A new addition to the book of heroic failures — Gunter Grass

One of my favorite books is a tattered paperback tucked safely into my bookshelf, called The Book of Heroic Failures: The Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain. It’s a humorous compilation of things that just didn’t go right.

Two of the more charming chapters introduce us to the worst British and the worst American poets.  The worst British poet is William Topas McGonagall:

He was so giftedly bad that he backed unwittingly into genius.  Combining a minimal feel for the English language with a total lack of self-awareness and nil powers of observation, he became a poet.

Sitting in his back room in Paton’s Lane, Dundee, wishing he was on holiday, he was seized with a desire to write poetry.  He paced the room, saying, ‘But I know nothing about poetry.’  Thus qualified he sat down and penned his first great work:

An Address to the Rev George Gilfillan

All hail to the Rev George Gilfillan of Dundee,
He is the greatest preacher I did ever hear or see.
He is a man of genius bright,
And in him his congregation does delight,
Because they find him to be honest and plain,
Affable in temper, and seldom known to complaint.

It goes on, but I won’t torture you.  In any event, McGonagall was a piker when compared to America’s entry into the poetic fray, Julia Moore, “The Sweet Singer of Michigan.”  Mark Twain, with his appreciation for the ridiculous, was a great fan.

Her verse is mainly concerned with violent death — the great fire of Chicago and the yellow fever epidemic proved natural subjects for her pen.

Whether the death was by drowning, by fits or by runaway sleigh, the formula was the same:

Have you heard of the dreadful fate
Of Mr. P. P. Bliss and wife?
Of their death I will relate,
And also others lost their life
(in the) Ashbula Bridge disaster,
Where so many people died.

Even if you started out reasonably healthy in one of Julia’s poems, the chances are that after a few stanzas you would be at the bottom of a river or struck by lightening.  A critic of the said she was ‘worse than a Gatlin gun’ and in one slim volume counted 21 killed and 9 wounded.

Incredibly some newspapers were critical of her work, even suggesting that the sweet singer was ‘semi-literate.’  Her reply was forthright:  ‘The Editors that has spoken in this scandalous manner, have went beyond reason.’  She added that ‘literary work is very difficult to do.’

The above examples of heroically bad verse have a certain antiquated charm and strive for moral uplift.  The same cannot be said for the newest entrant into the lists, Gunter Grass — former Nazi, current Leftist, fulminating antisemite, and terrible poet.  Owing to his past fame, Gunter managed to get published a poem that simultaneously castigates Israel as a tyrannical, genocidal cesspool, while celebrating Iran’s wonderfulness:

That is the claimed right to the formal preventive aggression
which could erase the Iranian people
dominated by a bouncer and moved to an organized jubilation,
because in the area of his competence there is
the construction of the atomic bomb.


Now, since my country,
from time to time touched by unique and exclusive crimes,
obliged to justify itself,
again for pure business aims – even if
with fast tongue we call it “reparation” –
should deliver another submarine to Israel,
with the specialty of addressing
annihilating warheads where the
existence of one atomic bomb is not proved
but it wants evidence as a scarecrow,
I say what must be said.


And I admit: I won’t be silent
because I had enough of the Western hypocrisy;
Because I wish that many will want
to get rid of the silence,
exhorting the cause of a recognizable
risk to the abdication, asking that a free and permanent control
of the Israel atomic power
and the Iran nuclear bases
will be made by both the governments
with an international supervision.

The poem is not more melodious in its original German:

Es ist das behauptete Recht auf den Erstschlag,
der das von einem Maulhelden unterjochte
und zum organisierten Jubel gelenkte
iranische Volk auslöschen könnte,
weil in dessen Machtbereich der Bau
einer Atombombe vermutet wird.


Jetzt aber, weil aus meinem Land,
das von ureigenen Verbrechen,
die ohne Vergleich sind,
Mal um Mal eingeholt und zur Rede gestellt wird,
wiederum und rein geschäftsmäßig, wenn auch
mit flinker Lippe als Wiedergutmachung deklariert,
ein weiteres U-Boot nach Israel
geliefert werden soll, dessen Spezialität
darin besteht, allesvernichtende Sprengköpfe
dorthin lenken zu können, wo die Existenz
einer einzigen Atombombe unbewiesen ist,
doch als Befürchtung von Beweiskraft sein will,
sage ich, was gesagt werden muß.


Und zugegeben: ich schweige nicht mehr,
weil ich der Heuchelei des Westens
überdrüssig bin; zudem ist zu hoffen,
es mögen sich viele vom Schweigen befreien,
den Verursacher der erkennbaren Gefahr
zum Verzicht auf Gewalt auffordern und
gleichfalls darauf bestehen,
daß eine unbehinderte und permanente Kontrolle
des israelischen atomaren Potentials
und der iranischen Atomanlagen
durch eine internationale Instanz
von den Regierungen beider Länder zugelassen wird.

John Hinderaker, who was the first person I saw, not just to report on the story, but actually to look at little Gunter’s verse, provides the perfect epitaph for writing that has as it’s only virtue the fact that it perfectly exposes the Left’s creative and moral vacuity:

Other news sources have quoted somewhat different translations, but you get the picture. That isn’t poetry, it is mindless left-wing noodling with occasional line breaks.

I don’t think there was ever actually a time when patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel, but isn’t it obvious that leftism is the last refuge not only of scoundrels, but of the untalented, the over the hill, the too scared to be anything but conventional, and the depraved?

Just as a palette cleanser, because I feel pretty dirty right about now:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o’er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o’er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent;
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.

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  • jj

    Probably not fair to compare anyone else who ever lived to Byron when he was at his best. He was just one of those guys who occasionally come along. On a good day there really isn’t anybody else.
    Poetry’s an acquired taste.  The only way to acquire it is go there, but it isn’t taught any more, and most people neither understand nor like it – including, apparently, many of those who presume to produce it these days.  Generally people who read it at all will wind up much as they do with music: you don’t own an album – you compile your own.  Your MP3 will have a contribution from forty different artists in it. You’ll have one or two from Shelley, one or two from Keats; Tennyson, Wordsworth, Arnold, Browning, Hopkins; Owen; Wilde; Thomas; of course Cynara makes most everybody’s cut – and from Byron, maybe as many as four or five.  Possibly if you’re so inclined a sonnet or two from Shakespeare (#129 explicates sex better than anything else ever written), and if you want a German in there it’s going to have to be Heinrich Heine; not poor old Gunter, a lifelong poseur at best.  (You want German with a soul – read Enfant Perdu, the Houghton translation.)
    But comparing him to Byron, well – that’s just not fair.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    I knew it wasn’t fair when I did it, jj, but I couldn’t resist.  I’m not much of a poetry lover myself, being firmly wedded to prose, but I do think that Byron poem is an exceptional example of the English language at its most beautiful.  There are a few other bits and pieces of British verse that just thrill me.  My German father used to try to get me to hear the music in Schiller and Goethe, but he failed in that effort.

  • Danny Lemieux

    “Leftism is the last refuge of the untalented”

    I can’t think of a more devastating, cutting slight against the Liberal ego!

    That is certainly a keeper. 

  • Gringo

    Poetry, schmoetry. English teachers and their analyzing did a nearly complete job of ruining poetry’s attraction for me.   Poetry is for speaking and for listening. If you neither like listening to it, nor like speaking it, fugettaboutit. Forget the GD analysis. Speak it. [Declaim it?]Do you like how it sounds?
    That Byron reminded me of Bob Dylan’s She Belongs to Me. [I knew a future English professor – he was a grad student at the time- who claimed this song was about the USA. Who knows? I don’t analyze.]

    She’s got everything she needs
    She’s an artist, she don’t look back
    She’s got everything she needs
    She’s an artist, she don’t look back
    She can take the dark out of nighttime
    And paint the daytime black.

    You will start out standing
    Proud to steal her anything she sees
    You will start out standing
    Proud to steal her anything she sees
    But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole
    Down upon your knees.

    She never stumbles
    She’s got no place to fall
    She never stumbles
    She’s got no place to fall
    She’s nobody’s child
    The Law can’t touch her at all.

    She wears an Egyptian ring
    That sparkles before she speaks
    She wears an Egyptian ring
    That sparkles before she speaks
    She’s a hypnotist collector
    You are a walking antique.

    Bow down to her on Sunday
    Salute her when her birthday comes
    Bow down to her on Sunday
    Salute her when her birthday comes
    For Halloween buy her a trumpet
    And for Christmas, give it a drum.
    Powerline has a succinct way of  summing up Gunter Grass, with his decades of preaching to us- in his books, in his interminable  political statements, and now, in his poetry:
    Still, most people, if they had a stint in the SS in their past, would have the delicacy to avoid posing as a moral arbiter.
    Gunter Grass  has spent a half century as a moral arbiter. He is but a blowhard.

  • Mike Devx

    Every once in a while someone on the Left does us a favor and drops their mask, to show us their clear truth.

    Poor Iran, victim of the terrible aggressor Israel!  
    Poor Iran, the innocent victim of the heartless Israel!

    I suppose I shouldn’t ask the question: WHICH of these two countries has been repeatedly threatening to wipe the other off the face of the earth, murdering in a frenzied genocide all of its people?

    But I guess Israel – according to Gunter Grass – has absolutely no right to defend itself against repeated public threats of genocide by Iran.

    What is the definition of evil?  Does it include defending, enabling, and encouraging genocide?