Title: A History of Clouds: 99 Meditations
Author: Hans Magnus Enzensberger Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky
Publisher: Seagull Books
Source: Personal Copy
I do not read much poetry, but this title caught my fancy and I had to read it. Well, I also believe that it is impossible to understand the essence of a poem in one reading. You have to read each poem perhaps multiple times before you get to the its bare-bone understanding. This becomes perhaps an even more difficult task when the form is in translation as this collection is.
Enzensberger’s poetry covers a vast range of subjects – private moments, long-term relationships and their trajectories, portraits of historical and literary personalities thrown in for good measure (an elegy to W.G. Sebald that is most moving: “Who touched us, / who seemed to have come from afar / to the sinister, unhomely homeland. / Little kept him here. / Nothing but the search for traces / with a divining rod of words / which twitched in his hand.” Translated by Martin Chalmers), cosmology, and even philosophy.
And in all of this, there are clouds. In various forms and ways – they exist in these poems – more so in the twelve-part title piece that ends the collection. The poems are transparent, sometimes very difficult to comprehend as well, but very empathetic at most, and there were times I also felt that I was left without any thing to hold on to.
The translations by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky are spot-on. The emotions don’t hold back, though there were times I felt I wanted more as a result of the translation. Having said this, A History of Clouds is a great start for anyone who wants to understand poetry and start somewhere.