepy, and was startled wide awake. I reread and reread it,
savouring its delightful couplets and the hypnotic and insistent repetitions of
its refrain.

The sudden splash of a totally unexpected image in the final couplet (the *red*
sun) strikes me almost literally, even on the nth reading.

The first read wasn't too long ago, but I suspect this is one of those poems
that will remain a gem to me, forever.



This poem is an English translation by Max Knight from the original Deutsch poem
"Das Mondschaf" by Christian Morgenstern from his famous "Galgenlieder"
("Gallows Songs"), all of which are available at this Project Gutenberg site:

What makes English translations of Morgenstern's poetry interesting is that HE
IS ONE OF THE STANDARD EXAMPLES OF an untranslatable poet. Is this claim true?
You decide.


Morgenstern hated to 'explicate' his Galgenlieder, insisting that they had far
less hidden meaning to them than many critics were bent on reading into them.
However, when pressed hard, he occasionally would offer a crumb. In this case,
he suggested the moonsheep might be the moon itself -- first against the sky;
then vanishing behind mountains; next, a dream of grandeur, with its own
tininess filling the cosmos; and at least appearing at dawn as a pale disk.


1871--1914. German poet and humorist whose work ranged from the mystical and
personally lyrical to nonsense verse.  Morgenstern's international reputation
came from his nonsense verse, in which he invented words, distorted meanings of
common words by putting them into strange contexts, and dislocated sentence
structure, but always with a rational, satiric point. Volumes of nonsense verse
include Galgenlieder (1905; "Gallows Songs"); Palmström (1910), named for an
absurd character; and three volumes published posthumously: Palma Kunkel (1916),
Der Gingganz (1919), and Die Schallmühle (1928; "The Noise Mill"), all collected
in Alle Galgenlieder (1932).

The above from Encyclopædia Brittanica, of course.

Hope you liked it!

- Amit.

[Minstrels Links]

'The Midnightmouse', also from Morgenstern's Galgenlieder, at poem #252
'The Pobble who has no toes', by Edward Lear, at poem #297

42 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sitaram Iyer said...

> 'The Moonsheep'

I guess this isn't alliteration or anything, but something seems nice about

"plucks" .. "blade" .. "alpine" "glade" (the l-ness)

"murmurs" .. "dream" (the rumbling m-r-ness)

"morn" .. "dead" .. "white" .. "sun" .. "red" (short, spiky words?)

> that will remain a gem to me, forever.


Klaus.Blankenburg said...

There is also a Latin translation, I don´t know by whom:


Lunovis in planitie stat
cultrumque magn´ expectitat.
Lunovis herba rapta it
in montes, unde cucurrit.
Lunovis habet somnium:
se culmen rer´ ess´ omnium.
Lunovis mane mortuumst.
Sol ruber atque ips´ albumst.

I need Morgenstern´s dark-coloured poems and read them over and over
again. There is nothing like them.


ernst-christian mathon said...

this latin version is also part of Morgenstern's gallow songs. Nice,
isn't it?

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