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- The Verse of Alfred Lichtenstein - 1/10 -

The Verse of Alfred Lichtenstein

(a critique by Lichtenstein himself)


Because I believe that many do not understand the verse of Lichtenstein, do not correctly understand, do not clearly understand--


The first eighty poems are lyric. In the usual sense. They are not much different from poetry that praises gardens. The content is the distress of love, death, universal longing. The impulse to formulate them in the "cynical" vein (like cabaret songs) may, for example, might have arisen from the wish to feel superior. Most of the eighty poems are insignificant. They were not presented to the public. All except one (one of the last) That is:

I want to bury myself in the night, Naked and shy. And to wrap darknesses around my limbs And warm luster. I want to wander far behind the hills of the earth. Deep beyond the gliding oceans. Past the singing winds. There I'll meet the silent stars. They carry space through time. And live at the death of being. And among them are gray, Isolated things. Faded movement Of worlds long decayed. Lost sound. Who can know that. My blind dream watches far from earthly wishes.


The following poems can be divided into three groups. One combines fantastic, half-playful images: The Sad Man, Rubbers, Capriccio, The Patent-Leather Shoe, A Barkeeper's Coarse Complaint. (First appeared in Aktion, in Simplicissimus, in March, Pan and elsewhere). Pleasure in what is purely artistic is unmistakable.

Examples: The Athlete: in the background is a demonstration of a view of the world. The Athlete... means that it is terrible that a man must also intellectually move his bowels.--Rubbers: a man wearing rubbers is different without them.


The earliest poetry forms a second group:


The intention is to eliminate the difference between time and space in favor of the idea of poetry. The poems want to represent the effect of twilight on the landscape.

In this case the unity of time is necessary to a certain degree. The unity of space is not required, therefore not observed. In twelve lines the twilight is represented on a pond, tree, field, somewhere... its effect on the appearance of a young man, a wind, a sky, two cripples, a poet, a horse, a lady, a man, a young boy, a woman, a clown, a baby-carriage, some dogs is represented visually. (The expression is poor, but I can find nothing better)

The author of the poem does not want to portray a landscape that is thought to be real. The poetic art has the advantage over painting of offering "ideal" images. That means--in respect to the Twilight: the fat boy who uses the big pond as a toy, and the two cripples on crutches in the field and the woman on the city street who was knocked down by a cart-horse in the half-darkness, and the poet who, filled with desperate longing, is thinking in the evening (probably looking through a skylight), and the circus clown in the gray rear building who is sighing as he puts on his boots in order to arrive punctually at the performance, in which he must be funny--all these can produce a poetic "picture," although they cannot be composed like a painting. Most still deny that, and for that reason recognize, for example, in the "Twilight" and similar pictures nothing but a mindless confusion of strange performances. Others believe, incorrectly, that these kinds of "ideal" pictures are possible in painting (for example, the Futurist mish mash).

The intention, furthermore, to grasp the reflex of things directly--without superfluous reflections. Lichtenstein knows that the man is not stuck to the window, but stands behind it. That the baby-carriage is not screaming, but the child in the baby- carriage. Because he can only see the baby-carriage, he writes: the baby-carriage cries. It would have been untrue lyrically had he written: a man stands behind a window.

By chance, it is conceptually also not untrue: a boy plays with a pond. A horse stumbles over a lady. Dogs swear. Certainly one must laugh in an odd way when one learns to see: that a boy actually uses a pond as a toy. How horses have a helpless way of stumbling... how human dogs express their rage...

Sometimes the representation of reflection is important. Perhaps a poet goes mad--makes a deeper impression than--a poet stares stiffly ahead--

Something else compelling in the poem: fear and things that resemble reflection, like: all men must die... or: I am only a little book of pictures... that will not be discussed here.


That Twilight and other poems take things strangely (The comic is experienced tragically. The representation is "grotesque"), to notice the unbalanced, incoherent nature of things, arbitrariness, confusion... is not, in any case, the characteristic of "style." Proof is: Lichtenstein writes poems in which the "grotesque" disappears, without notice, behind the "ungrotesque."

Other differences between older poems (for example, Twilight) and later ones (for example, Fear) in the same style are detectable. One might observe that ever increasing idiosyncratic reflections about landscape clearly break through. Certainly not without artistic purpose.


The third group consists of the poems of Kuno Kohn.

Alfred Lichtenstein


The Athlete

A man walked back and forth in his torn slippers In the small room He inhabited. He thought about the events About which he was informed by the evening paper. And sadly yawned, the way only that man yawns Who has read much that is strange-- And the thought suddenly overcame him, Like a timid person who gets gooseflesh, And the way the person who stuffs himself Starts to burp, Like a mother in labor: The great yawn might perhaps be a sign, A nod from fate, To lie down to rest. And the thought would not leave him. And then he began to undress... When he was stark naked, he lifted something.


The fat man thought: In the evening I gladly walk in rubbers, But also when the streets are clean and spotless. I am never entirely sober in rubbers. I hold the cigarette in my hand. My soul skips in little rhythms. And all one hundred pounds of my body skips.

The Patent-leather Shoe

The poet thought: ah, I have enough trash! The whores, the theater, and the moon in the city, The dress-shirts, the streets, and smells, The nights and the coaches and the windows, The laughter, the street-lights and murders-- I'm really fed up now with all the crap, Damn it! Whatever will be will be--it's all the same to me: The patent leather shoe Hurts me. And I take it off--

The Verse of Alfred Lichtenstein - 1/10

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