Swansea, “the real centre of the universe” - new work by visiting German poet

A prize-winning German poet and novelist, who has been visiting Swansea and working with students, has revealed that his latest work is a new poem about the city, which he says "often feels like the real centre of the universe”.

The poem, printed in full below, takes its title  -“quite early one morning” - from a Dylan Thomas story.  It refers to the city’s history, landmarks and its setting, with its “wandering water far from the shore”.   

‌The poet, Jörg Bernig, is from Dresden.  He has been in Swansea  as writer in Residence at the Centre for Contemporary German Culture at Swansea University, in a scheme supported by the German government (DAAD).

Swansea at sunsetJörg was a German language tutor at Swansea University in the early 1990s.  Before that he was a uranium miner in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

‌The new poem has been released ahead of a public reading by Jörg Bernig from a new book of English translations of his poems, entitled flower angel ship

The reading is on Wednesday 13 November, at Noah’s Yard bar, Uplands, Swansea starting at 7pm. The event is free of charge and open to all. 

Since 1998 Jörg Bernig has published poetry, short stories and three novels, one of which, Weder Ebbe noch Flut, (Neither Low nor High Tide) is set in Swansea.  He has been awarded several prestigious prizes for his literary work, which has been translated into Romanian, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Italian, Czech and English.

Jörg Bernig said:

“I’m staying in Townhill, in a house with a magnificent view over the city and the bay. After the first few rainy days, the sun came out one morning and sparked this poem. For me it is full of happy memories of my years in Wales.  It’s about the way Swansea often feels like the real centre of the universe.”

Jorg BernigDr Tom Cheesman, from the department of languages, translation and communication at Swansea University, said:

“It’s been a rare privilege for our students to work with a poet of such distinction. It’s fascinating to translate his poems, which are incredibly rich in layers of meaning.

Many of them are partly inspired by Swansea poets such as Dylan Thomas and Vernon Watkins. We hope to invite Jörg back again next year for the centenary of Dylan’s birth.”

Picture:  Jörg Bernig

Jörg Bernig’s poem for Swansea: translation by Tom Cheesman:

quite early one morning
for Swansea (29.10.2013)

the sun’s easing over the bay
the wandering water is far from the shore
a few foaming breakers seem to be calling:
come hither come with us
out here are all your years
are all the years of the world
since the beginning of all of all
great ships today’s Cape Horners circumnavigators glide
all but invisible through a distantly sinking veil                                                                                            that as if she’d a chill the Devon coast draws around her shoulders
and the Mumbles lighthouse is taking a rest from his nightwork
a Welsh eye which is tired from winking
above the singsong the roofs of the city
birds are floating white ones and black ones and they’re calling
words hither full of wonders and unheard of

Original German:

ziemlich früh eines morgens
für Swansea (29.X.13)
die sonne zieht über die bucht
das wandernde wasser ist weit nun vom ufer
ein paar schäumende wellen scheinen zu rufen:
komm her und komm mit
hier draußen sind all deine jahre
sind alle jahre der welt
seit dem anfang von allem und allem
große schiffe Cape Horner von heute erdumrunder gleiten
unsichtbar fast durch einen fern sinkenden schleier
mit dem als würde sie’s frösteln die küste von Devon sich deckt
und der leuchtturm von Mumbles ruht aus von seinem nachtwerk
ein walisisches auge müde vom blinzeln
über dem singsang den dächern der stadt
schweben vögel weiße und schwarze und sie rufen
worte her der wunder voll und unerhört

The launch of flower angel ship – a new collection of English translations of Jorg Bernig’s poetry – is at Noah’s Yard, Uplands, Swansea, at 7pm on Weds 13 November.  All are welcome and entry is free.

Jorg Bernig's visit supported by:

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