That is Our Manifesto (Das ist unser Manifesto) by Wolfgang Borchert Translated from the German into English by Hiltraut M. Johnting Project of the GER 403 History of German Literature class Ball State University - Spring Semester 2003
Helmet off helmet off – we have lost! The companies have scattered. The companies, battalions, armies. The great armies. Only the armies of the dead, those still stand. Stand like vast forests: dark, purple, full of voices. The canons, however, lie like frozen primordial animals with stiff limbs. Purple with steel and overpowered rage. And the helmets, they rust. Take off those rusted helmets – we’ve lost. Skinny children fetch milk in our mess kits now. Thin milk. The children are purple with frost. And the milk is purple with poverty. We will never again fall in to the sound of a whistle and say “Yes, sir” in answer to a roar. The canons and the sergeants don’t roar anymore. We will cry, shit and sing whenever we want. But we will never again sing the song of the thundering tanks and the song of the Edelweiss. Because the tanks and the sergeants don’t roar anymore and the Edelweiss, that has rotted away under the singsong of blood. And no general intimately addresses us with "you!" anymore before the battle. Before the horrible battle. We will never again have sand in our teeth because of fear. (No sand of the Russian plain, no Ukrainian sand and none from Cyremaika or that of Normandy – and not the bitter, angry sand of our homeland!) And never again that mad hot feeling in brain and belly before the battle. Never again will we be so happy just because another is beside us. Is warm and is there and breathes and belches and hums – at night as we advance. Never again will we be as happy as gypsies about a loaf of bread and five grams of tobacco and two armfuls of hay. For we will never again march together, because everyone marches alone from now on. That is beautiful. That is difficult. To no longer have the stubborn, growling other guy beside you – at night, at night while we are advancing. Who listens to everything too. Who never says anything. Who stomachs everything. And if you have to cry at night, you can do it again. Then you don't need to sing – because of fear. Now jazz is our song. Bouncy, hectic jazz is our music. And the hot, crazy, wild tune filled with the catlike scratching of the drum. And sometimes the old, sentimental growling of the soldiers trying to outscream their distress and reject their mothers. A horrible men’s chorus from bearded lips, sung into the lonely twilight of the bunkers and freight trains with tinny harmonica sounds quavering over it: Masculine song of men – didn't anyone hear the children who growled away their fear of the purple muzzles of the canons? ----Heroic song of men – did no one hear the sobbing of the hearts as they sang “yippee”, the filthy, the crusty, the bearded, the lice-ridden? Men’s song, soldiers’ bellow, sentimental and boisterous, masculine and bass- throated, bellowed by the young ones too in a manly way: does no one hear the cry for the mother? The last cry of the adventurer Man? The horrible cry: “Yippee”? Our yippee and our music are a dance over the maw that yawns at us. And this music is Jazz. For our heart and our brain have the same hot-cold rhythm: excited, crazy and hectic, without restraint. And our girls, they have the same fevered pulse in their hands and hips. And their laughter is hoarse and brittle and hard as a clarinet. And their hair, it crackles like phosphorus. It burns. And their heart, it has a syncopated beat, wistfully wild. Sentimental. Our girls are like that: like jazz. And so are our nights, the girl-rattling nights: like jazz, hot and hectic. Aroused. Who will write new laws of harmony for us? We no longer need well-tempered pianos. We ourselves are too much dissonance. Who will make a purple shout for us? A purple deliverance? We no longer need any still-lives. Our life is loud. We don’t need poets with good grammar. We lack patience for good grammar. We need those with the hot feeling that’s been sobbed hoarse. Who call a tree tree and a woman woman and say yes and say no: loud and distinctly and threefold and without a subjunctive. For semicolons we have no time and harmonies make us weak and the still-lives overwhelm us: for purple are our skies at night. And the purple gives no time for grammar, the purple is shrill and incessant and mad (fantastic? toll). Above the chimneys, above the roofs: the world: purple. Above our flung down bodies the shadowy hollows: the eye sockets of the dead snowed blue in the ice storm, the violet raging maws of the cold canons – and the purple skin of our girls at the neck and a little below the breast. Purple is the moan of the starving at night and the stammer of those who kiss. And the city stands so purple by the night- purple river. And the night is full of death: our night. For our sleep is full of battle. Our night is full of battle noise in its dream-death. And those who stay with us at night, the purple girls, they know that and in the morning they are still pale from the anguish of our night. And our morning is full of solitude. And our solitude is like glass then in the morning. Fragile and cool. And completely clear. It is the solitude of men. Because we lost our mothers near the raging canons. Only our cats and cows and the lice and the worms, they endure the great icy solitude. Maybe they are not as side by side as we are. With this immeasurable world. In which our heart almost freezes to death. What is our heart racing from? From the escape. For we escaped from the battle and the maws just yesterday in frightful (unholy?) flight. From the dreadful flight from one grenade hole to another – the motherly hollows – from that our heart still races – and still from fear. Listen within to the tumult of your chasms. Are you frightened (startled)? Do you hear the chaos choral of Mozart melodies and Herms Niel cantatas? Do you still hear Hölderlin? Do you recognize him, intoxicated with blood, costumed and arm in arm with Baldur von Schirach? Do you hear the infantrymen’s song? Do you hear the jazz and the Luther hymns? Then try to be above your purple chasms. Because the morning that gets up behind the grass dikes and the tar roofs only comes out of you yourself. And behind everything? Behind everything that you call God, river, star, night, mirror or cosmos and Hilde or Evelyn – behind everything you yourself are always standing. Icily lonely. Pitiful. Great. Your laughter. Your misery. Your question. Your answer. Behind everything, in uniform, naked or otherwise costumed, swaying shadow-like, in a strange almost shy undreamt-of grandiose dimension: You yourself. Your love. Your fear. Your hope. And when our heart, this pitiful magnificent muscle, can no longer bear itself – and when our heart wants to become too soft in the sentimentalities that we are at the mercy of, then we become loudly vulgar. Old sow, we will say to the one we love most. And when Jesus or the gentle one who always follows you in your dream says at night: You, be kind! – then with a brazen lack of respect for our religious denomination we ask: God, Lord Jesus, why? We slept just as well in God with the dead Ivans in front of the foxhole. And in our dreams we riddle everything with our MG’s: the Ivans. The Earth. The Jesus. No, our dictionary, it is not pretty. But thick. And it stinks. Bitter like gunpowder. Sour like the sand of the steppes. Sharp like shit. And loud like the din of battle. And we boast brashly (insolently) of our sensitive German Rilke-heart. Of Rilke, the strange lost brother who speaks our heart and who moves us to tears unexpectedly: but we don’t want to conjure up oceans of tears – we will all drown then. We want to be coarse and proletarian, grow tobacco and tomatoes, and be noisily afraid right into the purple bed – right into the purple girls. For we love the noisily loud boast, the un-Rilke-like, that rescues us from the battle dreams and from the purple maws of the nights, the blood-drenched fields, the yearning bloody girls. For the war has not made us hard, don’t even believe that, and not coarse and not easy (light). For we carry many world-heavy waxen dead on our gaunt shoulders. And our tears never sat as loosely as after those battles. And that is why we love the noisy loud purple carousel, the jazz music one, that blares away over our maws, booming, clowning, purple, colorful and stupid – maybe. And our Rilke-heart – before the clown crows – we have denied it three times. And our mothers weep bitterly. But they, they do not turn away. Not the mothers! And we want to promise the mothers: Mothers, that is not what the dead are dead for: for the marble war memorial that the best local stone mason builds in the market place – the green of living grass grown around it, with benches in it for widows and people who wear prostheses. No, not for that. No, that is not what the dead are dead for: that the survivors can go on living in their parlors and always and again new ones and the same parlors with photos of recruits and portraits of Hindenburg. No, not for that. And for that, no, for that the dead did not let their blood run into the snow, into the damp and chilly snow their living maternal blood; that the same teachers who already prepared the fathers for the war so obediently may now talk through their noses at their children. (There was only one math lesson between Langemarck and Stalingrad.) No, mothers, for that you did not die ten thousand times in every war! This we admit: Our moral not longer has anything to do with beds, breasts, pastors or petticoats – we can do nothing more than be good. But who wants to measure it, this “good”? Our moral is the truth. And the truth is new and as hard as death. Yet so gentle, too, so surprising and so just. Both are naked. Tell your buddy the truth, steal from him in hunger but then tell him. And never tell your children of the holy war. Tell the truth, tell it as red as it is: full of blood and muzzle fire and screaming. Tell the girl a lie at night, but in the morning, in the morning then tell the truth: Say that you’re going and for ever. Be kind as death. Nitschewo. Kaputt. For ever. Parti, perdu and never more. For we always say no. But we don’t say No out of despair. Our No is protest. And we find no peace in kissing, we nihilists. For we have to build a yes into the nothing. Houses we have to build into the free air of our No, above the maws, the funnels and fox- holes and the open mouths of the dead: build houses in the clean-swept air of the nihilists, houses of wood and mind and of stone and thoughts. For we love this gigantic desert called Germany. This Germany we love. And now most of all. And for Germany we will not die. For Germany we want to live. Above the purple chasms. This vicious, bitter, brutal life. We take it upon us for this desert. For Germany. We want to love this Germany, like the Christians love their Christ: for his suffering. We want to love these mothers who had to fill bombs – for their sons. We have to love them for this suffering. And the brides who now go for a walk with their heroes in wheelchairs, without flashing uniforms – for their suffering. And the heroes, the Hölderlin-heroes, for whom no day was too bright and no battle bad enough – we will love them for their broken pride, for their re- dyed secret night watchman existence. And the girl who was used up by a company in the park at night and who still says shit all the time now and has to make a pilgrimage from hospital to hospital – for her suffering. And the infantryman who will never learn to laugh now – And him who still tells his grandchildren about the 31 dead people at night in front of his, in front of grandpa’s machinegun – All of those who have fear and need and humility: Those we want to love in all their wretchedness. Those we want to love as the Christians love their Christ: for their suffering. For they are Germany. And we ourselves are this Germany after all. And this Germany we have to build again in the nothing, above chasms: Out of our suffering, with our love. For we love this Germany after all. As we love the cities, for their rubble – so we want to love the hearts for the ashes of their suffering. For their scorched pride, for their charred hero’s costume, for their singed faith, for their shattered trust, for their ruined love. Most of all we have to love the mothers, whether they are eighteen or sixty-eight – because the mothers shall give us the strength for this Germany in the rubble. Our manifesto is love. We want to love the bricks in the cities, our bricks which the sun still warms, warms again after the battle – And we want to love the great uuh-wind again, our wind that still sings through the forests – And the yellow-warm windows with the Rilke poems behind them – And the rat infested cellars with the purple-starved children in them - And the huts made of cardboard and wood in which the people still eat, our people, and still sleep. And sometimes still sing. And sometimes and sometimes still laugh – For that is Germany. And that we want to love, us, with rusted helmets and lost hearts here on earth. Yes, yes: in this lunatic world we still want to and will always want to love again.