Tuesday Poem: Fallen / Niedergang



Driving through Mandeville. Empty windows, empty houses,
a craft shop sprung like fungus from the bones of the dying town.

The cenotaph stands roadside. Blunt, unwearied,
it commends to our attention the names of the anxious dead.

They grew, these Southland towns, on the graves
of the children of Tane. Mandeville, Riversdale –
Myross Bush, Ryal Bush, Gummies‘ …

the land groaned with the weight of their money.
As the tribes were pushed to the margins, fat lambs
grew fatter. Knives flashed cold on the chains;
eels tumbled and writhed over offal.

Now, thistles nod in the hard-pan fields. Children
are a letter from the city, a ten-hour drive at Easter.
The wealth
went with them. No mirror glass monuments here.

But the Council keeps the graveyard clean; and our dust
settles impartially
on the sign: “Country Crafts – Buy Here!”
and the sign that their dead live on, and will do so,
chiselled in stone,
till new trees and new ferns drag them down.


Eine Fahrt durch Mandeville. Hohle Fenster, leere Häuser,
ein Kunstgewerbeladen wie ein Pilz aus den Knochen der sterbenden Stadt entsprungen.

Das Ehrenmal am Straßenrand. Plump, unermüdlich
empfiehlt es uns, sich der Namen der Toten zu erinnern.

Sie wuchsen, diese Südlandstädte, auf den Gräbern
der Kinder Tanes. Mandeville, Riversdale –
Myross Bush, Ryal Bush, Gummies’ …

das Land stöhnte unter der Last ihres Geldes.
Während die Stämme an den Rand gedrängt wurden,
setzten fette Lämmer mehr Fett an. Messer blitzten kalt an den Ketten;
Aale wandten und stürzten sich auf die Innereien.

Jetzt nicken Disteln auf den pfannentrockenen Feldern. Kinder
sind ein Brief aus der Stadt, eine Zehnstundenfahrt an
Ostern. Der Wohlstand
zog mit ihnen fort. Keine Spiegelglassdenkmäler hier.

Doch der Stadtrat hält den Friedhof sauber; und unser Staub
senkt sich unbefangen
auf das Schild ‘Einheimisches Kunstgewerbe –
hier zu kaufen!’ und das Schild, dass die Toten weiter leben und weiter leben werden,
in Stein gemeisselt,
bis neue Bäume
und Farn sie niederziehen werden.

Tim says: A few years ago, a poem from my first collection, Boat People, was selected for inclusion in Wildes Licht, an anthology of New Zealand poetry with German translations, edited by Dieter Riemenschneider.

I was pleased not only because it always feels good to have work anthologised, but also because I have an interest in literary translation, and a particular liking for books which have the original on one page and the translation on the facing page.

Subsequently, however, due to a change in publishing arrangements, the manuscript had to be shortened, and mine was one of the poems cut. I was disappointed about this, but since Mark Pirie and I had undergone exactly the same process while finding a publisher for Voyagers, I recognised that this is just one of the realities of the publishing process.

Dieter was kind enough to send me the translation of “Fallen” that would have appeared in “Wildes Licht”, and give me permission to publish it on this blog. In the year of the Frankfurt Bookfair 2012: An Aotearoa Affair, this is a good time to republish it.

You can check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog – the hub poem in the middle of the page, and all the other poems in the sidebar on the right.

13 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: Fallen / Niedergang

  1. This is a poem I love (all the mention of Southland names thrills me of course!) I know exactly where and what you are speaking about in your poem too. You have taken the places and gifted them with ideas; given the stones and empty spaces once-filled, another life. May the poem continue to live on in many more guises and echoes. (Great that you have a German translation – I can show it to our son's girlfriend who is German. She will be pleased to be able to read a NZ poem in German; she can't quite get a handle on my poetry because of language / translation difficulties).

  2. When I read about the eels writhing over offal, I thought of The Tin Drum, where there are similar images. (I thought of that when I read the poem in the book, not just in this German translation context.)It must be horrible to have a poem cut at that stage; much better earlier on in a clean, head-off-the-eel excision…But it must be wonderful to have it translated.

  3. Love the line \”Children are a letter from the city\” especially – I have driven through some of these towns and wondered what it might be like to live there (but not too hard!) Evocative on so many levels.

  4. Thank you, Helen, Kay, Michelle, Penelope and Renee, for your comments!Helen, I am glad you succeeded, but ever since I watched \”Battlestar Galactica\”, I have never been entirely satisfied with my own answer to this question…Kay, thank you so much! Coming from you, this is especially good to hear. Your son's girlfriend should check out the Aotearoa Affair link in my post, and Michelle's' blog (see her comment) for more NZ poems in German language versions.Michelle and Penelope, I was sad when the poem was cut, but it was very good of Dieter to allow me to use his translation, which has enabled the poem to enjoy a second life on the Internet. And I have experienced such editorial choices from both ends of the blue pencil…Penelope, I have never read The Tin Drum – I am happy with the comparison!Renee, thanks again. I'm sure moving to say, Mandeville, would give you lots of new material for your work 😉

  5. Really interesting Tim. and congratulations on being 'translated'! What a coincidence though, as I was just posting the different translations of Transtromer.

  6. Thanks, Kathleen and Elizabeth.Kathleen, I am about to reveal something that will destroy my reputation in the poetry community forever. The first thing I thought – the very first thing, before I thought \”ah yes, the famous poet\” – when I saw the name Transtromer was \”Robots in Disguise\”.Elizabeth, I am indeed very pleased to have been translated. One of my short-short stories was once translated into Vietnamese, but I knew nothing about that till I found it online – despite which, I was still pleased to see it.

  7. Yes, funny that they look after the graveyards. A thoughtful serious poem. Great that it appealed to the Germans. I too love the look of a translation on the page. It adds mystique and ideas of hidden meanings.

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