What Must Be Said

POETRY FORMAT, 23 Oct 2023

Gunter Grass, Nobel Literature Laureate - TRANSCEND Media Service

The Nobel Laureate’s controversial poem about Israel may have lacked elegance, but it was also a dire warning about war with Iran that has irritated, provoked and outraged people everywhere.

Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What clearly is and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.

It is the alleged right to first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people–
Enslaved by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation–
Because in their territory,
It is suspected, a bomb is being built.

Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because no inspection is available?

The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as incriminating lies
And force–the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.

Now, though, because in my country
Which from time to time has sought and confronted
Its very own crime
That is without compare
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But as a fear wishes to be conclusive,
I say what must be said.

Why though have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Kept the state of Israel, to which I am bound

And wish to stay bound,

From accepting this fact as pronounced truth.

Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
That the nuclear power of Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we–as Germans burdened enough–
Could be the suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.

And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the hypocrisy
Of the West; in addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
That they may prompt the perpetrator of the recognized danger
To renounce violence and
Likewise insist
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
By the governments of both countries.

Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
And also us, to be helped.

_____________________________________

This translation appeared in The Atlantic on 6 Apr 2012.

Gunter Grass [1927-2015], recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature, novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, sculptor, is probably the greatest German writer of the 20th century.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 23 Oct 2023.

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