Wednesday Poetry: Kathe Kollwitz
Held between wars
among wars, the big hands of the world of death
listens to yours.
The faces of the sufferers
in the street, in dailiness,
their lives showing
through their bodies
a look as of music
the revolutionary look
that says I am in the world
to change the world
is to love to endure to suffer the music
to set its portrait
up as a sheet of the world
the most moving the most alive
Easter and bone
and Faust walking among the flowers of the world
and the child alive within the living woman, music of man,
and death holding my lifetime between great hands
the hands of enduring life
that suffers the gifts and madness of full life, on earth, in our time,
and through my life, through my eyes, through my arms and hands
may give the face of this music in portrait waiting for
the unknown person
held in the two hands, you.
Woman as gates, saying:
“The process is after all like music,
like the development of a piece of music.
The fugues come back and again and again
A theme may seem to have been put aside,
but it keeps returning–
the same things modulated,
somewhat changed in form.
And it is very good that this is so.”
A woman pouring her opposites.
“After all there are happy things in life too.
Why do you show only the dark side?”
“I could not answer this. But I know–
in the beginning my impulse to know
the working life
had little to do with
pity or sympathy.
I simply felt
that the life of the workers was beautiful.”
She said, “I am groping in the dark.”
She said, “When the door opens, of sensuality,
then you will understand it too. The struggle begins.
Never again to be free of it,
often you will it to be your enemy.
you will almost suffocate,
such joy it brings.”
Saying of her husband: “My wish
is to die after Karl.
I know no person who can love as he can,
with his whole soul.
Often this love has oppressed me;
I wanted to be free.
But often too it has made me
so terribly happy.”
She sadi: “We rowed over to Carrara at dawn,
climbed up to the marble quarries
and rowed back at night. The drops of water
fell like glittering starts
from our oars.”
She said: “As a matter of fact,
is almost a necessary factor
in artistic production; at any rate,
the tinge of masculinity within me
in my work.”
She said: “The only technique I can still manage.
It’s hardly a technique at all, lithography.
only the essentials count.”
A tight-lipped man in a restaurant last night
saying to me:
“Kollwitz? She’s too black-and-white.”
Held among wars, watching
all of them
all these people
all of them
death, the children
patients in waiting-rooms
the corpse with baby
floating, on the dark river
A woman seeing
the violent, inexorable
movement of nakedness
and the confession of No
the confession of great weakness, war,
all streaming to one son killed, Peter;
even the son left living; repeated,
the father, the mother; the grandson
another Peter killed in another war; firestorm;
dark, light, as two hands,
this pole and that pole as the gates.
What would happen in one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.
I first read this poem in its entirety while I was supposed to be studying for finals and writing papers at the end of my first semester in senior year. I was astonished and joyful, and crying in the middle of O’Neill library. It hasn’t lost any of its power for me; if anything, each time I read this poem I am struck by new phrases, images, and ideas. I hope you love it as much as I do, and I encourage you to learn more about Rukeyser and Kollwitz, both amazing artists with fascinating stories.