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The Reprieve

April 22, 2001|Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Watching the famous eruption of a volcano on Heimaey, Iceland,

which was broadcast live by any number of TV teams,

I saw an elderly man in braces showered by sulphur and brimstone,

ignoring the storm, the heat, the video cables, the ash

and the spectators (including myself, crouching on my carpet

in front of the livid screen), who held a garden hose,

slender but clearly visible, aimed at the roaring lava,

until neighbors joined him, soldiers, children, firemen,

pointing more and more hoses at the advancing fiery lava

and turning it into a towering wall, higher and higher,

of lava, hard, cold and wet, the color of ash, and thus postponing,

not forever perhaps, but for the time being at least,

the Decline of Western Civilization, which is why

the people of Heimaey, unless they have died since,

continue to dwell unmolested by cameras

in their dapper white wooden houses,

calmly watering in the afternoon

the lettuce in their gardens, which, thanks to the blackened soil,

has grown simply enormous, and for the time being at least,

fails to show any signs of impending disaster.


Translated from German by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Rita Dove and Fred Viebahn. From "Selected Poems" by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (Sheep Meadow Press: 262 pp. $15.95)

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