22 December 2016

Poetry Thursday - The Knee, by Christian Morgenstern

(via)

The Knee

On Earth there roams a lonely knee.
It's just a knee, that's all.
It's not a tent, it's not a tree,
it's just a knee, that's all.

In battle, long ago, a man
was riddled through and through.
The knee alone escaped unhurt
as if it were taboo.

Since then there roams a lonely knee.
It's just a knee, that's all.
It's not a tent, it's not a tree,
it's just a knee, that's all.

                      (via)

Christian Morgenstern (1871-1914) was a soldier in the German army during the War, who started writing extremely dark, comic poems based on his experiences. These included seeing the head and entrails of a friend hanging from a tree after a shell had exploded near them. Morgenstern was struck by how funny and absurd the sight was, rather than its horror. The Knee is about a disembodied knee roaming alone across the Earth after the man it belonged to was killed in the War. (via)
Other "nonsense poems" by Morgenstern are here, in German and translated to English by Max Knight.

My connection to this poem is through my son - we had an poetry anthology to hand when he was about 8, perhaps edited by Brian Patten, or perhaps by Michael Rosen - I can't find that 30(or so)-year-old book on the internet, but have a vague impression of the blue(y) cover - and some treasures within, including Charles Causley's Timothy Winters, which I couldn't read without tearing up, then - and it still affects me that way. Who says children's poetry is just for children?

Son Thomas liked The Knee, so we read it quite often, of a bedtime, and after a while were able to quote lines to each other at odd moments, such as bandaging of the occasional scrape: "It's just a knee, that's all."

All these years later, one of the volumes of Junior Voices which I'm claiming from Tony's bookshelves opened at random to The Knee. It felt like a sign - and a chance to find out about the author. So here it is, today.

Also in Junior Voices, p67, is Morgenstern's The Two Roots:

A pair of pine roots, old and dark,make conversation in the park.
The whispers where the top leaves groware echoed in the roots below. 
An ag├Ęd squirrel sitting thereis knitting stockings for the pair. 
The one says: squeak. The other: squawk.That is enough for one day's talk.

Move over, Edward Lear!

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