(English translation of 'Ausfahrt' by Ingeborg Bachmann)
Smoke is rising from the land.
Keep your eyes on the little fisherman's hut,
because the sun will go down
before you’ve travelled ten miles.
The dark water has a thousand eyes
that leap from eyelashes of white spray
to stare at you, hard and long,
for thirty days.
Even when the ship thumps down hard
and staggers on unsteadily,
stand calmly on deck.
Round the table the crew eat
then they’ll kneel
and mend the nets,
but at nights they’ll go to sleep
for an hour or two,
and their hands will become soft,
free from salt and petrol,
soft as the bread of the dream,
which they break.
The first wave of night hits the shore,
the second already reaches you.
But if you stare hard
you can still see the tree
that defiantly lifts an arm
- one already torn off by the wind
- and you think: for how much longer,
for how much longer
will the bent and twisted wood withstand the weather?
Of the land there is nothing more to be seen.
You should have dug your hand into the sandbank
or clung to the cliffs by a curl of hair.
Blowing into shells, sea-monsters glide
on the backs of waves, they ride and slash
the day to pieces with shiny sabres, leaving a red
trail in the water where you lie down to sleep
for the remainder of your watch,
and you pass out.
But then something’s gone wrong with the ropes,
the crew call you, and you’re glad
they need your help. For there’s nothing better
than the work on ships
that sail far and wide,
knotting ropes, bailing out water,
caulking leaks and guarding the cargo.
There’s nothing better than tiring yourself out
and falling fast asleep in the evening. There’s nothing better
than to be bright in the morning, at first light,
to stand against the implacable sky,
ignore the impassable water,
and lift the ship over the waves,
towards the shore of the ever-returning sun.
For more translations of poems by Ingeborg Bachmann, go to Translations.