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Noon Bells in the Field

by Johannes Kühn

translated from the German by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright

On the cliff ledge of the quarry
the sound of the bell leaps
like a ball, light,
overshoots the forests
and reaches
the plough
the farmer,
so he knows:
It’s noon.

In the swamp
sounding towards the sunken bell,
it wakens, I believe the way children do,

echo dives
into the ravine
where the pastured horses walk.

It falls
on full kettles
of berry-pickers,
who pause, surprised
it’s so late already.

Tin of tea,
bacon slabs on bread
the peaceful man eats and drinks,
the vagrant
in the narrow pass
he’s finished begging
and begins to chew
his fine lunch
by the fresh note of the church bell
he knows other prayers too.

How loud the ringing of the anvil is,
the locomotive roars
the waterfowl screech
the wagons rattle
the village siren wails,
& trumping them all
the old church, in all gravity,
what many rejoice.


Johannes Kühn (b. 1934) is the author of Leuchtspur (Trajectory, Hanser, 1995) and Wasser genügt nicht: Gasthausgedichte (Water Isn’t Enough: Guesthouse Poems, Hanser, 1997). Because of an illness, Kühn didn’t speak for years, then began writing poetry in his late fifties. He lives in Hasborn, Germany.

Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright is a literary translator who lives in Waltham, Mass. She spent a year in Berlin translating work by non-native German authors, and her translations of the German-Turkish poets Zafer Senocak and Zehra Çirak have appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Delos, and Dimension2. She recently translated Ernst Peter Fischer’s Beauty and the Beast: The Aesthetic Moment in Science. She works as a German-language financial typesetter. (2000)



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