Category Archives: Poetry

Happy Birthday Ernst Toller

Self publishing is probably not the correct route for me, simply because I am so lazy about the self promotion side of the equation. I haven’t written anything on this WordPress blog in over a year, but today’s the birth date of one of the major characters in Fire Answers Fire, Ernst Toller, born on December 1, 1893, one of only a couple people in my novel about the Nazi airship Hindenburg who enjoyed a real life as well as a fictional one. Toller’s story deserves to be known so much better and I’m sorry that my book didn’t sell well enough help to raise his profile except among a small handful of readers.

The story was different on May 22, 1939, when his suicide in New York as an exile from Hitler’s Germany was news around the world, as was his funeral where he was eulogized by Sinclair Lewis and others.

In its June 17, 1939 issue, The New Yorker published the following poem from W.H. Auden about Toller.

 

IN MEMORY OF ERNST TOLLER (d. May 1939)

The shining neutral summer has no voice
To judge America, or ask how a man dies;
And the friends who are sad and the enemies who rejoice

Are chased by their shadows lightly away from the grave
Of one who was egotistical and brave,
Lest they should learn without suffering how to forgive.

What was it, Ernst, that your shadow unwittingly said?
O did the child see something horrid in the woodshed
Long ago? Or had the Europe which took refuge in your head

Already been too injured to get well?
O for how long,like the swallows in that other cell,
Had the bright little longings been flying in to tell

About the big friendly death outside,
Where people do not occupy or hide;
No towns like Munich; no need to write?

Dear Ernst, lie shadowless at last among
The other war-horses who existed till they’d done
Something that was an example to the young.

We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.

It is their tomorrow hangs over the earth of the living
And all that we wish for our friends; but existing is believing
We know for whom we mourn and who is grieving.

—W. H. Auden

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