A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


Why oh why oh why oh why oh
Why do mathematicians go mad?
As if in problem solving they dissolve
Themselves at the same time.

Why did Van Gogh shoot himself?
And his ear — what was that all about?
Was the balance of his mind
Deranged by syphilis, poisoned by lead?

Why do I wish to be like others
When I can never be like them,
Nor would I really want to be —
As talented as they are?

I’ll always be somewhere
On the borderland of happy-sad,
Always be somewhere
Safe in the boring middle like most of us.

Why am I forgetting more and more
And also remembering more and more,
And why does meeting strife
Make me turn on my heels and run these days?

And why am I disease, distraction,
Jealousy, anger, guilt, betrayal,
Elation and negation,
Perfection and putrefaction?

And why on earth should there be
On this table a vase, a bowl of fruit,
A book by Nietzsche,
A paper knife, a pen,

An Egyptian ankh, a crucible,
A bodhisattva, calm, inscrutable,
A dead fly in a glass, a wilting rose,
A poem so anarchic and so questioning?

(This could be a little-known poem by the little-known Austrian surrealist painter and poet Zelig Biberkopf, who died in an Innsbruck psychiatric hospital on 1st April 1976. Translated from the German by The Solitary Walker.)


Susan Scheid said...

I love where you start, and I love where you go. Those last two stanzas, going from the grand demons and questions to the beautiful particularities of daily life, are a knock-out.

Suman said...

Such an intense and haunting piece of work. The persistent questions and the 'boring middle' (absolute brilliance!) in particular, speak volumes about the very meaning of one's existence. So very quotidian, yet so strange.
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful poem.

The Weaver of Grass said...

'Could be'? I like that Robert.
Not sure what it means though - do hope it is not written by you though - far too depressing.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Susan. I'm none too sure those demons have quite left the final particulars, e.g. that paper knife, the dead fly, the wilted rose. Though perhaps they have ameliorated somewhat.

Suman — I'm so glad you liked this. Thanks very much for your comment. "Quotidian, yet so strange."

Well, Pat, it was kind of written by me with some surrealistic guidance (I've just been watching some Bunuel films! Not to mention looking at some of the paintings of Max Ernst who also died on 1st April 1976.)

George said...

A very provocative and thought-provoking poem, Robert. C'est la condition humaine, n'est pas?

Yes, there is this madness, that which is manifest in others, as well as that which resides in the dark corners of our own lives. All things considered, perhaps it is not so bad to have a safe place in the boring middle. Perhaps we need the boring middle as a refuge from all of the emotional fires that are fueled by our chatterbox minds.

I find it interesting that, after a bit of self-reflection, you return to a table which is graced with a vase, a bowl of fruit, a book, a paper knife, a pen, and several other items that are spiritually evocative. Maybe these are the only material antidotes to madness we have, and it may be that the anarchy and questions that underpin your poem are our only pathways to redemption. Who knows? These, however, are simply my random thoughts about a very interesting poem.

The Solitary Walker said...

Oui, mon ami, c'est la condition humaine. Your critique goes right to the heart of this poem. Thanks for this.

Goat said...

I'm a little disturbed by that fly. I hope you're not starting a collection.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think I've been watching too many David Cronenberg films lately, Goat!

No, I'm not interested in collecting. It's just a single, accidental specimen.