Memo, by W. G. Sebald

19 January 2012

For Christmas I was given Across the Land and the Water, a selection of poems by W. G. Sebald, translated by Iain Galbraith. I am a real admirer of Sebald’s prose work; the release of this selection last year, however, had passed me by. None of these shorter pieces have appeared before in English. I got stuck into it this week, and none of it so far has been a real surprise in terms of content or imagery: ‘place-y’; concerned with travel, borders and exile; grey, drizzly landscapes (if you haven’t read any Sebald before, this might not sound all that appealing… but I shan’t now try and explain why I find him so exhilarating). The poem below, however, interested me for its imperatives for the performance of an unknown ritual – imperatives aren’t often the trade of the ever-tentative Sebald. Typically jolly, though.


Build fire and read
the future in smoke

Carry out ash and
scatter over head

Be sure
not to look back

the art of metamorphosis

Paint face
with cinnabar

As a sign
of grief


And if you want an imperative in the context of something all borders-and-places, try Schattwald in Tyrol, with its final instruction to the wanderer: “Hang up your hat / in the halfway house”.

2 Responses to “Memo, by W. G. Sebald”

  1. dianajhale Says:

    I’ve read many of his books but not read this selection of [poetry yet – must put it on my list! Thanks.

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