The Strange Passenger
A Diary in Verse by Viktor Ullmann
Translated by Sonja Linden.
“What do you want here, sir?”
“I am by your leave, your fellow passenger”
“I thought that there was only me”
“A small mistake, you now can see.”
Ibsen: Peer Gynt.
You who with the scourge of fire
Drove me into gruesome hells,
Scraped the lode stone of the ancients (Lit: wise ones)
With the Maker’s noble chise
You who turned me to the devil,
Lured me from the straight and narrow
Bent me ‘neath the yoke of madness
As you travelled through my veins
Never shall you crush my will!
You’re the one who’ll stay in hell
And each day I’ll make you drill –
As poet and tamer as well
(Dedicated to Albert Steffen)
Here we have man’s doppelganger
of fugues of course the perfect singer.
The mirror does his theme reflect
so that from God you will defect.
The counterpart he sings is perfect
like a mirror crab – it’s contra subject.
In line with that well-tried old scheme
He’s the double fugue, the second theme.
(To Rudolf Steiner)
You are the sun and we the planets,
To us, the encircling ones, you send the becoming.
Oh, see how our paths are already separating us,
Light is the sun, but dark our yearnings
How you slip away, how you vanish
Spiralling away from the planets
Once again the fatal wounds bleed
angels do bind them, in loyalty bind them to you.
Sun sinks low, yet still they play
The little ones, on graves grown cold,
Upon the weathered basalt grey,
Between the Jewish gravestones old.
How they laugh and how they play
Beneath the birch, the lime, the acorn,
Upon death’s floorboard’s they dance away
As children are the dead reborn.
Blonde young girl so full of wonder
Is the grave you jump on yours?
The naked dead do whisper rumours,
The bees around the honeycomb buzz.
Gloriously he enters
Hebe proffers wine
Angels stand around.
At second glance he sees
It’s his odes that bear
Carried on the air.
On wings that ring out clear
To the crystal heights
Where the dazzling choir
Sings out fugues in space.
Has received him
And the light flows all around
The new wheel of fate.
Yet on earth there creeps –
(His) Sinister companion,
Who arrives at the void –
I paint playthings, meadows, roofs and houses,
A tiny church, trees covered in blossom,
Thus I sit, day in, day out, like a house of cards,
That every fresh glance pours scorn on anew.
If it’s sunny outside, the colours light up for me,
Their sevenfold glow is all around.
Whether or not these games of life shall spoil
At least I’m not a spoilsport any more.
One does not deceive God nor his eyes,
Even if you don’t yet recognise His law,
Yet even this knowlege will do you little good,
Unless you are inflamed with love for him.
You will never free yourself from this cruel arrest
Until you recognise the God in you yourself
And with this new found power in your Self, selflessly
Rouse Christ from the depths of your heart.
The demon was my cross. I had to bear it,
Too heavy for the weak strength of my shoulders –
The adventure of the spirit I had to risk
And it misfired – I atone for it on the shaft of the cross.
The acolyte fell before the portrait at Sais
Which he approached unclean, too early and too keen –
How long does the atonement last in Thebes?
Is it in the wilderness that its blessed seeds are realised?
As long as the serpent is not defeated
The “I” will give in to the anti-“I”.
Flight from life or addiction to it
Either way we are damned by our obsessions!
Obsession with the spirit, obsession with the world –
And both have turned sour for us.
No free “I” breaks the chains,
Light is still not dawning in the interior!
Euphorion is the leap of the spirit,
The fall follows close on from the leap of death.
What we inherit, what we strive for,
Pulls us constantly in two directions.
Whenever we are wrenched free from the dungeon
We find ourselves in a new prison –
Greed turns to madness, madness turns to greed –
Wayward angel, cursed beast.
I am alone. The world is dead.
The banner of the Anti-Christ is spread.
And God is far
Upon his star.
I am all-one. The world’s alive,
Michael’s golden banner floats on high
And God is near
In hearts (so dear).
Sound becomes word, word becomes sound,
Song becomes joy and consolation for scorn.
Folly becomes truth, fall becomes ascent,
Ghost dance becomes angels’s dancing ring.
A light flows into this world,
The darkness is lit up with a glow;
It wishes to penetrate the very depths
In order to rout the enemy of love.
The foolish virgin comes too late,
The clock hand points to twelve –
You have not dampened you wick,
So the light has not shone for you.
Oh sister, send me some oil!
Michael slays the dragon,
He still wants to catch the dilatory ones,
So that they don’t lose the bridegroom
You great peace, you quiet “No!”
The teaching resounds out of your mild mouth,
Removing unbearable suffering from the earth
And becoming the longed for shield of the heart.
Your prophetic eye penetrates my insane being
And frees me from the gaily coloured guild of folly,
I become pure again in your word,
My grotesque face gradually turns human.
All of us, oh noble one, who belong to the race of Cain
Crawl though the delusion of our fate:
We hear you and we are for ever yours,
You quiet the thirst, you silence the torment that rages.
You have done, what Buddha taught,
Oh do it to (for) me,
The one who worshipped you in error:
Let me (remain) with you.
In changing times you are uniquely lasting –
We waft towards (you),
When you burst (through) death which immures you:
(The “I am” of Christ is a fusion of the old and new testament
references : “I am that I am” (God’s self appellation) and “I am
the resurrection and the life.” J.D.)
I searched for truth and I fell into madness
I sought healing and I became ill,
I caught sight of the way, and the path broke,
Whilst growing I wilted, till I sank right down.
For beauty I searched and fell into obsession,
To art I gave myself and I became ill,
From evil I fled, only to be damned,
For freedom I strove, and became a slave.
Many have tasted the doctrine – which lets them slurp cosily,
Which offers the willing fruits for the enjoyment of peace and happiness
What was granted to me, however, was the sight of terror,
Daily I tasted the sponge, soaked through with acid and gall
Thus speaks the evil genius: “Live for the moment!”
His lighter counterpart: “Enjoy eternity.”
Oh (this) conflict which tears at my breast!
Yet to become a man let alone a spirit.
The bell sounds once more for me its final chime
I am a cross between beast and angel.
The deepest pain can not be turned into music,
No word can form it,
It doesn’t fashion form from the stone of the earth –
It is veiled in silence.
Thus I bear mute grief for the grieving muteness
That I missed,
And silence it, so it only hums,
What I have dreamt.
The deepest pain is not to be able to return
To distant time(s),
The wounds throb, that now burn fatally,
All enemies I forgave,
With one exception!
I feast my soul
At his trial.
The mask comes off –
Now show yourself – !
The demon is me!
What is that strange rumbling
Deep down in my ears?
It whisks and it chatters,
And awkwardly whispers –
It grouches and titters,
It grunts and it mumbles,
It croaks and it flutes –
Folk hear it and blush –
To him I am soldered,
Would that he were murdered!
He lies satirisingly
With smutty guffaws
He licks on his paws –
He flits and he flutters
He fondles and splutters –
And where’s he now hidden?
Homunkel is stretching!
The donkey stands between cartloads of hay –
They smell alternately delightful and lascivious;
To the good animal both these smells are new
He gives a snort to the left, then to the right, through his
I fear the donkey will become shy again
And will never recover from his torments:
For once he is not true to his ideals,
He plucks them again, as though they had never been.
As a boy I dreamt
My head was encircled
With raging flames,
And fate threatened.
I stepped into life
With inner trembling,
Building (my hopes) on people.
Teaching confused me
Removed me from my goals,
I fell short, went astray
Like so many others.
Childhood lasts too long
Paired up with emotion,
Blindness struck me
I lost my direction.
Father, I strayed far,
Am completely destroyed,
Under the cursed star
I have crawled.
Among the sows
I ate pig swill –
Send me your fatherly word,
I only want the crumbs
From off your table….
Feed me with lamb and fish
And I’ll say:Amen!
Everything will come to fruition ( made complete) one day
Everything will turn out for the good,
Half will not remain undone,
Love will complete the circle
And he who is freed from disgrace and delusion
Will partake of the spirit.
Whatever has gone wrong, whatever has failed,
Will be called to new deeds
In a rejuvenated life:
The old dragon will never be victorious
And you shall slay him one day out of revenge
With your sword plunged to the hilt.
Belief, hope, love, bind one
To God, whom you have sinned against
And he teaches you to come through:
If you learn to suffer and you learn to conquer,
That which painfully oppresses you
Will fade away before the light.
Mankind bears my pain, I bear hers,
Here is no mine and thine,
I endure my agony in order to adorn
Her bloodstained dress with my songs.
The face of our time is grotesque:
The enemy of mankind,
A typhoon its’s onslaught – and the dragon’s paw
A denial of the Christ.
He who is still vanquished hopes to conquer,
The time has come –
Even when he still waged war on us more angrily,
(There) was Golgotha.
Everyone constantly only felt their own suffering,
Now you learn,
That every happiness that we begrudged others,
So that we bear all the bitter suffering of everyone,
As our own burden,
Till one day in the far off future the Christ
grasps us in one.
Your life’s the prize they’re after in this game.
Though white begins, it’s followed soon by black –
The beast in you is Ahriman’s to claim,
The angel is what Lucifer wants back.
They stalk the board and capture pawns at will,
The king’s the one for whom they lie in wait.
This game in which they’ll never have their fill,
Though both of them keep trying for checkmate.
From this you learn the need to be quite clever
In choosing your opponent and your moves,
Or else they’ll try and win your soul forever,
At best then neither side will win or lose.
Cold is the body, cold is the world
And cold the grave into which it falls –
The room is cold, and cold the heart,
Where something still flies heavenwards?
Cold is fate, cold is death
And cold the sore necessity for life….
Cold is hell and cold is greed –
Who has overcome the animal in him?
A warm breeze wafts in from the south,
The Redeemer always rises up again!
Easter will come again – be consoled!
The sun’s rays will caress the earth.
Unworthy was I for lofty yearnings,
Yet even happiness, it’s gone –
The fullness of the golden life of youth,
And what I am now, is alien to me.
Life’s value has been shattered,
What I have built is in ruins –
Now I am old and sick – embittered,
I shudder at the sight of myself.
My head of wisdom has burst asunder,
The high path come to an end,
Vultures await in the eagle’s nest,
No more shall I clamber up the mountain.
The wretched iron chains of fate
Drag with all their might at my defences,
And instead of saving my brethren,
It is I, the fool, who is in darkness.
And yet – I know:there is a life
Where duty and joy flow together,
A quiet, eternally upwards striving,
That freely renounces, freely enjoys.
He who fears the sword’s point
Masters himself only through the power of the runes.
The law that applies to him, he is not free in grace,
Is that of a creature of the demiurge.
Only he who is freer than gods
Can stride through the fiery furnace –
The hell of desire.
Those who are not free get singed, are consumed.
He pledged the downfall
Of the raging pack of night fools
He who is in fear, is his subject.
Death brings him ego-gold,
Stemming from the gods, forged into earth clods
I forged for myself in hellfire
The sword, that God smashed to pieces,
Thus I remained Michael’s loyal follower,
Undoing Ahriman’s deceit.
The first freedom I can taste
Is the concept of willpower;
So that affliction stretches the dragon for me
I climb into the cave of envy day and night.
In wishful aspirations
The shattered sword is welded –
If Siegnund died, Siefried will live,
Who Fafnir once snatched victory.
Those who have not bathed in the blood of the dragon
Cannot withstand the trial of fire,
When the the flames of greed surround them,
The unprotected shall all die.
When we cast off the word, the world cast us out,
Pathless we wandered, with neither fruit nor refreshment
Loathsome worms crept round our feet, bats flitted,
Snakes were our travelling companions, avalanches threatened ,
Sanstorms raged and waterspouts sprang up,
Geysers of fierce desire sprouted in the deserts,
The hurricane of madness overwhelmed the spirit…
Through the depths of darkness of the earth
Which did not yet exist since God’s cry “Let there be…”
The sore feet of mankind drag themselves –
Mankind is Israel and they have to wander
Forty years through the wilderness, till they have atoned
For everything they did for so long, without atonement.
How am I to blame?
A soldier fell –
The battle standard
Once waved at its target
The animal falls!
He whom I chose
Long many he reign
Children of Cain are we, Abel,
Wandering through the night of death,
No, in Sodom and in Babel
The highest will not come to pass.
We explore murky swamps,
Where no child of Abel tarries,
Our eyes, blind to daylight,
Make out the distant abyss.
We wrest, him whom God cursed,
From the destruction of grace-less fruit of fate,
Out of the cavern into the light
Where none have trodden.
Oh sad eyes, who have often (been) sinned against,
You have already shed too many tears,
You once pronounced the teaching from your lips
Though after that poison flowed through your gates.
Your stream of tears has long since run dry –
The pain too great ever to be soothed away,
The complaints too wild, the delusions too strong,
The eye is dry and dark the earth.
There, where the lyre lay on my lap
With broken strings, the word was given to me,
That I may spread my arms in the word
In His way, of truth and life.
Here I am weighing nil grammes netto –
Looking exactly like Rigoletto.
You always take me for a phantom
Your motto being “when in Rome!”
An audience mostly protestant
Indifferent and irrelavant.
The devil they rebuke in their myths
Dead he is and spurns all wreaths.
Yet his passing away was nothing but guile
A mere pretence – he’s at work all the while.
In this the kings of yore were wiser
They knew all about man’s arch deceiver
And asked to be given daily reminders
That hell is a place that is inside us!
They knew that in man’s unconscious there lurks
The sooty black devil who mockingly smirks.
You see in me the well-known sham
Displaying my mirror, fool’s cap and fool’s wand!
I hold up the mirror before the king:
He smiles at the glass and back smirks a fool!
The wand whips up my true desires
My thoughts dart swiftly like flickering fires
Should one soar upwards I’ll drag it down
You all love the colourful clothes of the clown!
I’m far from whole, I’m divided in two
To he left I am red, to the right I am blue.
Should one plunge downwards, I’ll yank it upwards
And still they end up a little bit odd.
I’m a lover of orgies and an ascetic
I love exegesis, am quite atheistic
An egoist am I though more idealistic
A pacifist too though openly ballistic.
So many poets have sung my song
I’m completely imbued with my mission.
I was Sancho Pansa, I was Leporello
Hans Wurst, and iago in Shakespeare’s Othello.
I walk onto stages, I climb into beds –
No living person can escape me
For if with earthly eyes he sees me
It’s already too late, he’ll be vanquished completely
Never to see me would be better
Lest the old codger thinks he’s got schizophrenia.
There is only one who’ll stand up to my stare
For he overcame me and so he can dare
For the rest, I’m yourself, how you are, how you stay
Then I’ll spin myself round on your awxis so slyly
So you are the shadow and I the schlemiel –
The wand gives a wave: Let’s start the spiel.
Wherever I should turn
The shadow beats me to it –
So in the end I land up
In the mirrored cabinet.
The exit I’ll never find,
Only mirrors all around –
It’s getting worse and worse
And I am defenceless!
The hollow mirror shows me dwarfs,
Fat poisonous vermin –
Hunted by mirror thugs
I drag myself by my own tail.
Now I stare upwards
At a huge skinny giant –
However much I cry and plead –
I’ll never get free.
The laquered cabinet is a dungeon,
In which a madman raves,
A poor craftsman of sound,
Glassed in convexly and concavely.
Snatch forth the mothers from their final sanctuary!
Out of their houses, up out of the mire!
You were born that you could one day give birth,
For which you will be paid back with bitter tears!
Once there were children who suckled at the breast,
Then later they were to have quite different desires,
You you have gone wrong:they were not born of woman,
But were begotten and elected by demons!
All earthly creatures must honour their mothers,
What lies under the earth cannot give birth!
Man and beast derives from woman –
Rise up hell’s abyss! Banish mothers!
All of us brothers hold out our hands to each other
Across the ocean tides and across the tides of time:
Some of us roam about sleeping of fully awake
Some of us roam from birth until death
Or from death until re-birth; all of us
Whether we are in the grip of a struggle, drained of strength,
Or whether we have gained a victory: hold out our hands.
Since the sacred harp of the gods was silenced,
Since the leaden night separated us from the realm of light,
Since we found the dungeon in our own being:
Many are the trials that we have been put through,
And we are wilting from them, so that we can hardly bloom again.
Sick and mute, blinded and deaf, it has been our lot
To endure what no man has yet experienced.
And suffering has crowned us with a lunatic crown of thorns,
Yet we pluck the harp and sing to the gods –
When their song fell silent, ours resounded anew,
Nothing happens in the world from now on that we have not done
And they listen to our deeds and they watch our song.
Into our night
There suddenly broke
The word’s light.
When we awoke
There came bread and wine;
We do not hunger.
Devils must be wicked
Angels draw one to goodness –
In order to free mankind,
Christ had to give his blood.
That God allows the awareness of evil,
Can’t you appreciate that?
In the Middle Ages there was plague,
We have cathedrals and masses.
Ixion, strapped onto the wheel of fate,
And Tantalus, craving for cooling moisture,
And Sisyphus, whose strength was in vain –
The Danaides, filling the leaking cask.
Soothe your sensual desire with colours,
They flow, healing, onto the clouded brow,
Evil you can lessen with your tone and word,
Truth also dwells in the earthly mind.
Through suffering endurance becomes a virtue,
A late fate makes you a gift of a second youth.
That roasted doves should fly into your gob?
You are naive my friend and sadly lazy.
The stars, you moan, would have tormented you?
These were torments that you chose yourself.
Twice in my life I was led astray:
When I elected to follow evil,
When I tried to enforce goodness –
Virtue is silver and freedom is gold.
Not everyone is a simple fool,
Sinners are also led up to God
The caterpillar eats the trees bare,
That’s why you’re no Parsifal yet.
My friend, with your clever, blue eyes,
You are only aware of the skin that encloses us,
Demons who suck at your patients,
You only see with closed eyes.