July 1, 2011

Hilde Domin

Hilde Domin [Hildegard Löwenstein Palm] [Germany]

Hildegard Löwenstein was born, the daughter of a German-Jewish lawyer, in Cologne in 1909. She studies from 1929 to 1932 at several universities, including Heidelberg University, Cologne University, the University of Bonn, and the Humboldt University of Berlin, beginning with law and changing her majors to economics, social sciences and philosophy. Her teachers included Karl Jaspers and Karl Mannheim.

With the increasingly virulent anti-Semitism of the early 1930s, she emigrated to Italy with her friend and future husband, Erwin Walter Palm, a student of Archaeology. There she received a PhD in political science in Florence and worked as a language teacher in Rome from 1935-1939. She and Palm were married in 1936.

After Hitler's visit to Rome and with the increasingly tense atmosphere of fascist Italy under Mussolini's rule, she and Palm went to English, where she worked as a teacher at St. Aldyn's College. But here fears of Nazism continued to rise, as the couple tried unsuccessfully to get a visa to the United States, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. Finally they were able obtain a visa to the Dominican Republic, to where they emigrated in 1940.

They lived there, in Santo Domingo, for fourteen years, Hilde working as a translator and lecturer at the University of Santo Domingo. She also became an architectural photographer, documenting the old city of Santo Domingo, which was featured in her husband's important book on the art and architecture of "Europe's oldest American City." That book helped the Dominican government to have UNESCO grant that entire sector of the city as a World Heritage Site. In November 2006, Hilde was awarded the Ordeer of Merit of Duarte, Sanchez and Mella in recognition of her efforts to advance Dominican culture.

After death of her mother in 1951, Hilde began to write poetry under the pseudonym of Hilde Domin, meeting regularly with Prats Ramíez and other Santo Domingo intellectuals to discuss literature and poetry.

It was not until 1954 that she her husband, whose family had all been killed by the Nazis, returned to Germany. Domin lived as a writer in Heidelberg from 1961 until her death.

During these years she wrote books of both poetry and prose, and corresponded from 1960 to 1967 with her close friend, the Nobel Prize-winning Nelly Sachs, living in Stockholm. Her husband died in 1986.

Domin's poetry is simple, both in its vocabulary and its subject, and, accordingly, is easily accessible to readers. Her 1986 answer to if a poet needed courage, clarifies her vision: "A Writer needs three types of courage. To be himself/herself. The courage not to lie and to misrepresent and skew, to call things by their right names. And thirdly, to believe in the open mindedness and forthrightness of the others." In 1974 and 1982, Domin penned her autobiographies Von der Natur nicht vorgesehen and Aber die Hoffnung. Autobiographisches aus und über Deutschland.

Domin continued to read her poems to audiences through the year of her February 2006 death.


Hilde Domin - Gesammelte Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer); Ziehende Landschaft (1955); Nur eine Rose als Stütze (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1959); Rückkehr der Schiffe (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1962); Linguistik (1963); Hier: Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 1993); Höhlenbilder (Duisburg: Hildebrandt ,1968); Ich will dich (München: R. Piper 1970); Unaufhaltsam (1962); Abel steh auf: Gedichte, Prosa, Theorie (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1979; Hier: Gedicte (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch, 1993); Nachkrieg und Unfrieden: Gedichte 1945-1995 (Frankfurt am Main : Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1995); Der Baum blüht trotzdem (Frankfurt am Main : S. Fischer, 1999); Ausgewählte Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, (2000)


In Four German Poets: Günter Eich, Hilde Domin, Erich Fried, Günter Kunert, trans. by Agnes Stein (New York: Red Dust, 1979)

Abel Arise

Abel arise
it must be played again
daily it must be played again
daily the answer must lie ahead
the answer yes must be made possible
if you don't arise Abel
how shall the answer
the only significant answer
how shall it ever change
we can close all churches
abolish all law books
in all the languages of the globe
if only you rise
and make it unspoken
the first false answer
to the only question
that counts
so that Cain says
so that he may say
I am your keeper
how could I not be your keeper
daily arise
that it may lie ahead
this yes I am here
your brother
so that the children of Abel
may no longer be afraid
because Cain will not be Cain
I am writing this
I a child of Abel
daily afraid
of the answer
the air in my lungs diminishes
as I wait for the answer

Abel arise
that there may be new beginnings
among all of us

The fires that burn
the fire that burns on the earth
shall be the fire of Abel

and in the missles' tail
shall be the fire of Abel

—Translated from the German by Agnes Stein

(from Ich Will Dich, 1970)

Precautionary Measures

Autumn is coming
we must put lions on the leash

No one will come too close to us
if we keep the right animals

Something larger than man
when standing on its hind legs

He who returns the dog's bite
who steps on the snake's head
who presses shut the alligator's eyes
he'll be all right

—Translated from the German by Agnes Stein

(from Ich Will Dich, 1970)


She is dead

today is her birthday
this is the day
on which she
in this triangle
between the legs of her mother
was pushed forth
who pushed me forth
between her legs

she is ashes

Always I think
on the birth of a deer
the way it sets its legs on the ground

I've forced no one into the light
only words
words do not turn the head
they stand up
and walk off

—Translated from the German by Agnes Stein

(from Ich Will Dich, 1970)

Ars Longa

The breath
in a bird's throat
breath of air
in the branches.

The word
like the wind itself
its holy breath
goes in and out.

Always the breath finds
throat of birds.

Always the word
the holy word
in a mouth.

—Translated from the German by Agnes Stein

(from Hier, 1966)

English language copyright ©1979 by Red Dust

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