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Regina Ullmann

‘A pure and noble poetic talent’
– Hermann Hesse
Nagel & Kimche recently re-published
Regina Ullmann’s short story collection
Die Landstraße.
Regina Ullmann was born in 1884 in the Swiss town of St Gallen. Moving to Munich with her mother in 1902, she began to write and to associate with other poets and writers of the age, most prominently Rainer Maria Rilke. A prolific writer throughout her life, she published poetry, short stories and verse drama, first rising to prominence with the publication of the short story collection Die Landstraße, which was re-issued in 2007 to critical acclaim. These three poems, translated exclusively for NBG by Didem Uca, testify to her powerful writing of desire.
The Sea
You, wave of the Sea,
scale-dress of all fish,
how I marvel at you.
A mere droplet of yours
in the groove of my hand
is already larger than I.
You, flowery depth of heavens,
call yourself not a meadow,
and not animaled:
your steeds are the Sea.
And when a boat comes splashing along
solemnly, wherever it sprays forth
you know, the fish dwindle in its wake.
Sea, nothing like Sea
is before you.
And yet,
you yearn to be Sky,
And you storm him up
and rip him low.
And fall silent.
And you listen, wave by wave.
And shout melodies
which touch the Winds
in a metallic game,
the harshest, salty flood,
the Winds, messengers of life,
which slept, quelled by your rage:
you beckon them toward the mute animals,
toward the shimmering birds of the depths.
You can see!
Then mind that your eyes
see nothing
like what was once seen!
For they were no different
Than the day grew to be …
and how it was by night …
and not one syllable in there
about your singular strength!
They dissipated
like the smoke of fog
and the scent of fir
and the sheen of the blink of an eye
and saw not their own selves.
… Or indeed no different
than the wild swan,
who recognised himself
and swam onward,
upon his mirror image,
far away from there,
where no one caught sight of him,
where prey is to be found
on the sea’s surface
and pours forth into
his twin image.
Oh how lovely.
See, the space
between earth and sky
does not exist.
Every syllable
you spoke
stood in light.
Have you still not seen
the woods
that you created?
Mills go full force,
shovelling through the winds.
Herds stand
still as fields
whose quiet waves
we do not see.
Each thing streaks the sky
at its whim.
Bird murmurs,
shadows on the heather.
Aging trees,
Wind made anew.
Wind fledging tenderly
into a dress for the birds.
Fruit ripens up
into a meal.
Is a thing also stone,
does it even have breadth,
it rounds itself and stays,
ready for your word
© Kantonsbibliothek Vadiana St. Gallen
All translations by Didem Uca

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Regina Ullmann (© Kantonsbibliothek
Vadiana St. Gallen)
Regina Ullmann with her daughters (© Kantonsbibliothek
Vadiana St. Gallen)

Regina Ullmann (1884-1961)
was born in St Gallen, Switzerland. She lived in Germany for a number of years, but returned to St Gallen in 1938. Ullmann is one of the most important Swiss writers of the twentieth century, celebrated for both her poetry and her prose.

Didem Uca is pursuing her PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pennsylvania, focusing on twentieth-century minority literatures. She also translates from Turkish.