Thursday, March 4, 2004

Thursday March 4, 2004

Filed under: General — Tags: — m759 @ 1:44 PM


Mit Zeichen und Zahlen
vermessen wir Himmel und Erde
auf weiss
schaffen wir neue Welten
oder gar Universen
With numbers and names
we measure heaven and earth
on white
we create new worlds
and universes
— from “Zahlen und Zeichen,
  Wörter und Worte”

“Numbers and Names,
Wording and Words”

by Eugen Jost

English translation by Catherine Schelbert


From time to time we take our pen in hand
And scribble symbols on a blank white sheet
Their meaning is at everyone’s command;
It is a game whose rules are nice and neat.

But if a savage or a moon-man came
And found a page, a furrowed runic field,
And curiously studied lines and frame:
How strange would be the world that they revealed.
A magic gallery of oddities.
He would see A and B as man and beast,
As moving tongues or arms or legs or eyes,
Now slow, now rushing, all constraint released,
Like prints of ravens’ feet upon the snow.
He’d hop about with them, fly to and fro,
And see a thousand worlds of might-have-been
Hidden within the black and frozen symbols,
Beneath the ornate strokes, the thick and thin.
He’d see the way love burns and anguish trembles,
He’d wonder, laugh, shake with fear and weep
Because beyond this cipher’s cross-barred keep
He’d see the world in all its aimless passion,
Diminished, dwarfed, and spellbound in the symbols,
And rigorously marching prisoner-fashion.
He’d think: each sign all others so resembles
That love of life and death, or lust and anguish,
Are simply twins whom no one can distinguish …
Until at last the savage with a sound
Of mortal terror lights and stirs a fire,
Chants and beats his brow against the ground
And consecrates the writing to his pyre.
Perhaps before his consciousness is drowned
In slumber there will come to him some sense
Of how this world of magic fraudulence,
This horror utterly behind endurance,
Has vanished as if it had never been.
He’ll sigh, and smile, and feel all right again.

— Hermann Hesse (1943),
Buchstaben” from Das Glasperlenspiel,
translated by Richard and Clara Winston

See also the previous entry,
on the dream
of El Pato-lógico.

1 Comment

  1. I like that 🙂

    Comment by Alice — Thursday, March 4, 2004 @ 8:42 PM

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