Thursday, August 13, 2009


Es gab den Dolch in deine Hand
Ein böser Dämon in der bösen Stunde –
Ich weiß nicht, wie der Dämon hieß –
Ich weiß nur, daß vergiftet war die Wunde.

There was a dagger in your hand
a demon in an idle hour
I never knew the demon’s name
I only felt his stabbing power

In stillen Nächten denk ich oft,
Du solltest mal dem Schattenreich entsteigen
Und lösen alle Rätsel mir
Und mich von deiner Unschuld überzeugen.

On quiet nights I lie & think
you should come up from where you are
& answer all these doubts for me
confirm to me you were a whore

Ich harre dein – o komme bald!
Und kommst du nicht, so steig ich selbst zur Hölle,
Daß ich alldort vor Satanas
Und allen Teufeln dich zur Rede stelle.

I’m waiting now
You’d better show
If you won’t come I’ll track you down
& there in front of everyone
conduct my cross-examination

Ich komme, und wie Orpheus einst
Trotz ich der Unterwelt mit ihren Schrecken –
Ich finde dich, und wolltest du
Im tiefsten Höllenpfuhle dich verstecken.

gliding like some bright Orpheus
across an underworld of fears
I’ll find you in the deepest ditch
dug out by centuries of tears

Hinunter jetzt ins Land der Qual,
Wo Händeringen nur und Zähneklappen –
Ich reiße dir die Larve ab,
Der angeprahlten Großmut Purpurlappen –

& in that land of tortured dreams
where sinners pay for what they did
I’ll cut off the last shreds of skin
the trappings of your girlish pride

Jetzt weiß ich, was ich wissen wollt,
Und gern, mein Mörder, will ich dir verzeihen;
Doch hindern kann ich nicht, daß jetzt
Schmachvoll die Teufel dir ins Antlitz speien.

& when I’ve found out what I need
I’d like to pardon you, you know
but how can I stop TV scum
from vomiting all over you?

[Sophie Elliott]

R. I. P.


Giovanni said...

You've got the Twitterati a-flutter, if any of those are actual words.

Jack Ross said...

If they're not actual words, they certainly should be ... I'm intrigued to hear that the piece has attracted notice, though. I hope not too adverse? Some might think the subject a little too delicate for such treatment, which is I guess why I stuck to a pretty close paraphrase of Heine's actual poem.

Giovanni said...

I think the reaction could best be characterised as mixed, with the cherry of learned Heine commentary on top.

(Word verification: spollow. It too should be a word.)

stephen said...

I just don't understand what you're trying to do here. Heine wrote the original from his sickbed, presumably directed at his real or imagined enemies (but probably the relatives who were reneging on his pension). They pissed him off, he wrote a poem (in which the author is the stabbee, not the stabber) in which he eventually forgives. (I don't believe it was published in his lifetime either).

There's a certain inverse symmetry here, but why you chose this particular riff to make the point that Weatherston is a bad man is beyond me, or over my head, or something.

(Also, for pedantry's sake, I'm pretty sure a demon gave the knife into the hand of the person addressed -- impersonal construction + dative. Thus the knife is not a demon, rather the person addressed has been successfully tempted. If the sense were "there was the knife in your hand", the line would have read Es gab der Dolch in deiner Hand. Which puts a slightly different spin on the culpability of the stabber, I think.)

Jack Ross said...

Dear Stephen,

I guess my interest in this whole matter is not so much the character of the two principals involved, but the fact that everyone who turned on the TV news during the week or so that Weatherston was testifying was treated to lengthy reports on what he'd had to say that day - which generally led the bulletin. Then, before the ink was even dry on the sentence, we had an hour-long documentary on the ins and outs of Clayton and Sophie's "relationship."

Heine's poem - whatever his motivations for writing it (and I guess spending eight years flat on your back in the "mattress-grave" explains & justifies a lot) - seemed to me to contain such a virulence of hatred for his own version of "Eurydice" that I saw an analogy there with the pre-scripted melodrama we'd been forced to watch unfold night after night. I think the substitution of "TV scum" for "devils" kind of speaks for itself, really.

Clayton clearly is a bad man - whether he sees himself like that or not - but the reporter-ghouls flocking round his trial, hanging on his every word, building him up into some Manson-esque folkhero, seem to me almost worse.

You're probably right about the syntax of the initial stanza, but I hope it was clear that I was referring to that story of Sophie attacking him first - with scissors, admittedly, not a dagger? I still don't quite get the significance of the demon in Heine's original. I certainly agree his stanza has a somewhat different aim from mine.

To be honest, while I get the basic idea of Heine presenting himself as an anti- or parody-Orpheus (Orphe-isch), tracking down his betrayer to expose her rather than save her, his poem seems more of a remorseless venting of spleen than one in which he "eventually forgives" - there's so much glee in that penultimate stanza, and the devils vomiting over her at the end is his idea, not mine ...

So I suppose my reason for putting up this version of his poem was to express my own unease at having been made a voyeur, looking in at this complex drama. Clayton now is a household name - as is Sophie. Could anyone claim that this was done with any aim whatsoever beyond making a buck out of their - and their family's - misery?

I didn't consciously follow the case, but I find I've somehow been forced to learn virtually everything about it without even trying. That interests me - it worries me too.

I can't really quarrel with you if you think I'm doing the same as them. It's a risk, certainly. But I do believe we have to start thinking harder about what is and isn't "of general interest" - public property. Prurient curiosity appears to be the one criterion for reporting anything these days.

That was the point I was trying to make, at any rate. I'm sorry if it wasn't clear. It seems to me an important enough one to be worth stating and restating at quite some length.

Anonymous said...

Poetry aside, this sick man is still listed on the Old Friends site. Still a matter of public interest, it seems. The way crimes and trials are currently reported in NZ needs to be reviewed. A child welfare person in Oz told me that the details of some child murders are not released because they are deemed to be unacceptable for public consumption. Something for NZ to consider, and soon.