New Mudlark: James Reidel Translates Franz Werfel

New and On View: Mudlark Issue No. 57 (2015)

Poems from Franz Werfel’s Judgment Day
Translated by James Reidel

“These poems stand quite isolated in German literature.”
— Curt von Faber du Faur

From the Translator’s Note: Chants (Gesnge) comprises part of a longer collection of poems, Judgment Day (1919) by Franz Werfel (1890-1945). Werfel is still a neglected figure, but he was once an imposing figure even in world literature and is still known for great (albeit conventional) novels such as The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933/tr. 1934) and The Song of Bernadette (1942) and strikingly gemlike outlier works, such as Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand (1940/tr. 2012). While his reputation has fallen into neglect, during his lifetime he enjoyed both critical and financial success. This too can be said of his poetry during the years just before and during World War I. Print runs of his books sold out. He read in theaters, to “packed houses,” reciting his verse in a declamatory style that had to be seen and heard. As a literary impresario in Vienna, he organized readings with such opening acts as the beautiful actress Billy Blei reading Robert Walser’s poems. Werfel had also admired the work of George Trakl, whose first book had been chosen by him for publication.


Gesang der Memnons-Säule > Song of Memnon’s Column
Novembergesang > November Canto
Dezembergesang > December Canto
Fragment der Eurydike > Fragment of Eurydice
Der Ruf > The Call
Verlust > Loss
Vergessen > Forgetting
An Eine Lerche > To a Skylark
Trinklied > Drinking Song

A little appendix: Werfel as a man of what faith?

Der Tempel > The Temple
Absalom > Absalom
Gewaltige Mutter > Almighty Mother
Schuld > Guilt
Müdigkeit > Weariness
Der Gerichtsherr > The Magistrate
Der Widder > The Ram

JAMES REIDEL has published poems in many journals over the years and his new book of verse, Jim’s Book, is now available from Black Lawrence Press. He is the biographer of Weldon Kees. With Daniele Pantano, he has translated Rober Walser’s dramolets—short plays—selections from which appear in Conjunctions 60 (Spring 2013) and a forthcoming New Directions pamphlet. He has translated two novels by Werfel, including Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand and an expanded and revised translation of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, both published by David R. Godine in 2012. He has also translated two books of poems by Thomas Bernhard in one volume, In Hora Mortis/Under the Iron of the Moon, a 2006 selection in Princeton University Press’s Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation. He is currently finalizing Our Trakl, a three-book collection of the work of Georg Trakl to mark the centenary of the Austrian poet’s death in 1914.

Spread the word. Far and wide,

William Slaughter

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