Friday, 20 February 2009

Georg Heym's Fever Hospital

In January 1912 the young German poet Georg Heym met his untimely death whilst ice-skating. At the time he was trying to rescue his friend, Ernst Balcke, who had disappeared through the ice of the frozen River Havel near Berlin when he also fell into the water and was drowned. There follows a Poet-in-Residence translation of Georg Heym's poem Das Fieberspital.


The pale screen on which the many beds
blur is a bare wall in the hospital ward.
The patients, thin marionettes, walk
in the aisles. One of their number

has all the illnesses. And with white chalk
his suffering is cleanly noted.
The fever thunders. Their innards
are burning mountains. Their eyes stare

at the ceiling and two enormous spiders
pull long threads from their stomachs.
They sit up in their cold linen sheets
and their sweats with pulled-up knees.

They bite on the nails of their hands.
Their brows glow red lights
in grey and furrowed fields
on which death's early sunrise blooms.

They extend their white arms, tremble
from cold and are dumb with horror.
Black from ear to ear their brains whirl
their fast and monstrous spinning waltzes.

The black space yawns behind their backs
and from the whitewashed walls
there reaches out the arm to clench the throat
and slowly close its hard and bony hand.

Georg Heym (1887-1912)and
Gwilym Williams (Feb 2009)


  1. Good Morning! That was visually creepy to read in the day's early hours.

  2. Oh Gwilym - that is the most terrifying poem I think I have ever read. The old fever hospitals in the days before modern drugs, must have been absolutely awful places and that poem really paints an awful picture. It can't even have been very nice doing the translation.

  3. Creepy and terrifying they are. And I'm going to do some more... Ho, ho. You have been warned!

    By the way, two new Christine Busta poems today on the INK SWEAT & TEARS LINK

  4. I am in the process of transposing Heyms poems into English and think I have a better "translation"; Here it is:
    The Feverward
    The faded linen in the many beds
    Blends in with walls of sickness, bare and stark.
    The sicknesses all, the hollow marionettes
    Are ambling through the halls. A stenciled mark

    Upon each of the sick. Their moans and groans
    Are neatly noted on a board with chalk.
    The fever thunders. And their guts and bones
    Are burning like the mountains. And they gawk

    At ceilings where some giant spiders hover
    And from their innards endless cobwebs tease.
    They startle, sit upon their chilly cover
    The sweat is poring on their pulled up knees.

    Their hands are trembling and they bite their nails.
    The wrinkles on their faces - scarlet red -
    Are like the fields where over seeded trails
    The crimson veil of dawning death is spread.

    They shiver in the frost, and white with fear
    They raise their scrawny arms, their tongue is bound.
    And black inside their heads from ear to ear
    Their brain is beaten endlessly around.

    A fissure in their spine, agape and black,
    And from the wall that stretches white and bland
    Appears an arm. And clenched around their neck
    The crushing fingers from a bony hand.

  5. Wolfgang, thanks for sending your poem for comparison. I was 'inspired' to translate fever hospital because my dad was a patient in such a hospital (in WWII) until brought home on a hospital ship. He had malaria. He reckoned at least half of the patients died.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.