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Paul Boldt, "On the Terrace of Café Josty" (1912)

This poem illustrates the desire of poets to capture the rhythms of modern life. Sitting on the terrace at a Berlin café, Paul Boldt (1881-1921) allows sensory impressions to trickle into the aesthetic tableau of his poem.

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Potsdamer Platz in an endless roar
Glaciates all resounding avalanches
The street complex: trams on rails,
Automobiles and the refuse of mankind.

People trickle over the asphalt,
Ant-like in their diligence, nimble as lizards.
Foreheads and hands, flashing with thoughts,
Swim like sunlight through the dark forest.

Night rain wraps the square in a cavern,
Where bats, white, with beating wings
And lavender jellyfish lie – colorful oils;

They multiply, dissected by the cars. –
Berlin squirts up, glistening nest of the day,
From the smoke of the night like the pus of a pestilence.

Source: Paul Boldt, “Auf der Terrasse des Café Josty” [“On the Terrace of Café Josty”], Die Aktion, Jg. 2, November 13, 1912.

Original German poem reprinted in Jürgen Schutte and Peter Sprengel, Die Berliner Moderne 1885-1914 [Berlin Modernity, 1885-1914] Stuttgart, 1987, pp. 328-30.

Translation: Richard Pettit

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