Rosa Pflug: Der Wind Singt vom Kommenden tag
Walker, Nelly. "Rosa Pflug: The Wind Sings of a day to Come." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2002, 31-33.
Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Translator's Note: the following is a book review in the form of a letter to the author of the book of poetry. Not being a poet myself, I have made no attempt to keep in rhyme any translations of poem passages that are cited herein ... A.H.
Greetings to my dear readers!
A very good, and one worth reading, has been published. I am pleased to introduce you to: Rosa Pflug, "Der Wind singt vom kommenden Tag," 12/95 euros, ISBN 3-935000-25-X, BMV Verlag Robert Burau, Uekenpohl 31, 32791 Lage (available via the Landsmannschaft: cf. our book offerings on p. 43 of this 12/02 issue [of VadW]. The editors.)
Dear Rosa Pflug:
For the selected poems, congratulations to you, who has dreamed up, composed, and obstinately produced, and in the late autumn of life, and has received a reward for courage and talent.
Thanks also for the excellent selection and for the preface by our Prince of Poetry, Johann Warkentin, who was able to convince you, who, though disappointed and insecure, to dig up your poems that had been hidden deep in your desk drawers and to present them under his "magnifying glass."
Thanks also to the skillful publisher, Robert Burau. For the German-Russian library he has created a new example of excellence from his book printing art. In comparison with your first publication "over there," this represents a real book, not just a small booklet.
I have been reading in it for lengthy intervals, have been captivated by "Geraschel der Jahre [Rustling of the Years]," by "Gedaechtnis des Herzens [The Heart Remembers]," by "Gruebeleien am Strand [Brooding at the Beach]," by "Melodie der Zukunft [Song of the Future]," and by many more [of your poems].
There was a time when we lived hardly 900 paces from each other, when we met often, and phoned each other almost daily. From your own preface: "I recall the times when the two of us -- you and I -- presented our verses to pupils, students, German teachers, just plain readers, and always found a good response; which makes me think that there must be something good in our poetry. Also that your [poem] Komm mit! Mach mit! [Come along, go along!] was not for naught." No, it was certainly not for naught. Did we not have a sacred responsibility to fulfill toward our dying mother tongue!
Well, I should write a few things concerning your life, so that VadW does not need to answer the question "Who is Rosa Pflug?" Once, in the Moscow paper "Neues Leben [New Life]," two of my contributions appeared, in honor of your "round-numbered" birthdays: "Der Worte Klarheit [The Clarity of Words]" (1979) and "Der Worte Wahrheit [The Truth in Words]" (1989). Allow me to quote from them:
"Toward the end of the 60s, when the first poems of Rosa Pflug began to appear in German newspapers, a woman reader said to me: 'Listen to that sound! Pflug! Like a hammer thrust! And preceding it, a contrasting word, Rosa!' " [Translator's note: Pflug means Plow in English.]
Rosa Pflug was born on January 19, 1919 to a large and poor farming family in Antonovka (near Saratov). She got acquainted with heavy work early and often, losing her father even before she finished 7th grade. Her memories of him were and remain a bright spot of her life. As one who never fails or loses heart -- that is the image of him that she keeps. At the onset of the 20s, during the famine in the Volga area, he made a quick decision to put his 9 children onto a wagon, to make his way to the Ukraine, and thereby to save them. Just as naturally, he later returned to his native village and, when most were still afraid of the "devi'ls thing," he fearlessly climbed onto a tractor. Often times, little Rosa sneaked after her father to the club where he would be practicing theater pieces with the local youth or directing a small string orchestra. Amateur art was his hobby, and it wasn't the only one he passed on to his Rosa. Her dream was to become a teacher, so she attended teacher's college, from which she was exiled, because someone had designated her father as an enemy of the people and thereby destroyed him. But when there was a need for a teacher in a neighboring village, the girl decided to ... (end of citation).
Your poem entitled "Mein Beruf [My Vocation]" (p. 20) describes your first day of teaching. The last verse reads as follows:
... "Yes, my occupation is filled with worries,/ yet I love it and have no doubts about it:/ Even if I were not to start my teaching career until tomorrow,/ I would be happy to begin it in that village."
In those days you had much more courage and willpower than knowledge. As of 1936 your studies took you almost uninterruptedly to remote places: to the Marxstadt Pedagogical Technicum, to foreign language courses in Moscow, to a correspondence course for reciters. And when the magazine "Freundschaft [Friendship]" introduced you as a poet, you were just taking the state examination as a correspondence student with the Pedagogical University.
Once you grumbled, "My whole life I have had the desire to write a beautiful poem. So far I have not succeeded ..." Well, that's how you are, Rosa Pflug -- too modest, not satisfied with yourself, even though readers have long accepted your poems with understanding, even joy, because you always say precisely what comes from the heart and what is close to the readers' hearts.
In 1977 the publisher "Kazakhstan" printed your first small volume, entitled "Im Heimatsgefilde [In the Fields of Home]." Small, yes, but full of a soul's depth and a heart's warmth. Even then you did not write merely "pretty poems." Take, for example, "Poesie [Poetry]" (p. 19):
"Groundless depths,/ dizzying heights,/ senseless joy,/ meaningful sorrow.Naivete and wisdom,/ freezing cold and glowing heat,/ delusion and truth,/ ebb and flood. Agonizing searching,/ stormy heart,/ shame and despair,/ piercing pain,/ unrest and love,/ worries and toil -- all these together denote POETRY."
How many of our generations have been touched to the depths of their souls by your poem "Im Hintergrund [In the Background]" (p. 28)!
"You, like me, must be thinking of those years,/ of that forest and that snow,/ of the polar light above us .../../ ... Many a breeze/ will yet blow over me/ and gift us with many a falling leaf .../../ Yes, the memory / of those times will remain forever, everywhere ..."
[The book] "Heimatlichen Weiten [Homey Expanse]" (Number 1, 1985) contained your contribution entitled "Der gluecklichste Tag [The happiest day]," in which you named many names of gravely affected girls and women, among them the names of your sisters, Agnes, Ella, Katya, Ida. Five sisters and one brother of the Pflug family carried on, in the Far North, their daily struggle against hunger and cold in those years between 1942 and 1950. You were forced to work in virgin forests and in the Archangelsk Paper Combine. Yet, youth will be youth! You fought scurvy, planted vegetables even in the Far North, and still found time for amateur art. You were always there with your poems, which you all sang. No wonder that even your later poems sounded song-like, that many composers set them to music (F. Dortmann, E. Schmidt, A. Dietrich, E. Jungmann, H. EIsenbraun, A. Lang)! So many songs came of that, they would make up a thick book of songs!
Your second little book, "Unausloeschliche Sterne [Stars that will not be darkened]," was published in 1985. Again, only 46 poems and 16 translations. Here, too, highly variable themes, some (in the form of common tribute to the State!) tinted with patriotic pathos -- e.g., Confessions, Reminiscences. Yet most sound lyrical, familiar, musical.
In your recently published volume of poetry entitle "Der Wind singt vom kommenden Tag" [see the tile of this article] the musical aspect of your poetry seems to stand out. On page 202, for example, you say:
"Wagon rolling onward,/ wagon rolling onward./ The wheels of fate clattering on./ Tears flowing, involuntarily,/ and letters of yearning, fluttering."
"The soul freezing,/ the soul freezing./ Feeling insecure./ A Home beign lost,/ not to be found by tomorrow."
The many repetitions sound beautiful and intimate, reminding us of folk songs. You have made as part of you a wonderful artful mechanism which I would call "embracing refrains." A line repeats itself again and again, makes the text looser, more penetrating, implants itself in one's memory. Examples? Well, here are some:
"Leaves are falling form the trees ... leaves falling
"The cherry tree is in bloom ... cherry tree in bloom."
"Today there is no end to my sorrow ... today I feel endlessly sorry ..."
"It was in July, in July ... it was in July, in the month of July ..."
Often times the first stanza repeats at the end, but with two or three new words to make the meaning ever more precise (p. 115).
"During those heavily clouded, sad days/ I hear the thrush in the woods asking: 'Who are you? And where do you wish to go?' "
And at the end you repeat that first stanza, but now the question is; "Where are [all of] you? Where are you all going? [plurals]" It is in reference to us, the Volk auf dem Weg [People on a Sojourn].
Without worrying about reactions, you go on writing your verses. Constantly longing for human understanding, you come to a "Bittere Ansicht [Bitter Realization] (p. 99): "Yet, all those/ for whom I have written/ pass up my verses."
You exclaim (p. 90): "Oh, you unfulfilled, spent dream .../../ Between my lines / there lies empty space." I would look at this differently: That "space" will not remain empty, because the reader will fill it with his or her own thoughts."
Your lack of being satisfied with yourself makes the following "Vorwurf [Accusation] to you (p. 54): "The most significant things you have never expressed,/ that which is most appropriate you have never done."
But, Rosa, you have done it! Do not be so strict with your father's daughter!
Your richness of feeling, striking self-characterization, the closeness to the people that so many lines express will, hopefully, find a reader. You longing for your family home, your dreams work in an infectious way, so that only those with total lack of feeling can pass them up. And if someone should as you fear, actually turn up his or her nose, branding you a "voice from the 18th Century," then we shall simply direct him or her toward the "false prophet" who, in a "large volume," once said such ruinous words about the poetry by German-Russian women.
"Wind, of Wind!" (p. 79) you exclaim. "Ceaselessly, my thoughts run toward/ the house with the blue shutters." And "An einem stillen Morgen .. [During a quiet morning]" (p. 191): "May you find joy in wide and broad paths in foreign lands/ ... Yet you will always long/ for the strong smoke of your home." You dedicate many poems to the love of your youth. The sad, cloyingly touching melody of an entire generation of women resounds in it, which the war covered even more with terrible loneliness.
In closing I would like to thank you also for your witty three-liners. A more extensive discussion of them is overdue.
Finally, one more quote from your new book "Vor Sonnenuntergang [Before Sundown]" (p. 220): At first your thoughts concentrate on the Volga, then on the Northern Dvina, and then -- the Irtytch. It seems that was your entire life. And now, today? "How often/ do I stand today/ on the shore of the Spree/ and feel so good,/ the way I haven't felt in a very long time./ I feel at home ..."
Yours with friendly greetings,
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.