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Elegy for Hanns Breitenbach (1890–1945)

statue112 words

You disappeared in the dead of winter,
but not like Yeats. No wife or mistress
were at your side. A hole and splinter
alarmed you, but did not distress.

Duty called. You would not part
your sculptor’s studio, the stench
of war not keep you from your art,
from rasps and chisels on your bench.

hannsDressed in a motorcycle coat
to warm you in the bitter cold,
you did not cower in fear or gloat.
You stood by your files and mould.

The Bolshies gave you a lead fan,
a spray of Marx across the chest.
They took you for an SS man,
and heaped your body with the rest.

20 February 2014


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  1. JCNC
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    The last stanza is the strongest, I feel, although I’m not sure about “Bolshies” (the register is wrong). It’s a danger in formalist poetry to let the rhyme and meter take over and dictate more important things such as diction.

    Perhaps the obscurities of “hole and splinter””, “files and mould” would not be such to a reader familiar with the subject; still, perhaps a subject like this needs a more extented, narrative treatment; otherwise what comes out is a rather generic portrait of a sculptor committed to his art who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in history. That nexus of the individual and the historical moment needs development.

    Also, and it’s a small but irksome thing: “You would not part/ your sculptor’s studio”. Does this mean he would not subdivide?

  2. Petronius
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    I also don’t think the “bolshies” fit…

  3. Gottfried
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    A very strong poem. I knew nothing about Breitenbach, so I looked him up on the internet,
    and found that he lived (and was killed) in the town of Gleiwitz, where Mr. Yankevich resides.

    “Bolshie” was used widely in the aftermath of the Russian revolution (up until the 1960s) the way “Nazi”
    is used today. Perhaps Mr. Yankevich is trying to provide us with an ironic parallel?

    I wondered about the use of the third person plural (were), instead of the singular (was) in line 3 of stanza 1, but then I recalled that both Yeats’ wife and mistress were present at his death bed. So within that context, “were” is correct.

    In ending, I should say that a critter’s critique reveals more about his or her own ignorance, envy,
    and pettiness than it does about the work it ostensibly deals with.

    Indeed, the final stanza packs the mightiest punch, as it should.

  4. eiszeit
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    We should popularize the term “Bolshies.” It’s funny and it sounds innately derogatory. We need to mock and insult leftists as much as possible so that they are incapable of taking pride in themselves.

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