German Matters Literature Poetry

Goethe among the Italian Lemon Groves

Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunkeln Laub die Gold-Orangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn.

Kennst du das Haus? Auf Säulen ruht sein Dach.
Es glänzt der Saal, es schimmert das Gemach,
Und Marmorbilder stehn und sehn mich an:
Was hat man dir, du armes Kind, getan?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Beschützer, ziehn.

Kennst du den Berg und seinen Wolkensteg?
Das Maultier sucht im Nebel seinen Weg;
In Höhlen wohnt der Drachen alte Brut;
Es stürzt der Fels und über ihn die Flut!
Kennst du ihn wohl?
Dahin! dahin
Geht unser Weg! O Vater, laß uns ziehn!

Image result for lemon groves in italy

There is a very nice translation of this famous poem  here at

Literature Penwith Poetry Uncategorized West Cornwall (and local history)

Saying goodbye to Mount’s Bay – by a Cornish migrant

I have a neat little book called ~” Poems of Cornwall” withdrawn from the County Library Service. The preface is by W.Herbert Thomas and is dated, “Penzance July !892”. A couple of months before the last down train from Paddington on Brunel’s broad gauge had run. It is a collection of some 30 poets of whom photographs of 18 appear inside the front cover. There is a poem by Sir Humphry Davy beneath an engraving of his statue.

St Michael’s Mount

Majestic Michael rises – he whose brow

Is crown’d with castles; and whose rocky sides

Are clad with dusky ivy: he whose base,

Beat by the storm of ages, stands unmov’d

Amidst the wreck of things-the change of time.

That base, encircled by the azure waves,

Was once with verdure clad; the towering oaks

Here waved their branches green: the sacred oaks ,

Whose awful shades among the Druids stay’d

To cut the hallowed mistletoe, and hold

High converse with their gods.

Sketch of the Mount last week and my leg!
Sketch of the Mount last week and my leg!

Mount 1






Interesting this connection that early scientists felt for poetry and nature. Most obviously found in Goethe perhaps. Davy enjoyed angling  and travelled widely across Europe to fish, I believe on the Dalmatian coast-Shakespeare’s Illyria from Twelfth Night. Which information I seem to recall from that fascinating book,”The Age of Wonder” by Richard Holmes. Count Orsino’s castle became the Mount in that great production of Twelfth Night by Trevor Nunn in 1996. Returning to Davy’s poem, I suppose some of the vocabulary now sounds antiquated, although the original “awful” sounds like that recent commonly used word,”awesome”. I rather like the line -“Amidst the wreck of things-the change of time.” which reminds me somehow of that biography of Malcom Muggeridge which he entitled “Chronicles of Wasted Time”. A title which comes from the lovely sonnet 106 of Shakespeare:-Mount4

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express’d
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And, for they look’d but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
Returning to the main thread -what is otherwise called (aus den „Wahlverwandtschaften“ von Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:) the roter Faden -“Poems in Cornwall”, the editor W.Herbert Thomas was in fact a journalist who is described as “the son of a mine-smith of St Day. For seven years a mining clark, he was afterwards a reporter for two years on the San Francisco “Examiner” and is now on the staff of the” Cornishman” -however I would like to draw attention to a short poem by W,F.Woodfield. It is rather poignant and all that is said of him is that he lived in Penzance, he wrote a collection called “Serpentine Worker” and ,”is now in Australia”.
The Emigrant’s Farewell to Mount’s Bay
Farewell Mount’s Bay! A long farewell
    I bid thy rock-bound shore;
My heart nigh breaks with grief to think
    I ne’er may see thee more.
From infancy I have watched thy waves,
     And roamed thy rocks and sands;
But I must leave thee beauteous bay,
     To toil in other lands.
My heart grows faint-tears blind me so,
     Words fail my love to tell;
My very soul so yearns for thee
    I scarce can say -farewell.
But Manhood bids me dry my tears,
    And brace me for the fight;
Adieu, adieu belove’d bay!
    Farewell my heart’s delight.
Sincerely felt lines at any rate. It gives us a feeling of the process of uprooting that is involved in emigration and ought, I think, make us consider the plight  of refugees with sympathy and support.
German Matters Literature Poetry Uncategorized

Goethe -Frühlingsorakel



Du prophetscher Vogel du,
Blütensänger, o Coucou!
Bitten eines jungen Paares
In der schönsten Zeit des Jahres
Höre, liebster Vogel du;
Kann es hoffen, ruf ihm zu:
Dein Coucou, dein Coucou,
Immer mehr Coucou, Coucou.

Hörst du! ein verliebtes Paar
Sehnt sich herzlich zum Altar;
Und es ist bei seiner Jugend
Voller Treue, voller Tugend.
Ist die Stunde denn noch nicht voll?
Sag, wie lange es warten soll!
Horch! Coucou! Horch! Coucou!
Immer stille! Nichts hinzu!

Ist es doch nicht unsre Schuld!
Nur zwei Jahre noch Geduld!
Aber, wenn wir uns genommen,
Werden Pa-pa-papas kommen?
Wisse, daß du uns erfreust,
Wenn du viele prophezeist.
Eins! Coucou! Zwei! Coucou!
Immer weiter Coucou, Coucou, Cou.

Haben wir wohl recht gezählt,
Wenig am Halbdutzend fehlt.
Wenn wir gute Worte geben,
Sagst du wohl, wie lang wir leben?
Freilich, wir gestehen dirs,
Gern zum längsten trieben wirs.
Cou Coucou, Cou Coucou,
Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou.

Leben ist ein großes Fest,
Wenn sichs nicht berechnen läßt.
Sind wir nun zusammen blieben,
Bleibt denn auch das treue Lieben?
Könnte das zu Ende gehn,
Wär doch alles nicht mehr schön.
Cou Coucou, Cou Coucou :,:
Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou, Cou(Mit Grazie in infinitum)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tischbein's Goethe
Tischbein’s Goethe
Art and Photographic History Art Exhibition Reviews

Reviewing “Mr Turner ” by Mike Leigh

In my personal view, some of the most interesting aspects of “Mr Turner” was his constant interest in all types of scientific investigation. The development of new colours in laboratory conditions and his interest in photography were parts of the recent film that I found deeply engaging and in particular the cameo scene with Mrs Sommerville. This Eighteenth Century background has been splendidly covered by Richard Holmes in his “The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science” 2009.(Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and winner of the Royal Society Prize for Science Books). I am reliably informed that Turner read Goethe’s tremendous work on colour theory. How JMW Turner may have eavesdropped on the Royal Academy next door is interestingly discussed at and his probable interest in the work of William Herschel is considered here.turner46 Flint Castle

Two typical reviews of Mike Leigh’s production can be read at The Guardian -

and The Telegraph - where Robbie Collin makes reference to Spall  as “like a mouthing, phlegmy Gruffalo”.

Here is a review (unedited) from my friend Vaughan Warren whose prolific work, inspired by Turner, appears at Penzance Public Library:-

‘Mr. Turner’, a film by Mike Leigh; a review by ‘Mr. Warren’.20140927_151818

Rated: 10+/10; perhaps?


Painting is a ‘rum’ business… of ‘nothingness’ and the like!


If one was unfamiliar with the mythology surrounding JMW Turner, or indeed oblivious to whom he was, then the film might appear meaningless and self- indulgent, even despite the fascinating but unlovable depiction by Timothy Spall; yet as a testament to ‘Englishness’ this film is sublime in all its mastery of misery and beauty but some have complained it is too long; it was not long enough! As it turns out I will argue that this film hides a lot more than it reveals at first glance, and its episodic nature has resulted in a rather fragmented view of the man, the painter, the myth?

Like JMW Turner, I was a student of the Royal Academy Schools, which moved from Somerset House to Burlington House, being there myself from 1978-1984, in Piccadilly, London; so I was bound to be rather hyper-critical yet responsive to such a homage to one of our greatest painters. The interactions at the Royal Academy Exhibition, as it was then, were bang on! Poor John Constable was born after Turner and died before Turner’s demise in 1851 and his whole life was overshadowed by this ‘monster’! Turner’s generosity in sharing ‘observations for improvements’  in others work was his gift to teaching; far removed from his disastrous lectures on Perspective at the Academy which were not for want of knowledge but the problem of communicating something so innate!

Travel in Turner’s time appeared idealistic; ferries along the Thames stopping at the new railway stations or venturing even further to the mouth of the Thames and Margate where of course he met Mrs. Booth whom he subsequently ‘bedded’ and lived as a harmonious family life as Turner possibly could have; but the restlessness continued… Turner never married but had two daughters by another woman, one Sarah Danby!

In reality JMW Turner was a short stocky rather shabby man who appeared to lack any social graces especially when it came to women and any concept of family, excepting his father William Turner, Turner’s ‘Daddy’,  whose resulting and inevitable death, was subtly hinted at by the scene of mixing Chrome Yellow oil pigment without protection as was the way in many painters studios, and upon reflection the skin condition of ‘the maid’ was probably a result of ‘Painters disease’, a result of exposure to lead and arsenic ever present in paints even to this day; not within the EU of course but still available in cheap but authentic pigments available from China.

The sumptuous filming caught well the tensions of the period with civilised facades hiding squalor and debauchery behind closed doors. In this respect and most others Timothy Spall was a perfect cast for the role, and Mike Leigh’s directing may have been drawing more upon his own families ‘trauma’. Indeed it is the way the sexual promiscuity of Turner was handled, sometimes with innuendo but at other times with a truly threatening behaviour and scenes of blatant groping. Is it for this reason that many women who have seen the film find Spall and by proxy Turner disgusting and ‘pig like,’ and would not recommend it!p-unframed

To address this Turner’s encounter with ‘Jessica’ at Petworth should have been extended to reveal a more tender and cultured side to his personality. It would have also drawn focus away from Turner as a typically landscape based artist, as his figures at Petworth are abstractions in a mannerist style far in advance of his landscapes which flourished later, and are some of the greatest depictions of figures in interiors we have in English Painting.

It was poor research that suggested that Turner made way for the Pre Raphaelites and photography, however the depiction of John Ruskin, the critic and champion of Turner, was a triumph and the film should have ended with Ruskin burning almost a third of Turner’s erotic figurative output, which we will now never know about. Instead the film ended with the realisation that, “The Sun is God”, and the wry smile of ‘Mrs’ Turner compared with the desolation of Turner’s lifelong companion in the form of his cousin as  maid / relative / sexually abused female! Indeed it was suggested that it was for Turner’s attentions that she appeared to live and endure knowing nothing else presumably, and this made her the victim of the man as ‘monster’?

One last technical point; although Turner was at the cutting edge of pigment use, his use, (even if available commercially before 1851), of Cobalt Blue over his preferred pigment known as Smalt is still a question of conjecture. Although Cobalt Blue was a known pigment used in ceramics it is a question of stability and lightfastness in oils that leads many conservationists and dealers to question the authenticity of alleged works by JMW Turner if elements of this material are found after chemical analysis.

Painting, art, film; is a ‘rum’ business indeed; or was it Sherry?Mr T at RA


Another friend comments:-

Thank you for sharing the Cannes film festival review of  ‘ Mr Turner’. I’m going to see it on Tuesday so will be able to judge whether all the publicity has been accurate or otherwise. Around the time of his bi-centenary Leo McKern made a valiant attempt to portray the artist in the drama-documentary ‘ The Sun is God’ (supposedly his dying words
as bright sunlight burst through an overcast sky moments before his last breath at precisely 10 am on December 19 1851.) Though typically low budget that production admirably succeeded in conveying both the social conditions and prevailing atmosphere alongside the convincing character study itself. Were Mike Leigh to go one better he will have done well.
This is in reply to the following review from the BFI on Leigh’s success at Cannes:-


Book Reviews Uncategorized

Roads to Berlin by Cees Nooteboom (Author), Laura Watkinson (Translator)

Nooteboom1“Whoever controls Berlin controls Germany and whoever controls Germany controls Europe” is a remark which attributed to Lenin. Until November 1989, the Berlin Wall, Die Berliner Mauer, bisected the historic city and divided its citizens from each other. Berlin was occupied, militarised and yet its people carried on with their daily lives amongst the ruins. Cees Nooteboom, a distinguished Dutch travel writer personally knew well something of the devastation of the past. He is old enough to have experienced, and at impressionable age, the Nazi Blitzkreig and occupation of Holland. A sensitive and susceptible person, he meditates upon the various strata of meaning, history, heroism and time itself. The result is a prose poem on a unique city that is condemned to be constantly developing, becoming rather than just being. As the art critic, Karl Scheffler, perceived in 1910, Berlin ist eine Stadt, verdammt dazu, ewig zu werden, niemals zu sein”



Nooteboom’s account starts in 1963, progressing through the events surrounding the fall of the Wall at the end of 1989, and finishing with a reassessment of the situation today. The text is liberally interspersed with black and white photographs. This evocative structure is somewhat reminiscent of the writings of W.G.Sebald with whom he shares an interest in nostalgia, memory and the past. Roads to Berlin is more than a travelogue, although he visits many German cities. A central concern is his response, as an onlooker to the tectonic political changes which resulted from the Velvet Revolution. Under continuous surveillance the author describes his feelings about driving along the autobahn through East Germany to reach the city. He captures the drabness of the surroundings and the tense atmosphere beside the wintry waters of the River Spree and the lonely bridges where escapees were fired upon. These call to mind Pinter’s film The Quiller Memorandum (1966), suppressed violence, the doleful constant scrutiny of the border guards of Ulbricht’s republic.

In 1989, returning to his lonely flat in the Western sector, close to the Wall, Nooteboom contemplates on television the start of the thaw. The broadcast comes from the tall aerial towering over the populace on the East. He studies the numbing images of political assemblies where a retinue of faceless men, the Politburo, shuffle behind the ailing Erich Honecker. Light falls on Gorbacev’s face whilst he delivers an official kiss to the GDR leader, everyone in the audience too are watching, struggling to understand what is about to happen. There are seismic changes elsewhere as thousands of East Germans are allowed to pass out of Hungary into Austria. Then Dubcek reappears with Havel on a balcony above Wenceslas Square in Prague and indicating that the whole edifice has collapsed. Nooteboom emerges from his flat and joins the celebrations in the Potsdamer Platz and crosses through the checkpoint, which is still occupied by uneasy guards as numerous Trebants travel west, he strolls  down the Unter den Linden above which a platform totters that barely supports people rejoicing. He also manages to attend galleries, plays and poetry recitals. These political changes are intermingled in his thoughts as he surveys the art and the mixed ironies of the fate of Mitteleuropa in an exhibition at the Walter Gropius Bau.

Nooteboom’s discursive approach is interesting and often reads as an eloquent memoir or diary. In places, because of his considerable interest in architecture, sculptures and ruins he sounds like a modern day Gibbon. The author of “Decline and Fall” has written of how he decided to embark on that great work as he mused amongst the ruins of the Capitol while barefoot friars were intoning Vespers. Nooteboom, brought up as a Catholic is sensitive to the chimes of the Angelus and writes evocatively about the empty dilapidated rally grounds at Nuremberg and discerns, “One voice screaming………, and all those ancient voices screaming back, an ancient chorus with a limited script.” He ventures to the Tuetoburg Forest, refreshed with Christmas Glühwein where he seeks out the towering statue of Hermann towering above his gigantic pedestal. The traveller, no mean historian, takes to task the mad classicist who erroneously named Hermann. He was in fact Armenius, who wiped out three Roman legions in A.D. 9 led by the wimpish Publius Varius.Nooteboom2

Cees Nooteboom’s work, which includes fiction, has been widely acclaimed and he has received numerous awards on the continent and whispered for a possible Nobel Prize. His discursive style demonstrates an erudite knowledge of cultural and philosophical references. Ranging from Goethe, von Moltke and Bismark to that controversial figure Heidegger he assumes considerable background knowledge. He does, however provide a useful glossary of writers and politicians. This cannot have been an easy book for Laura Watkinson to translate and as she commented recently,” I am translating a Dutch book about Germany, sitting at a computer in Berlin, turning Dutch words about Germany into English words about Germany. “The resulting text is demanding, thorough and quite invaluable to those who want the opportunity to inform themselves before contemplating what the future holds Central and Eastern Europe. Doubtless, this too has considerable bearing on our own lives.

Further details on following Nooteboom around Berlin at

He talks about another collection, discusses his new short story collection, The Foxes Come At Night, at