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Reformation Couplets (slightly amended)

by michwo 

Posted: 28 October 2017
Word Count: 508
Summary: Some couplets have now been changed in line with sensible suggestions made by JG.

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Stall for the Sale of Indulgences
"Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Croesus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?" (Martin Luther: Thesis 86 of 95)
I cried:  Men, lend a hand and help me out.
To make the Pope rich this stall’s all about!
If wealth alone can buy eternal life
Indulgences will everywhere be rife.
These wares both young and old will loud demand
And paupers by their lack of funds be damned.
Turn out your pockets!  Are they empty?  Then
Be bold enough to join us, lucky men!
Take my advice, redemption-hungry breed,
No signed indulgence chit to wave you need!
The way to life eternal is not barred!
Salvation is a present not a card!
I spoke a raucous language in my haste.
And yet my warning did not go to waste.
My answer came back in a righteous din:
“We’ll break these tables, not condone a sin!”
The Bible in German
A joyful day as, stretched out in the mead,
I Martin Luther’s German scripture read.
I love to listen, Luther, to the lilt
Of speech that no-one more than you has built.
Hidden behind walls with green overgrown
New Bible, new German, both strong as stone.
I read and ancient stories from the East
Become incarnate right down to the least.
I hear the Saviour as He teaches me
From fishing boat upon Lake Galilee.
Perhaps He wanders out there by the shore
Through high corn down a hidden path, footsore.
A monk no longer, Luther broke his vows –
No more to fate or fellow men he bows!
He feels the massive fault-line of these days
And fast he clings to Holy Writ always.
The past, the future struggle in his soul
Like wrestlers who, sore panting, give their all.
There where the Limmat empties in the lake
A crowd is seething, children in its wake.
They images of saints with a great shout
From a small church are dragging roughly out,
Removing what their forebears had amassed
To topple in the water running past.
The river swallowed up the stony dross,
And martyrs’ wounds were permanently lost.
Relics, votive offerings, stumps of wax
To be borne by the current were not lax.
And then I of a statue grew aware,
Heavy to lift - it took of men a pair,
And I was shocked.  It was a tender form:
The Virgin Mary smiled a smile so warm
And gazed so touchingly upon this zoo
As if to say:  “What have I done to you?”
How came this work to this parish church small?
In Nuremberg none better I recall.
You felt that a master’s effort and love
Had gone to create it, blessed from above.
To wantonly destroy a work of art
Is heinous!  I felt forced to stand apart.
But did I stop them?  No, I have to say.
With such idolatry we must away.

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 21:57 on 29 October 2017  Report this post
Those little changes do make a difference. The poems read well now. It was worth polishing them up because they are very interesting; they have immediacy and bring some aspects of the Reformation period to life. As you know I'm not religious, but I must say that I admire Luther (with reservations, particularly his anti-semitism). He gave such a special impetus to the language of Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Rilke, Brecht  etc etc... And I have a cherished memory of attending a Lutheran service, with a very fine choir, in the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche in Berlin.


michwo at 23:37 on 29 October 2017  Report this post
You've just reminded me that Mascha Kaléko (1907-1975) who wrote the poem I translated as "A Bookworm's Peroration" also wrote a poem about the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, which I've also translated.  I think the immediate surroundings might have changed since she described them in the 1930s, but I imagine that there's still a street called the Tauentzien.  The third and central stanza of the poem I've translated as follows:
Windows glitter bright on the Tauentzien.
Here people can stroll aimlessly - it's great.
Cafés show off bits of green and gentian
And the name of 'terrace' those near ivy rate.
Apparently there's been a Mascha-Kaleko-Park in Berlin Hellersdorf since 2011 so Berliners must be still quite proud of Mascha.  I write like I've been there, but I haven't and Mascha Kaléko herself, if I'm not mistaken, actually died and is buried in Zurich.  She has been very well translated into English by someone called Andreas Nolte, e.g. Mein schönstes Gedicht?/ Ich schrieb es nicht./ Aus tiefsten Tiefe stieg es./ Ich schwieg es. =  My best poem ever?/ I wrote it never./ From deepest depths uprushed it./ I hushed it.  
You get the simple message both in German and English, don't you?

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