…and now for something completely different.

You Have Been Warned
Der Tod wird kommen, und deine Augen haben.
—Cesar Pavese, selbstmord 1950

You have been warned. It should be no surprise
when blood and breath resign the long campaign.
Death will come, and he will have your eyes.
All things must pass, and everybody dies.
(Give thanks!—Were life less brief, all art were vain.)
You have been warned, it should be no surprise
to grasp the brass ring, catch the final prize,
and find that neither sleep nor dream obtain.
Death will come, and he will have your eyes,
and after that—nothing. The poet lies
for profit, and the priest looks to his gain,
but you’ve been warned. It should be no surprise
when flesh the sovereignty of will denies:
there is no will, all’s chaos and chicane.
Death will come, and he will have your eyes,
and that’s an end to it. Say your goodbyes
early—who knows what hours remain?
You have been warned, it should be no surprise:
Death will come, and he will have your eyes.

The quote comes from this poem (from here):

Der Tod wird kommen…
Der Tod wird kommen und deine Augen haben,
der Tod, der uns begleitet
von morgens bis abends, schlaflos,
dumpf, wie ein alter Gewissensbiß
oder ein törichtes Laster. Und deine Augen
werden ein leeres Wort sein,
ein verschwiegener Schrei, ein Schweigen.
So siehst du sie jeden Morgen,
wenn du dich über dich neigst, mit dir allein
im Spiegel. O teuere Hoffnung,
an jenem Tage werden auch wir es wissen,
daß du das Leben bist und das Nichts.
Für alle hat der Tod einen Blick.
Der Tod wird kommen und deine Augen haben.
Das wird sein wie das Ablegen eines Lasters,
wie wenn man ein totes Gesicht
wieder auftauchen sieht im Spiegel,
oder auf eine verschlossene Lippe horcht.
Wir werden stumm in den Strudel steigen.
Cesare Pavese, geschrieben 1950,
wenige Wochen vor seinem Freitod

Here’s a translation, as close as I could get to word-for word with no attempt at poetry (I know I have a few readers who speak German — corrections/improvements are always welcome):

Update: already there are two comments improving my translation. 🙂 Also, Ralf points to the Italian original; I knew Pavese was Italian but had only ever seen the German version of this poem, without any translation credit, so I thought he wrote also in German.

Death will come…
Death will come and have your eyes,
Death, who attends us
from morning until night, sleepless,
muffled, like an old conscience-prick
or a foolish vice. And your eyes
will be an empty word,
a secret cry, a silence.
So you see them every morning,
as you lean over yourself, alone with you
in the mirror. O expensive hope
on that day we also will know
that you are Life and Nothingness.
Death has a glance for everyone.
Death will come and have your eyes.
That will be like the unloading of a lorry letting go of a vice,
as when one sees a dead face
rising up again in the mirror,
or listens to a fastened lip.
We grow mute as the maelstrom rises We will step silently into the maelstrom.

2 thoughts on “…and now for something completely different.

  1. Interesting poem. Just a side note: I don’t think the author thought of a lorry when writing ‘Ablegen eines Lasters’. Most likely this is supposed to mean ‘giving up a vice’. Your translation of the last line is somewhat poetic and certainly conveys the right idea. A more verbatim translation would be ‘we grow mute when we enter the maelstrom’ (the ‘steigen’ refers to the ‘wir’, not to the ‘strudel’)

  2. If you’re going to translate this one, you should do it from the original Italian, non?
    Kay is right re Laster and Strudel. “Ablegen” is more a “letting go”, rather than “giving up”, where the work has been done and the person carrying the vice is tired of it. I’d translate the last line as “We will step silently into the maelstrom.” There is a sense of being resigned, not becoming resigned, if you know what I mean?
    A fascinating poem, particularly when you read it with the knowledge that it was dedicated to his former lover. Whose eyes are they, that Death will wear for me, I wonder?

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