Translator’s Note

Carlie Hoffman

Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger was an exceptional young poet who was influenced by German literature and poetics and she contributed to shaping German-language poetry. A major strength of Meerbaum-Eisinger’s poetry is the poet’s acute awareness of her surroundings and nature and her ability to create meaningful introspection and moods through lyricism.

In “Rain,” we enter the poem and become immediately swept up by a sudden rainstorm. Here, Meerbaum-Eisinger uses universality to access introspection, particularly with the repetition of “you.” Rather than the experience of being caught in the rain reduced to inconvenience, Meerbaum-Eisinger restores the rain’s elevated purpose of progress and independence. In the world of the poem, Meerbaum-Eisinger’s rain transforms the trees anew, carries the “smell of fresh hay” (adding agricultural significance and placing us in a specific time and place), offers relief to the lyrical “you,” and uplifts the “dusty, dull” grass. Further, the accumulation of transformation and transfiguration is a rain with its own distinct characteristics and agency, as the rain and the “you” intertwine at the end, which I take as a metaphor for growing into personhood.

“Evening” is an excellent example of Meerbaum-Eisinger’s appreciation for German-language fairytales and is a testament to her own contribution to the genre. There is a clarity to Meerbaum-Eisinger’s lyricism here that is both luring and direct. She is very much a deep image poet. Here, each image and simile build off one another to create a cinematic description of the forest. The opening feels exactly like how one adjusts their sight to the near-dark: first the horizon is a “dark blue line of silence” and then shifts to an image of trees dancing to the folk music and then to focusing in on a woman’s hands. Body of sky, tree leaves as body, human hands like leaves. She masterfully incorporates movement, silence, and music to heighten the mystery and magic of the pan flute. Also interesting is her choice to end on the music being “unnamed,” which is surprising and elevates the myth.

Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger had an uncanny ability to actually see the world around her, take in its sounds, images, movements, and so forth, and relate it back to her own personal experience to then apply her discoveries to her understanding of the human condition. That is, in my view, the mark of a truly gifted writer.


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