Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Kurt Schwitters in Norway - 'Ich sitze hier mit Erika' (1936) - first English translation


I am sitting here with Erika

I am sitting here with Erika in front of my small house on my Norwegian island and have just drunk my coffee.
When I read this sentence, I can’t help going crazy with pride, but I refrain from doing so, for, although everything is virtually precisely as I have just written, none of it is even so. Anyone who knows that my wife’s name is Helma thinks on reading the name Erika in the first sentence of adultery, sultry love, sublime moments, but he would be wrong, for Erika is my small typewriter. And anyone who has not yet been on my Norwegian island would think when reading of a small house of a villa, or at least of a country home built in the Bauhaus style or of a cosy hunting cabin. He would be mistaken, for my small house is a requisitioned woodshed. But I would be most justified in feeling exaggerated pride were I to write about my Norwegian island. It is, at any rate, enchantingly beautiful – you cannot deny it that – so beautiful that I can not describe it to anyone with my Erika if that person has not yet been there.
It is also quite large – 5 kilometres long and up to 300 metres wide – and is jagged, rocky, wooded and cold. The only thing is that it doesn’t belong to me but to the Norwegian state. But I am the one who has discovered it, although not the first to do so, for Kaiser Wilhelm used to visit it when his yacht was moored in Molde – although I only later found this out, when one day I discovered it when arriving in a rowing boat from Molde with Helma. For that reason, I simply call it ‘My Island’.
Or rather, I had already heard of this island earlier, for when, on a beautiful June morning, I was about to leave Molde with my wife and the rowing boat, Mr Rasmussen, the host of the hotel where I was staying, the Alexandra that is, called out to me: ‘If you go in that direction towards the small blue streaks, where the small islets are, you will find an island that is sure to greatly interest you as a painter.’
Who would want to forbid me to call this island mine that I have discovered in such a way, for I have done more for it than for the coat that warms me today and that, with the exception of a few rather uncomfortable fittings, is completely the work of my tailor’s, despite the fact that I call it mine. And no one would waste a second in proving to me that the coat which my tailor has fashioned is not mine but my tailor’s, because I have paid him for it. An island, though, is not something one buys, one acquires it through one’s own labour, in exchange for the labour involved when one tries to get to know the small details in order to understand the whole.
Now you will be thinking – since everything in the first sentence has so far proved to be untrue – that the coffee isn’t real either, but it is. It really was my coffee, the basic ingredients of which I have exchanged in Molde for one of my paintings, and which my wife has boiled for me on a likewise exchanged stove, for in Norway one boils coffee. But it was more than coffee, much more, that I have consumed: it was coffee with wonderful island milk, with bread and orange marmalade, which people in Norway like to eat and to eat often, and with cake that is full of raisins – all things that I as painter-prince of the island of Hjertøya can exchange works for in Molde.
You now tremble in awe at the word painter-prince, but that is an unnecessary waste of time, for I have not been appointed such by the Norwegian state, but have made myself one, since no one is able to contradict me, for at present I live alone with a fishing family here on my island, and these people admire my works unreservedly. That the poultry, dogs, cows and the bull naturally pay not the slightest attention to my works is quite understandable, for cattle is cattle, here and everywhere. These animals though show a much greater interest in my physical well-being, and when, as just now, I drink my coffee, I am surrounded not only by my wife but the dogs Freya and Mira, the hens, the cocks, turkey-cock and turkeys – and when reciting my own pieces of writing I have never had such a appreciative audience as here when drinking coffee.
I am not, by the way, the only prince on the island of Hjertøya, but I am the only painter-prince here.
For the fisherman here is no ordinary fisherman, in fact he is not a fisherman at all really, but a state-appointed ‘skogvokter’, which is roughly the same as a gamekeeper or forest ranger.
The Norwegian state has appointed him gamekeeper-prince of many islands and waters around Hjertøya, with his residence on Hjertøya. Woodland and fishing are under his control within his area, and he has dealings with all the fishermen and sometimes takes me with him in his motorised yacht when he inspects his territory. I then make the acquaintance of many a weather-beaten fisherman, with whom I barter fish. Incidentally, he is also a former sailor and speaks fluent English, and since I speak equally fluent Norwegian, we often understand each other quite well.
The residence now consists of a castle, which has been painted red, off-set with white edges, a one-storey cavalier house in which the bleating-princes with their princely carts of hay occupy the first floor, while below them live the cows, hens, turkeys and geese, a boathouse in which two large rowing boats are stored during the winter and that I partially use as a studio, a red well with white edges in which there are several buckets full of water, a former woodshed that I have requisitioned, and the adjoining potato cellar.
Well, what I was going to say was there are even more royal personages on my island. Firstly, of course there is Freya, a young royal bitch who is four years old, though admittedly of no ancestral heritage, as is often the case with dogs, but who keeps a court of the other animals. Freya receives a tribute from me, since I give her anyhow all inedible bones and gristle. In return, she keeps away from me the bull who once made such a terrible attack on my wife and refused to listen to any of my pacifying words, despite the fact that all she had done was to tread on a dry twig in his vicinity. And the bull also happens to regard himself as such a prince. Then Freya bit him on the back of the leg and, since he is very sensitive there, he charged off at great speed, although still retaining his princely dignity. In particular, Freya stood guard over our tent when we still had no house, for which she was allowed to sleep in the adjoining tent. This taught me that fat princesses are also given to snoring, for Freya is fat, and if she devours many more bones, she will no longer be able to run, and that will put an end to her princely dignity.
For with animals dignity is not hereditary but a sign of strength, belligerence and speed. Old animals are ruthlessly chased from their princely thrones as soon as a younger or stronger or more belligerent pretender to the throne usurps it.
What though is one to say of turkey-cock and turkey? Freya runs away from them, and they attack Freya ferociously when Freya attempts to hold on to a hen’s tail.
Well, kings they are not. They have no wish to rule, they just do not want to be suppressed and refused just to look on when others suffer injustice. They are good, peaceful citizens – he is a bit of a show-off perhaps, and she is tearful, quite a bit actually.
But, were you to take a look at good solid citizens, the best citizens, the citizens that best characterise the middle class, you would be sure to find showing-off as well as tearfulness.
As far as my small house is concerned – since 1 June 1936, a small bench and a table have stood outside it. The bench has been made out of a board that has washed ashore plus two rooted-out tree stumps and it can seat two, the table out of an old, somewhat rickety Triumph chair onto which I by way of analogy have nailed a priming surface. Fortunately, this is on the south side of the house, for one would not be able to sit on the three other sides at this time of year. Only the day before yesterday we had ice on our tent, so we decided to move into the house. That is called ‘to flee’ in Norwegian – and you could well call it a flight. We are protected against the very cold and quite violent east wind by a provisional wall made out of priming surfaces.
As mentioned, our house was originally a woodshed, consisting of four immensely thick stone walls, with very chunky stones that have been dovetailed together with practically no mortar but a great many holes, of a roof laid out like a meadow in Norwegian fashion, and a door – and this door faced south.
The bull had once long ago expended its wrath on the east wall, which led to its collapse.
Since the birch bark that is laid as insulation between the boards of the roof and the meadow had become damaged over the centuries, the bearing beams had partially rotted and subsided. This meant that the meadow-roof had collapsed at certain points. So now it rained in and everything was decaying when we took over the house. There were also innumerable empty bottles standing around as well as all sorts of rubbish.
 To begin with, I laboriously tried – but in vain – to block the roof using driftwood, birch bark and meadow. When one day, after some rain, all my belongings were sodden with water – clothes, boots, books, paper – I decided on a new roof. I exchanged works in Molde for a wooden roof with roofing felt, a floor, a very small stove and approximately one hundred old margarine crates. And with these materials I built our happy home.
In the process, I also modified an old saying: ‘If my wife has bumped into a corner, that corner will be sawn off.’
But the house offers more potential for philosophy. I was once looking for something but was unable to find it. Many a person looks for something but is unable to find it once more.
How can that be?
Inventing something is different. Not always, admittedly, but often.
For then a goal is often set, such as discovering a new poisonous gas, one that the enemy’s present gas masks are no protection against. Then a hundred chemists get to work and invent 10 new poisonous gases.
If, on the other hand, I am looking for my collar stud, I can appoint one hundred people and they do not find anything. That I do not find it either is a self-evident act of courtesy.
So now I ask myself: ‘Why is it that by concentrating a person is unable to find a miserable collar stud? What’s the point of people finding all sorts of great, important things, and what does any of it mean, when he is unable to find his collar stud again?’
For without a collar stud the man is but a fragment. All culture recoils from the man as soon as he goes outdoors without a collar stud. He is judged as being extremely uncultivated, no cultivated person dares have any doings with him, he is sacked on the spot by his firm, and in the tram all the passengers avoid him. He is ostracised.
And yet I have once seen a man without a collar stud – myself in the mirror. You can imagine my fright; I sought for two days before finding one, because without it I would have not dared leave my room. I then put my coat on and fasted for three days so as to even out the horrible mental depression. Now I have become a completely normal man again. But during all this I had the thought: ‘What if I had trodden on it and flattened it?’, for then, as a cultivated individual, I would have had to starve to death in my room.
So I went to a department store and immediately bought myself 300 collar studs. I then divided them up between all the rooms I normally use, so that this cannot ever happen to me again, so that I do not immediately find a substitute for lost culture. And once more I am sitting with my Erika in order to tell her that which I cannot paint. For there are things on the earth that cannot simply be painted – and such a thing is good luck.
One should not imagine one had painted good luck if one were to paint something like a careworn working-man’s wife with the winning lottery ticket in her hand. It is not even certain that this would mean good luck for the working-man’s wife, for very often easy come means easy go, and afterwards one cannot get used to how one lived before. For that reason, I never take part in the lottery, for I want personally to gain what makes my life lucky. And in actual fact one can only acquire good luck oneself. It is not the man who wallows in profusion who is lucky but the one who luckily forms his life out of his opportunities. That is my firm conviction.
Despite this, I am also superstitious, for you never can tell. And when I find a horseshoe, or a four-leaf clover, I imagine to myself that I would have more luck than otherwise if I take it with me. The clover leaves are then pressed until they turn brown, while I usually nail up the horseshoe. I only hope God will not let me find so many horseshoes any more in my life, for it makes the doors so heavy and doesn’t improve their appearance either.
And if one of them falls down, I’m a dead man.
But recently I found a small one in Molde, which I took home with me and fixed above my house door, which so far happened to be the only door on Hjertøya that I could call my own.
Then Mrs Hoel came – names are irrelevant, but apart from my wife she is the only woman on the island, and since she is of the same age as Helma, I see no danger for the salvation of my soul. Well then, Mrs Hoel came over in great commotion and told me that I had nailed the horseshoe up precisely the wrong way round, for if I nailed it up with the open ends pointing down, all those dwelling in hell would fly up into it from there.
I was horrified. One actually happens to find luck in the street and it then proves to be a slough of hell.
Without stopping to think, I fetched the pincers to wrench off the wretched horseshoe forthwith. But Mrs Hoel held onto my hand meaningfully and said that that would no longer help me, since for all the bad luck that one had brought upon oneself one would have to carry the can oneself. In this small horseshoe the whole slough of hell was rushing around and would remain there even if I took the horseshoe down. When I heard that, I sat down on my new bench, a broken man.
But Mrs Hoel patted me on the shoulder and said I should just calm down for there are always good remedies for all life’s troubles, and so she made me a present of a huge horseshoe. I was now to nail it up with the open ends pointing upwards, in such a way that the small horseshoe disappeared in it completely. Then all the loving, good angels would come down from heaven and fill up the horseshoe, as long as it hadn’t been occupied by the hell-slough in the human-sized horseshoe. But if the big horseshoe stuck up above the human-sized one, the heavenly hosts in the horseshoe would hold captive all the hell-slough, which would be doubly lucky for me, since the forces of good would not only work on my behalf but in addition the forces of evil would be encapsulated. I naturally at once nailed up the large horseshoe the other way round so that it stretched sufficiently round my small hell-slough, and now there is rumbling and tumbling above my small door – it is so much fun to watch. If a small Beelzebub should try and escape, millions of angels will immediately thrown themselves upon him and mercilessly trounce him. He’ll never try it again. It is all rather similar, I imagine, to combatting syphilis using malaria bacilli. For it’s rather like that with the angels. Often they set off in their thousands from my horseshoe and whirr through my little house, and often one thinks has bumped into one of the many corners, but in actual fact one has only run into an angel. At any rate, it’s hopeless with so many angels in such a tiny house where everything ought to lie ordered and in its proper place instead of juggling all over the place, and as angel my wife is absolutely sufficient on her own. But I can’t take down the horseshoe now either, for if it’s possible to bump really badly into an angel, one would be sure to immediately crack one’s skull against some small devil. Which is why I say: ‘No devils in this house, thank you!’ and that is what my mother has always said whenever any small family quarrel arose in the home. In particular, one should never let such a devil be in the house at night. If one – which of course can sometimes happen in spite of everything – has had a row with one’s wife, one should never let it become midnight without having patched it up, otherwise the devil will have ensconced himself.
Instead, I thought to myself that one can never have too many symbols of good luck in one’s house – so I got hold of a ‘one-øre’ coin. The smallest coin of every country brings good luck in that particular country. But one has to find, steal or be given them – they must not be honestly earned. I make sure to get such a coin in every country I travel in, a half-cent, a centime or a pfennig. As long as I have it in my pocket, nothing can happen to me. Woe is me, however, should I change suits without switching the coin as well. For then my good luck is in the empty suit, and the one filled up by me has nothing but bad luck.
Such a thing is not to happen to me in my house on Hjertøya. For that reason I have stuck one of my lucky ører from here onto one of my numerous mirrors with oil paint. There it now sits waiting for eternity. The only thing is that when it got warm, it slipped down a bit and has now left a yellow lucky trail on the mirror.
But four-leaf clovers, horseshoes and lucky coins still do not satisfy my cosseted demands, for they are only enough for the usual amount needed for the everyday. For the abundance of luck wanted we have acquired a small lucky cat.
Her name is Püss.
We accepted Püss as a present in Molde. Her mother is a wild cat, and no one is quite sure who her father is. Even the mother is no longer known – she brought three kittens into the world and then disappeared once more.
But that is not why she is a lucky cat, for here on Hjertøya all cats are often called lucky cats. Well, there only are two: Angel and Püss.
Angel is an old man of ten. In his youth until he was a year old he sampled the excesses of big-city cat life in Molde to the full, after which he – along with his master, the sailor Hoel who was then made forest ranger – was transferred to Hjertøya. There he was condemned – because of lack of opportunity – to practise celibacy, as Mr Hoel calls is, and until the months of February and March that doesn’t bother him at all.
After our Püss had settled in on Hjertøya, she started to play with the ‘sister roses’ that we have taken from wilder islands here and planted in front of our house and soon familiarised herself with the entire court. When we drank coffee, Püss would sit in her ‘sister roses’ near the bench and observe the arriving uninvited guests. If a hen should arrive, she would crouch in a leaping position, and if the hen, without taking notice of the cat, should think of picking a breadcrumb under the table, she would unexpectedly leap at the hen four times her size, scaring it to death and causing it to run off. Freya is a fat dog, very large and shaggy and he hates Angel like sin. It was now interesting to see if she would chase Püss as she did Angel. But she only sniffed at the small cat and shook herself with horror, as if she wanted to say ‘Ugh, what a repulsive small creature you are!’ and barked for boones, i.e. bones.
Everyone was tense when Püss was to be shown to Angel. Freya was tempted into the house with sugar so that she did not disturb Angel. Then Angel was fetched. Angel was completely unsuspecting. He had no idea that after nine years of being on his own such a choice morsel was going to be placed in front of him as a small female cat is to a tomcat. Angel then strolled meowing behind us and hadn’t an inkling. He didn’t even see Püss until we shoved her right in front of his nose. Then it welled up in him like melancholy – he gawped and gawped and no longer knew how to behave in front of young ladies.
Then, after his astonishment that there actually was another cat was overcome, he attempted to lick Püss’ nose. That, of course, was utterly mistaken. Love at first sight is of course a possibility, but one cannot then immediately kiss a young girl, for that means she cannot savour the triumph of gradually allowing herself to be won over.
And so Püss arched her back in intimidating fashion, hissed and aimed violent blows with her paw at Angel until he desisted from wanting to kiss her. He just stepped back a bit, took a long look at Püss, who refused to understand his advances, and started to howl.
And now I am once more sitting with Erika in front of my small house on Hjertøya, this time on the east side. Then, adjoining the house I have built myself a tent out of a huge piece of tent canvas and two approx. five-metre tall beams. I work there when it rains but isn’t too cold and windy.
The tent looks almost as if I had acquired it from the auction of the former king of Ethiopia. It stands on a meadow with fool’s parsley and under incredibly tall cherry trees that have just finished blossoming. Between the trees one can look all the way down to Fanefjord – to the right lies the long island of Bolsøya, to the left the coast between Molde and Bolsø, where there is a road leading to Gjemnes, and beyond, in a side-valley, high mountains.
It has been raining slightly, and that was badly needed. Flora and fauna are refreshed after a long period of drought. How fresh and green such a meadow looks after rain. And the valley becomes deeper. Normally one only thinks there is a mountain to the right and left and beyond that another one in the middle. Now, though, after the rain, all the promontories of the side-mountains gain greater distance, and one can see just how many there are.
And now the sun slowly breaks through once more, glistens in the drops on the blades of grass, mirrors itself in the millions of small waves on the fjord and dries up the mist in the valleys.
Then my heart overflows and I decide to write something. To this end, I tuck Erika under my arm, Püss between coat and jacked and take roughly 50 steps up onto the small hill on our island. There I have the loveliest of views, to the south, I can also see the north-facing slopes of the mountains near Vestnes, most of which still have snow lying on them. Today some new snow has been added. New snow in June always makes me weak at the knees, and then I have to write something, whether I want to or not. Mostly it is poetry I write, but that is no simple matter on Erika. Poetry is difficult enough as it is, but poetry on a typewriter is like the sun at midnight or spring when sitting in an office. The best thing to do is not to write anything at all at first but to say it without all the words into a young woman’s ear. She understands one better like that anyway than with words.
With typewritten poetry, though, the beginning is always so extremely difficult. Often a typewriter-poet never gets any further than the beginning. It is as if one wants to but is unable to. Such a thing can never happen to me. So I start: ‘I am lying here in the sun, and the cat surrounds me.’ No, that’s not right. I am not lying in the sun at all, for firstly that is absolutely not on the cards, for with our primitive flying machines I simply cannot get there, and secondly I would frizzle up if I were lying in the sun. So I am lying in the light from the sun, and the cat surrounds me. That sounds very nice, but it’s wrong again, for in the meantime the sun has stopped shining. How difficult poetry is – one has hardly got close to the truth before it turns out to be false once again. But it’s impossible for me to say: ‘I was lying here in the light of the sun, and the cat surrounds me’, for poetry is only effective in the present. So, I am lying in the rainclouds, above there is snow, and the cat surrounds me. But no, I’m not lying in the clouds – am I some sort of Zeppelin? Lying in the clouds like a sleek automobile on the highway. I though am lying on the earth, well on the grass actually, which grows out of moss and what has become soil on the rocks, and the cat surrounds me, and admittedly in the shadow of the clouds, or more precisely in the sun-shadows of the same. And the cat surrounds me.
But is that correct? Will anyone believe me that I am lying with Erika on the rain-moistened meadow? Not a soul. For then poetry would be out of the question, for rheumatism and poetry are sworn enemies.
Right then, I am sitting here with Erika on my lap on an old beer crate in the wet, wet grass, shivering from the evening air, while hosts of tiny midges are constantly tickling me, and the cat surrounds me. I’m actually no longer really in the mood for poetry any more, but it is still not right. For all that about Erika on my lap, or rather on my considerably wobbly knees while sitting on the disgusting wooden crate as at the doctor’s is hardly compatible with the word ‘sit’, the poetic content has not even been approximately grasped. Anyone passing would grin, and the scenery here is so beautiful, so beautiful! It’s unbearable – and the cat surrounds me.
No, she doesn’t surround me. One shouldn’t imagine that writing poetry is so simple. Is it at all possible for such a small cat to surround me? I could surround her ten times more than she me. Nature, of which the cat is only a tiny fraction, can surround me, but it does that anyway, without the aid of poetry. Poetry, though, has to be something special. No, no! The cat does not surround me, she jumps and leaps around me in the moist heather, as young cats usually do, but I have to confess that my poetic mood has already diminished. If only there wasn’t such a lovely smell after the rain! Then Helma walks past.
‘What are you doing with your typewriter in the grass?’ she asks.
‘Writing poetry.’
‘Oh, have you also become a prince of poetry?’
‘I’m working on it.’
‘And how far have you already got?’
‘How far? – I’m sitting here in the evening air, and magnificent nature, of which the cat is only a fraction, surrounds me.’
‘Oh, that’s wonderful, only I think I’d say: of which the cat is only the fraction of a second, – that sounds more poetic.
‘Have you ever written poetry? Have you any idea of what poetry is all about? At least, one would have to write: of which the cat is only the fraction of an atom, – one can’t just ignore logic!’
‘You know, that’s almost become a whole drama!’ Helma then says.
‘What do you mean by that?’ I then ask.
‘Because you keep on saying something else than what you want to say.’
‘You’re right, actually,’ I say now. ‘One ought not to take so many subtle things into account. A prince commands, and the prince of poetry commands language to do things. Whether or not what he says expresses correctly or not what he wants is a matter of complete indifference. The only important thing is that it contains a powerful mental expression.’
‘Bravo,’ Helma exclaims, ‘and what would you say as absolute reigning prince of poetry then?’
‘I am lying here in the sun, and the cat surrounds me.’
And once again I am sitting here with Erika. The cow is dead, but the bull is still alive. Yes, it was an exciting time. And whoever lives in the high North is sure to have a hard time of it.
By which I mean that the disease that has smitten the cow and bull is a European one – if not an international cow disease. Initially, the cow was bitten by a parasite that sucks her blood and then leaves her again. I think in Germany it is called ‘Holzbock’, wood-tick. In this parasite live bacilli that get into the bloodstream and destroy the white blood cells. The cow is then ill for a few days, has blood in its urine and in its milk, and then dies, if not rescued in time. The vet treats the animal by injecting a German concoction that works so swiftly that already the day after the first injection the cow is completely healthy again. But the concoction only works if the disease is treated early enough.
A cow fell ill as early as Whitsun, but Mrs Hoel thought it was a cold and would soon improve. She then took her basket and a knife and roamed the entire island, digging everywhere for bitter roots which she collected in her basket and gave the impression of being a full-blown herbal witch. I thought to myself that if she now took a magic wand with which she whisked the brown extract brewed from the roots to a froth and then splashed it over me, I would turn into an embalmed corpse within five seconds. Perhaps only then it would emerge that I am in actual fact not only a prince of painting and poetry but also a cursed Pharaoh. Suddenly my small house will turn into a huge pyramid that covers the whole island, the sea will turn into a sandy desert, and it will become unbearably hot. Suddenly a caravan from Cairo will appear from the distance, near Vestnes. The ships of Molde fjord will have become ships of the desert, carrying shovel and pickaxes as well as trunks and brass instruments on their humps. They come towards me in a long file. Mrs Hoel rides the first camel, with her magic wand in her hand, leading a scientific research caravan on its way to investigate the famous grave of Tutankhamen, or, as whatever I may formerly have been called. The caravan suddenly comes to a halt, Mrs Hoel unpacks her primus stove and boils some good Norwegian coffee. All the scientists and camels drink some of this good coffee. Then they restlessly proceed once more, and Mrs Hoel already reaches the foot of my mausoleum with the head of her caravan. Then a clap of thunder is heard. The whole caravan sinks to its knees. A blinding light radiates from my pyramid into the eyes of the dazzled men and women scientists. Suddenly the light dies away, and born out of the stones of the pyramid a venerable old man with a long beard is standing there, who waits until everyone is able to see once more. Then he stands erect, fingers his long beard, threatens with a finger and says in fluent Norwegian, in Neo-Norwegian no less: ‘Woe, woe and thrice woe on the intruders who seek to disturb the sleep of my worthy monarch, are you then not ashamed to deal with corpses? My monarch has decreed that anyone approaching within five metres of his corpse will immediately be shot.’ And once more there is a clap of thunder.
And after the powder-smoke had subsided, my pyramid stood there once more in the dazzling gleam of the Egyptian sun.
Mrs Hoel, however, climbed back onto her camel and said in Swedish: Men and women scientists, Swedes! My great ancestor, Carl XII, fought against the entire world, and enjoyed victory upon victory – and even August the Strong from Saxony was afraid of him. You are Swedes, descendants of that great people of Carl, my forefather. Are you prepared to let yourselves be intimidated by the empty threats of a doddery old man?’
Unparalleled cheering then broke out among the scientists.
But when this had partially died down, someone said: ‘Pultava!’ And someone else said: ‘He won 100 battles, but lost them all in a single defeat!’
Both these men had been Norwegians, they were cautious and preferred to fish in the sounds and fjords or also on the open sea than to approach my corpse. For what is the point of being shot because one wants to examine the age and customs of an embalmed corpse. But the Swedes were of a different opinion. First, they formed a red cross in order to have a completely peaceful army. Then, though, they entered without their camels the passage of my pyramid. It was narrow there, and the men could only at a certain distance from each other crawl behind each other to reach me. In addition, the path was 2½ km long. Exhausted, one scientist after the other arrived in the antechamber of my burial chamber. There my bodyguard stood equipped in the most modern manner with machine-guns. As each scientist put his head round the door, he was, according to my command, met with a salvo of machine-gun fire until he was dead. He was then thrown into a neighbouring chamber, where there was already a huge pile of scientists from every nation.
There was already practically no space left, because it was full to the ceiling with bodies, when Mrs Hoel arrived as the last one.
Now, however, I was obliged to wake up from my majestic calm. The sight of Mrs Hoel, who had crawled along the long passage to a certain death, woke me up.
‘Oh wretched one!!!’ I screamed at her, ‘leave this place, or make use of your magic wand and transform my pyramid back to Hjertøya once more, otherwise something terrible will happen!’
Mrs Hoel hesitated. It reeked of bodies and the blood of the scientists covered the mosaic floor of my antechamber and trickled out. She had not wished for this. She had also not believed that I would actually carry out my decree.
Then she immediately took her magic wand and transformed me back at once.
So once more I was sitting with Erika in front of my small house on my Norwegian island, and Mrs Hoel came up to me with a pot of some steaming brew and her magic wand and asked me if I thought it was right for her to pour it into the cow.
I was still pretty dazed from the enchantment. Had I perhaps dreamt all this, or had I maybe had the fever the cow had had, and thus fantasised the whole thing?
‘The cow has a fever!’ she said.
‘For heaven’s sake, Mrs Hoel,’ I said, ‘refrain from giving the cow the magic potion, she will turn into a Swedish scientist and will then have to die!!!’
Mrs Hoel, however, looked at me wide-eyed as if she wanted to say: ‘You’re mad, my child, you must go to Berlin!’ went into the stable, murmured something, waved her wand in the air and then stood like a statue. The cow, though, raised its head and opened its mouth wide. Then Mrs Hoel poured the large pot full of brown root gruel suddenly down the throat of the cow, which swallowed it as if it had been cod-liver oil.
The next morning, however, Mrs Hoel came and said: ‘The brew hasn’t worked, the cow is worse than before and now has too low a temperature.’ I advised her to go to the vet immediately. He came at once in his motor boat, shook his head and said it was too late, the cow could no longer be saved. He didn’t want to leave any stone unturned, however, and gave him an intravenous injection, but he felt it was hopeless. And now the astonishing thing happened. While the cow was standing in the stable, seriously ill, and at any moment a loss was expected that for Hoel is almost irreplaceable, good Norwegian coffee was brewed on the primus stove. Helma and I were also invited and had to sit down with the vet in Hoel’s best parlour, with pictures of tree stumps hang on the walls, and there, in best Norwegian style, where many cups of coffee were drunk and a lot of cake eaten. For the Norwegian puts up with any misfortune, but at all times he must remain hospitable. One was under an obligation and much food was eaten and things were related and there was laughter – and no one thought of the misfortune. But when the vet had left, one turned serious again. Every minute one went over to the stable, spoke kindly to the cow, but it got worse and worse and died. That was at midnight.
In the North the sun hung above the Molde mountains, which stood dark-violet like a huge silhouette in front of the egg-yellow gleam of the morning sky. The fjord had nightlike, inky tints. In the shadows the snow gleamed ghostly green. I took a boat and rowed out onto the mirror-smooth water.

And a wheel of fire stood on the earth.
It grew into the sky and pulled it down.
And wherever I looked it was not there,
And wherever I did not look, it was there.
And above me the sky arched up,
And behind me all broke away so deep!!
Now in the East, now in the West,
Now around midnight.

And while doing this, I finally got the thought that could conclude my earlier poem. I rowed back, woke up my wife, who had already lain down on her air mattress, and said: ‘You know, I’ve got it at last!’ Still drunk with sleep she asked ‘What have you got?’ I raised my hand, breathed deeply and declaimed in a sonorous voice. ‘I am lying here in the gleam of the warming sun, and the cat surrounds me!’
When my wife heard this, she straightened up with joy and in so doing bashed the front of her head with full force into the partition that I had ingeniously erected between the headboard and footboard of our bed. Upon which she fell back and gasped.
‘Have you hit your head?’ I asked sympathetically, but I had no time to think about my wife’s misfortune, for at one o’clock in the night the slaughterer would be arriving. For now the dead cow would be finally slaughtered, the blood would be drained off, the hide stripped off, and then it would be loaded onto the boat to be sold in Molde as fodder for foxes.
The next morning, however, the bull suddenly succumbed to the same disease. This time the vet was immediately fetched. When the cow has died, one sends for the vet.
The bull, though, recovered in a few days. He then stood in the stable and was given the freshest grass, and the walls were decorated with fresh, blossoming rowan sprigs, so that he would not feel bored there.
In the evening, however, the cows came back, and placed themselves outside the stable door at precisely the spot where the cow had been slaughtered. How did they know all this? We humans have newspapers, books, universities and know nothing. We often don’t even know where our collar stud has got to.
The cows though came because of the water, but in vain. For there are only two watering places with fresh water on the island, one outside in the forest, the other in the courtyard. Since the watering place in the outlying land had dried up, the cows came to the courtyard. But our well has also been empty for a few days now. We fetch our drinking water from the town. Since the boats rock quite a bit, however, this is no simple matter. For that reason, the every drop of the water is made good use of. First we wash up with it, since one likes to have clean dishes. Then we wash our hands in it, since seawater won’t absorb soap. Then I shave in it, and then we boil it to make coffee. Finally, we pour it with the coffee dregs over our flowers. They have already got used to the soap.
And once more I am sitting with Erika, and the cat surrounds me.
Today an important financier from Molde and a trade secretary were out here. They came because of my proposal of holding a world exposition on Hjertøya. I was basing my ideas on the American provincial capital of Chicago. Who had ever heard of Chicago before then? Chicago wasn’t even to be found in a school atlas. When Columbus discovered America, there was no Chicago. Not even a small sign, like those you can find on Spitsbergen, where later some company or other is going to excavate coal, indicated the place where the provincial capital now stands. No king of the underworld would have paid a single American cent to come to Chicago. And now this city, which was once smaller than Hjertøya, has even held a world exposition.
One simply transports exposition objects from all round the world to where a world exposition is planned to be held, the press, which is a force not to be underestimated, draws attention to the future world exposition, perhaps in Chicago, or on Hjertøya, then all the usual hype is served up, and everyone worth his salt spends his holidays at the world exposition. Hotels then suddenly spring out of the ground, are over-booked and can charge excessive prices. In the mornings business is done, trade flourishes, and in the evening people dance. Gentlemen, isn’t it irrelevant where this world exposition takes place? If there is room for swingboats of previously unimagined dimensions, for a tower that is at least 500 metres high, for a huge goldfish pond, for a Luna park, water chute, fountaine lumineuse, fireworks, etc., etc., a world exposition can occur anywhere. But the larger the place is, gentlemen, the more expensive space becomes. Often whole neighbourhoods have to be demolished to acquire the necessary space. The population living there have to live outdoors and camp in the arbours. That is terrible and anti-social, results in troubles and personal hardships, for precisely the poorer part of the population, who cannot anyway take part in the firework displays at the expositions, have to be stationed in these arbours, and that cost lots and lots of money. Gentlemen, here on Hjertøya land is still cheap, and there is sufficient room, and the distance from the important centres of the world – Berlin, Paris, Moscow, Rome and London – is shorter than from Chicago. Tokyo is certain to want to exhibit here, for when anything is going on, the Japanese are there in a flash. And America? They will travel anywhere. ‘Oh, it was a lovely drive up here. Oh, it’s lovely, isn’t it? Well, I see!’
Gentlemen, I am speaking quite disinterestedly, I am not one of those self-centred egoists who wish to gain some personal advantage out of everything – I am an altruist. I am thinking of trade, of Norway, of Hjertøya, of my great idea. If the Norwegian state were to reward my enthusiasm by making me the managing director of the future world exposition, I would naturally find that only right and proper. I would be more than content with a small income of several hundred thousand kroner, and am not much interested in any title. The simple word Excellency when addressing me and the title of Prince of Hjertøya I would find ample. The king of Norway could quite happily continue to exist alongside me – only in matters relating to the exposition must I, in the interests of success, be called Dictator. The Norwegian people would not as a result have to sacrifice any of their personal freedom, but would gain considerably in global importance. What do you not imagine the increase would be in the turnover of dried cod, lutefisk, mature cheese, goat’s cheese, Waal beer, etc., etc. And shipping too. One could reserve all traffic between Molde and Hjertøya for the Norwegian fleet.
Gentlemen, and what makes Hjertøya and the surrounding small islets so particularly well-suited for a world exposition is the water of the fjord. The visitors to the exposition would be transported by boats, motor boats, car ferries and seaplanes from one pavilion to the next – whereas the Maschsee in Hannover, although extremely beautiful, and the Alster in Hamburg are mere puddles in comparison.
Naturally, my house here would have to be slightly modified, for it would become the office of the world exposition. A wooden roof is of course insufficient, reinforced-concrete is an absolute minimum. It must also be positioned so high that I can stand upright at any place in my house. It is quite impossible for the gentlemen diplomats who have travelled from Africa or Australia to pay their respects to me to have to crawl in order to reach me, the nucleus of the exposition. I am against any kind of crawling. It is also out of the question that in the most representative building of the exposition the sleeping bags and air mattresses as well as the four woollen blankets have to lie up in the loft section during the daytime and stick out into the living room, because all the floor is taken up in advance. A second, larger window will also have to be inserted, so that one can at least see Molde when the sun shines. Furthermore, our pillows will also need to be recovered. The margarine crates with provisions will have to be concealed behind a stained cupboard door, and the floor also requires a new lick of paint. Mrs Hoel’s potato cellar will have to be provided with a separate entrance, so that Mrs Hoel does not have to walk right through my courtyard when I am engaged in important negotiations. The roof of the potato cellar could also in that connection be improved at the expense of the state, so that it cannot rain in and the potatoes start to rot. In addition, I could do with a bathroom with a darkroom, so that I cannot see how dirty my feet have become from the eternal dust on Hjertøya when taking a bath. In particular, however, I need a simple diplomat’s writing desk.
Gentlemen, that is about all, I think.
When I had said this, a storm of unending violent applause interrupted me, such as I, thank God, have never experienced when on the open sea.
It would have caused the largest ship in the world, with the bluest of ribbons, to go down. For hours, both the gentlemen shook my hand, one of them bought a photograph from my son, the other perhaps a picture from me. It was, so to speak, most poignant. My wife wiped the tears from her cheeks. The financier said his bank alone would be able to finance such an important matter. And the secretary of trade did not leave without assuring me that he would leave no stone unturned to ensure that in the course of the next centuries a world exposition could take place on Hjertøya. He based this on the idea that Chicago first had to grow into an American provincial city before people had decided to hold a world exposition there. Then, at any rate, one would have been able to build a pavilion entirely out of chocolate. My objection that space would then be too expensive, and that numerous families would then have to be placed in arbours made no impression on him, for he is a tax collector and used to objections. He said that people in Norway had no scruples at all. If a rock was in the way anywhere where perhaps a street or a town hall was to be built, the rock was quite simply blown up. So he just said: ‘We will blow up the excess population!’ Then my wife called out to me I was to see if the potatoes were done. Now a man cannot do that. Can a man judge such a thing at all? I can’t at any rate.
And once more the cat surrounds me and I am sitting with Erika. The cat now has a name, she is simply called Stocking, because that is what she looks like. Nature is always beautiful, even when it’s misty, and the sea lets wave upon wave break against the coast of my island. Clouds chase between the hills of the island and the coast. The sun catches snow on a distant mountain that looks like the spirit of the mountain range. When the J of the typewriter stops working and doesn’t fall back once more, so that one has to dig it out every time ten or so other letters have got entangled in each other, only then does one notice how rich the German language actually is when it comes to Js. With fear and trembling each word is awaited, for it could well unfortunately happen to contain a J that could cause chaos once again. If only my island did not insist on being called Hjertøya of all names – wouldn’t it be enough to write Hertøya each time?
But I wanted to write something completely different. I once read in a German newspaper ‘Colour should be brought into the house’. That is correct – colour should be brought into the house. By nature – you can also call it providence if you like – I am economical. Not exactly frugal, no, absolutely not – rather, the best is precisely good enough for me. But I am economical, just economical. Please do not think that I would like to live at other people’s expense, not that at all – that is what one calls sponging off people. No, I am only economical, just economical. When I can get the same thing cheaply, I will not, being either by nature or by providence so constituted, not prepared to pay a lot of money for the same thing. That’s just the way I am. Naturally, it has to be the same thing, or perhaps even something better. But that is not why I am writing this, what’s the point of writing about being economical – am I perhaps the secretary of trade? I wanted to write about colour.
Not about an art exhibition, although there too its main theme is colour, no, far from it. A world exposition would fit Hjertøya very well, but not just an art exhibition. One would not entice people from all parts of the world by means of art to visit Hjertøya, for one only goes to such an art exhibition when it opens, Sunday morning after church, for one doesn’t want the others to do so on their own. So it is a burden when there are too many art exhibitions, even an unnecessary burden, whereas a world exposition with the amusement park that is part of it, the fontaine lumineuse, the glass house and the fireworks would mean a tremendous incentive to trade. On Hjertøya the only potential visitors to an art exhibition would be the bull, the cows, geese, turkeys, hens and pigs – all of them not accustomed to visiting art exhibitions. No, those who normally visit art exhibitions regularly are people in society.
But that is not why I am writing this either, but because I had read in a German newspaper that colour should be brought into the house. But it’s also not because I had read this, but because I believe it is true that colour should be brought into the house. One cannot make life too enjoyable. For what a little rose would be that in good time will redden. Little rose, so red, so rehed, rohose in heather bedden!
Coholour then! I could of course simply tahake oihol paint straight from the tuhube, but thahat would behe too expehensive. Ahand then I cahame on the ideha of taking everything the sehea washes uhup assuhuming there is coholour toho it.
What’s mohore I suddenly gehet significahantly closer to pohetry: ‘Iham sitting here in the gleheam of the suhun, in the gleheham of the suhuhun, in the geleheheham of the suhuhuhun, ahand the cahahat suruhururounds me.’ That’s seems ready to be compohosed.
But ugh, who would then say ‘cahahat’ to my sweet, small, wrongly coiled Stocking? That is sihimply not on. One does not stuhutter when a lihittle rohose stands on the heahether. Not at least because of the melody.
One cannot, though, buhutcher poetry for the sake of the melody though. If the melody wants to stutter, the stuttering has to be motivated in the poetry.
Often a piece of writing can simply demand stuttering. I had once been rowed out to a lonely island off the coast. On this this island there was neither tree nor shrub, only a few blades of grass still reminded one that elsewhere plants actually grow on the earth. And on the top of the small island, which really only consisted of rocks, there lay the carcass of a fish.
This made me feel weak at the knees and I decided to write. I wanted to write a lyrical poem about the lonely island and its fish-carcass. I’ve always had such an urge to write poetry.
Then I suddenly had the thought: ‘What if a stutterer had found the fish-carcass, he wouldn’t even be able to get the word into his mouth, not completely at any rate, it would come out like fifififififishshcacacarcass.’ Musn’t it be terrible to be so constructed that one stutters one’s whole life? Musn’t it take away all vital energy from that particular person? He wants to say something then stutters something completely different. Everybody laughs or is irritated, and he is sure to have feelings of inferiority. For not every stutterer can always find someone hard of hearing, who, when he has finally stuttered everything, politely asks: ‘Sorry, what did you say?’
A good lyrical poem, though, one which is so constructed that without being stuttered does not have the right proportions for poetry would give a stutterer a completely new zest for life. Now he suddenly notices that in the great realm of nature he is an important member. What would the stutterer poem do if there were no stutterers? Everyone wanting to recite it would have to build on the knowledge granted to the stutterer by nature. Everyone would look at him in admiration, would strain to catch the tiniest nuance from him – he would suddenly become an important personality. Simply because he is good at stuttering.
Then suddenly I had another thought: ‘What if someone removed the fish-carcass before it had been possible to complete that culturally so important stutterer poem for him?’ No, that must not be allowed to happen, for I had to and wished to fulfil my mission as a poet for all stutterers. As the first and at the same time most comprehensive poet of all stutterers I was sure to achieve global importance. So I did not need much time to think and started out of the poem without further ado.

A fihihishcaharcass lay
Out on the rohohock one day
How did it gehet, dihihid
it ever gehehet out there?

The sea, sehea, the seahehea
Had washed it up it uhuhup.
And there it lihies, there it lies
And well it lies I suhurmise!

Then came a fishishisherman,
Who fished, fishished for freshesh fish.
He took it, tookhoohook it then
Away, toohook it right away.

So now the rohock lies quite bare
No fishishcarcass anywhere
In that expanse of seahehea –
So ehehempty.

I was extremely proud when I had written it, while constantly reciting it on my way home. I rowed keeping time with it and stuttered as well and was soon so intoxicated by my poem that I declaimed it louder and louder. It was just cause for envy, for without the stuttering the poem would be nothing, absolutely nothing, nothing at all:

A fish-carcass lay out on the rock one day
How did it get out there?

The sea had washed it up.
And there it lies and well I surmise!

Then came a fisherman who fished fresh fish.
He took it then away, right away.

So now the rock lies quite bare, no fish-carcass anywhere
In that expanse of sea so empty.

It admittedly sounds as similar as a translation by Laotse. But do I have ambition to write poetry like an ancient Chinese? I want, as a German of culture, to write poetry for German stutterers – that makes sense and will one day go down in history.
And as I am declaiming, another rowing boat approaches me from the distance. In it, as only a quirk of fate can bring about, sat an original German stutterer. I noticed this from the fact that he gurgled for air a long time before he in spite of this said nothing.
‘Are you a stutterer?’ I asked.
‘Yyyyyyyeessss, IIIIIIIIIIIaaaaaammmmmmmmmm,IIIIIIIIIIIIaaaaaaammmmm, I am, I am indeed a sttttttuttterer from my bibibibirtthh,’ he replied.
I made him a great compliment and felt I was very lucky that he happened to be a German stutterer of all people. I then asked him for his opinion about my poem. The result was shattering. He said: ‘You cacacacacacacn’t, yyyyyyou canananant, you can’t stutter, sstttutter.’ I then asked him to stutter out loud my new poem. Which he did:

A fffffffisshhhcaca, fish, a fafatish carcass lay
Out on the, lay on the rererock one day
How did, you did, how dididit get
out there, out there out there?

The sesesea, sea, the sesea, has
washed it, washed it up, it uhuhup.
And there it llllllies, there it lllies
And well I I surmise!

Then came a fffffffish, a fish, a fffffffffisherman,
Who fished, fffishished forfor fresh fish.
He took it, took it, took it then
Away, it right away.

So now the rock lies, llllllllllies quite bare
Nooo fffffffishcacarcass anywhere
In that expanse of sesesea –
So emmmemmpty.

I was utterly delighted at his unique stuttering talent. I then asked him what system he actually made use of, and he said:
He said it several times, then he rowowed away.
So I cannot actually tell you what system the Messrs Stutterer normally use. There is a Saxon system that fellow-countrymen use when saxoning, but there would not seem to be a universal system for stuttering.
But I digress, widely digress, and that is also a kind of stuttering, a mental stuttering. For I wanted to write about colour which should be brought into the house, for what a little rose wants to become shrinks in the course of time. And then via the little rohohose in heather beddeden I ended up talking about stuhuttering. And since the oil points seem to be too expensive a material for my purpose, I take, in order to decorate my small house on Hjertøya, everything with any colour in it that the sea has washed up, but only if it is coloured. There are however no objects that are not coloured – everything is either faintly or strongly coloured. The attuning of the colours is what produces that composition which, when successful, has from time immemorial been regarded as art.
And that already brings us closer to our theme – it is not a question of bringing many, strong colours into the house, but of making sure that the coloured used are well-attuned and, in total, result in a rhythmically balanced composition.
The sea, however, washes up wonderful things: pieces of paper the colour of which is already greatly faded, pieces of wood, the shapes of which have already been considerably fashioned, all of them things in which one can see the struggle undergone against the surf, moisture and light. These things are beautiful, unique, and tell of their past history. In addition, they often bear a strong resemblance to each other, so that one can relate them to each other well. For that reason, they are particularly suitable for a composition in the sense of art.

I have collected a large amount of such pieces of paper and of wood as well as other objects as brought in by the sea: stones, algae, starfish – all of them in a much devalued state – and with them I have made amusing compositions on the rough wooden walls and margarine crates of my house. And in front of that house I now am sitting and have drunk my coffee, and the cat surrounds me.

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