The Fat Abbot

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A selection of Christian Morgenstern's Galgenlieder
Translated by Jerome Lettvin

The following translations and essay were published in The Fat Abbot, a small literary journal, in the Fall-Winter 1962 issue.

Project Report

To get this research undertook
I bought a needle and the BOOK,

and with the BOOK and old and hairy
faintly starving dromedary.

N.A.M. to help this thesis,
gave, on loan, a standard Croesus.

When the Croesus, missal-guided
went to Heaven's gate and tried it,

Peter spoke -- "The Gospel proves
a camel through a needle moves

sooner than we may admit
a Rich man." (Christ, J., opus cit).

Testing to confirm the Word,
I loosed our camel, hunger-spurred,

and motivated by a lure
of buns behind the aperture,

The subject, in a single try,
squeezed grunting through the needle's eye; --

a graceless act. The camel crammed
and Croesus muttered, "I'll be damned."

The Aesthete

When I sit, I sitting, tend
to sit a seat with sense so fine
that I can feel my sit-soul blend
insensibly with seat's design.

Seeking no support the while
it assesses stools for style
leaving what the structure means
for blind behinds of Philistines.


Once there was a picket fence
of interstitial excellence.

An architect much liked its look; --
protected by the dark he took

the interspaces from the slats
and built a set of modern flats.

The fence looked nothing as it should,
since nothing twixt its pickets stood.

This artefact soon fated it,
the senate confiscated it,

and marked the architect to go
to Arctic -- or Antarctico.

Sophie My Hangman's Trull

Sophie my hangman's trull,
come, kiss my skull.
    True, these lips
    are blackened strips,
but yours are red and full.

Sophie my hangman's trull,
come, stroke my skull.
    True, its hair
    is plucked and rare,
but yours is black and full.

Sophie my hangman's trull,
come, stroke my skull.
    These sunken eyes
    are vulture's prize,
but yours are blue and full.

Beat Generation

A bell peal sped throughout the night--
    delivered by a clock--
his noise was great, his front was white
    with turbulence and shock.

He sought the gentle belle-peal Bing--
    she drifted since she wed him.
He beat her once; she dropped her ring
    and in a chase she fled him.

"Return!" he pled, "return! Your Bang,
    However square, is true.
Forget the dissonance we rang,
    The step you drove me to."

But Bing ignored his odd-toned plea;
    she got her bangs from Bong,
a dominant whose fifths were free
    and held her to him long.

Poor Bang in time came all unpieced,
    his reason lost its hitch--
It did not phase sweet Bing the least,
    he'd made no proper pitch.

Case History From Elea

The Close went lonely in disgrace,
she had no intimates at all;
her differences with Time and Place
were definite, however small.

Concerned, a goad of Kantians sat,
conceived some real merit if
they sent that analyst , the Cat-
egorical Comparative.

Improvement by degree was crisp--
she found what symbols to disclose;
but fooled to substance through his lisp,
she closer couched, and Clothier rose.

In apt salons her form is seen,
uncertain, but without regress--
she functions as a go-between
and takes the limit in her dress.

The Shark

When Anthony addressed the fishes
a simple shark became religious,
adored the host, denounced the Aryan,
and turned, save Fridays, vegetarian.

Seeds and weeds he bolted whole
with faith as firm as amphibole,
til vitals issued, overloaded,
lapsed Pelagian and exploded.

So littoral this revelation
fish schools died of inspiration--
The Saint, recalled to bless the lowly,
said only: "Holy! Holy! Holy!"

ΣΞ Man Met a π Man

After many "if"s and "but"s,
emendations, notes, and cuts,

they bring their theory, complete,
to lay, for Science, at his feet.

But Science, sad to say it, he
seldom heeds the laity--

abstractedly he flips his hand,
mutter "metaphysic" and

bends himself again to start
another curve on another chart.

"Come," says Pitts, "his line is laid;
the only points he'll miss, we've made."

The Art of Dress

A Word, itself not much at all,
prepared to show at Carnival.

Pronounced in length, but thin as air,
it wore a Cap to prove it there.

Its ancient stems, now grown infirm,
were wrapped in fustian got on term.

And all the ball was deeply stirred;
the King himself remarked, "My word!"

They used it well, its reason fled;
a string of nothings crawled to bed.

The Daynight Lamp

Pitts invented once a daynight lamp
which, no sooner one did twist
the switch, brightest day
to darkness turned.

When he showed this on the ramp
at a Physics congress, it lay
to none (and each a specialist)
to see that here they were concerned--

    (Darkness fell the brightest time of day.
    Thunders of applause can but persist
    so long -- the crowd began to stamp,
    crying "Lights!") that here they were concerned

with the fact that this very lamp,
in fact, no sooner one did twist
the switch, the brightest day
to darkness turned.

The Moonsheep

The Moonsheep cropped the Furthest Clearing
Awaiting patiently the Shearing.
              The Moonsheep

The Moonsheep munched some grass and then
Turned leisurely back to its Pen.
                The Moonsheep.

Asleep, the Moonsheep dreamt he was
The Universal Final Cause.
                The Moonsheep.

Morning came. The sheep was dead.
His Corpse was white, the Sun was red.
                The Moonsheep.

Ontology Recapitulates Philology

One night a werewolf, having dined,
left his wife to clean the cave
and visited a scholar's grave--
asking, "How am I declined?"

Whatever way the case was pressed
the ghost could not decline his guest,
but told the wolf (who'd been well-bred
and crossed his paws before the dead),

"The Iswolf, so we may commence,
the Waswolf, simple past in tense,
the Beenwolf, perfect; so construed,
the Werewolf is subjunctive mood."

The werewolf's teeth with thanks were bright,
but, mitigating his delight,
then rose the thought, how could one be
hypostasized contingency?

The ghost observed that few could live,
if werewolves were indicative;
whereat his guest perceived the role
of Individual in the Whole.

Condition contrary to fact,
a single werewolf Being lacked--
but in his conjugation showed
the full existence a la mode.

Morgenstern and Mythopoetry

Jerry Lettvin's essay on Christian Morgenstern will be posted here soon.

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