GEFÄNGNIS by Emmy Hennings


translated by John Goodby, adapted by John Goodby and David Annwn







Im Süden rauscht das Wasser Seide 

Wir wohnen in den schmalen Zellen 

Durchs Gitter dringt in kleinen Wellen 

Die Sehnsucht nach der fernen Heide. 


Mein Taschentuch hat grünen Saum 

Ein gelbes Feld ist in der Mitte 

Und auf und ab sechs kleine Schritte.

Mein Taschentuch, mein grüner Baum…






Wie siehst denn du die Welt? 

Bei mir ist es so: 

Schmerzend und lichterloh. 

In der Katorga starb ein Held. 


Und hängende Rosen blühen am See 

Die Türen sind fest verschlossen. 

Durchs Gitter ist Abendrot geflossen. 

Dein Sohn, Madonna, dein Weh!






Am Seil der Hoffnung ziehn wir uns zu Tode. 

Beneidet auf Gefängnishöfen sind die Raben. 

Oft zucken unsre nie geküssten Lippen. 

Ohnmächtige Einsamkeit, du bist erhaben. 

Da draussen liegt die Welt - da rauscht das Leben. 

Da dürfen Menschen gehn, wohin sie wollen. 

Einmal gehörten wir doch auch zu denen 

Und jetzt sind wir vergessen und verschollen.  

Nachts träumen wir Wunder auf schmalen Pritschen 

Tags gehn wir einher gleich scheuen Tieren. 

Wir lugen traurig durchs Eisengitter 

Und haben nichts mehr zu verlieren 

Als unser Leben, das Gott uns gab. 

Der Tod nur liegt in unsrer Hand. 

Die Freiheit kann uns niemand nehmen: 

Zu gehen in das unbekannte Land. 






Das war in der heiligen Weihenacht 

Ich lag in stiller Zelle. 

In überirdischer Helle 

Der Stern von Bethlehem hielt Wacht.


„Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her“.

Es läuten alle Glocken. 

Im Sträflingskleid auf Socken: 

„Ich bring euch gute neue Mär“






Ich lebe im — Vielleicht. 

Ich bin die grosse Frage. 

Und alles sei nur Sage, 

Soweit Gedanke reicht. 


Es kommt das grosse Schweigen 

Und hüllt mich zärtlich ein. 

Kann alles anders sein…

Ich will mich hilflos neigen. 






„Menschen! Bettler! Stellt euch auf! 

Auf die Strasse, wo die grossen Häuser sind! 

Herausfordernde Häuser.“

Menschen stehen stumm an die Wand gelehnt, 

Das Gesicht gestreckt gen Osten. 

Die Hände in den Taschen. 

Immer mehr Menschen, 

Millionen stumme Menschen. 

„O erbarmendes Schweigen,

O Berg des Schweigens, 

Fall über uns!

Nimm uns, gütiger Satan, 

Uns, deine dunklen Kinder!“










In the south, the water’s silk rushes

We live in small, narrow cells 

Through the bars, in little gusts, 

The longing for the distant heath. 


My handkerchief has a green hem 

A yellow field there in the middle 

And up and down six little steps ... 

My handkerchief, my green tree ... 






So how do you see the world? 

To me, it looks like this: 

Going up in flames, and in agony. 

A hero died in Katorga. 


And hanging roses bleed by the lake 

The doors are firmly shut.

Sunset has flowed out through the bars. 

Your son, Madonna, your woe!






We haul ourselves deathwards on cords of hope. 

Ravens are envious of the prison-yard. 

Our never-kissed lips often tremble. 

Impotent loneliness you reign supreme. 

Out there is the world — where life rushes past. 

A person there may go where she wants. 

There was a time when we belonged with them

And now we’ve been forgotten and lost. 

By night, cramped in bunks, we dream of wonders, 

By day we move like shy creatures. 

Sadly, we peer through the iron bars

We have nothing more left to lose

Except the life God gave to us.

Only our deaths are in our hands.

No-one can take away our freedom:

To go into the unfamiliar land.






It was on Christmas Eve 

I lay in a quiet cell. 

In unearthly light, the star

Of Bethlehem kept watch.


‘I come down from Heaven on high’:

All the bells were ringing out. 

In convict garb and socks: 

‘I bring a great new fairy tale’.






I exist in — perhaps. 

I am the great question. 

And everything is just a rumour, 

As far as thought can tell. 


There comes the great silence 

To tenderly envelop me. 

Everything can be different ... 

I want to bow down helplessly. 






‘All of you! You beggars! Line up! 

Down on the street, where the big houses are! 

Houses that are pure provocation.’ 

People lean against the wall, voiceless 

Their faces turned to the east. 

Hands in pockets. 

More and more people, 

Millions of speechless people. 

‘O merciful silence, 

O mountain of silence, 

Take us, Satan most kind,  

Us, your dark children!’



















So how do you see the whole interface

or if you could come to it at this remove

and — is there galactic space implied

for ‘me’, the answerer of the anagram-poem:

to stand back from combustibility beyond the sun’s

longevity, a hero


hangs bleeding strung the roses of Katorga

starvation camps

another time-zone midnight;

prison makes all — doors fast — prisoners one;

sunset’s trickled out

Your Son, Madonna

yours’ the bars’ dimensions,

a captive of your questions are

the questions you offer to questions









We haul ourselves deathwards on lifelines of hope

                                             unlike the beasts we

                           thread with desire

the ravens down in the prison-yard are envied

                                             know we shall die & cannot live

                           1. no pl (a) capture (of an animal)

our never-kissed lips often trembling

                                             in the present as they so solely do

                           oft zucken Zucker sweet

o helpless loneliness you are supreme

                                             & therefore we invented hope      

                           (exalted) (magnificent) (sublime)

there outside is the world there life rushes

                                             hope is what we must lose not

                           a blind force roars

there people may go when & wherever they please

                                             in order to become animal

                           pure Will rules

once we were of their company & had our place there

                                             again but to pass

                           taken down from the doch

now we have been forgotten & lost in oblivion

                                              beyond the limits of the puppet

                           dis/appeared dissed displaced

by night we dream miracles on plank beds

                                             the most important thing we ever do

                           Wunder our wound

by day we move like terrified beasts

                                             each day is not kill ourselves

                           creatures creatures shy at

sadly gazing thorough the iron bars

                                             & the only way to deal

                           a grating on the ungreat

we have nothing left to lose

                                             with an unfree world

                           which is our los

except our life which was a gift of God

                                             is to become so absolutely free

                           a cold love on high

our death alone remains within our power

                                             that our very existence

                           a bird in the hand

that inalienable freedom we cannot lose

                                             is an act of rebellion

                           to go unknown to vanish

of travelling into the unfamiliar land









A made place,

                              quiescent cell.

It could be ‘Zur heiligen Weihnacht’ by Adolph Kolping

the shepherd’s son, or a million

others devotionals in Deutschland Gothic fractura


It is a world of printer’s shops

homilies caught inside cells receding in Droste

effect vanishings, into Nuremburger

child-like miniscule

except for the convict

rags and bells, you wake forgetting

you’re in fairytale no









I exist in — pure Perhapsness — Maybe

Who knew — knows — asks

if I’m the great Question —

& all beyond is Rumour

as far as Mind ever — grasps


It arrives — great expected Silence

& tenderly wraps me round —

Can it — it can?   all be              different


Helplessly          I bow down









“All of you”

It’s the big “Stellt euch auf!” round-up

rhyming with Raus Raus

on Fat Cat strasse


gape envy


the voicelessness and leaning

takes no prisoners

not like these:

it is not us, but was the places you whatever EH


as we slouch to onlook panorama

more and more

‘millionen’ requires no trans-


the pocketed hands

lines of



sil(                   mountain             )ence

appeal to Satan

your risk of ‘uns’ ‘uns’ sun

darkly occluded

in absence













John Goodby lives near York and works at Sheffield Hallam University.  He is the author of several works on Dylan Thomas, including the annotated centenary edition of the Collected Poems (Orion 2014 / New Directions 2016).  His poetry includes Illennium (Shearsman, 2010) and The No Breath (Red Ceilings, 2017); among his translations are Heine's Germany: A Winter's Tale (Smokestack, 2005), No Soy Tu Musa: antología de poetas irlandesas with Carlota Caulfield (Torremozas, 2008) and Adel Guémar’s State of Emergency (Arc, 2007), with Tom Cheesman.  He is the editor, with Lyndon Davies, The Edge of Necessary: Welsh innovative poetry 1966-2018 (Aquifer / Boiled String, 2018).


David Annwn worked for the Open University in Leeds and Manchester for many years and is based in Wakefield, Yorkshire.  He is an expert on the Victorian phantasmagoria magic lantern show and Gothic writing and film, the author of Gothic Effigy: A Guide to Dark Visibilities (Manchester University Press, 2018) and Sexuality and the Gothic Magic Lantern: Desire, Eroticism and Literary Visibilities from Byron to Bram Stoker (Palgrave, 2014).  Among his many poetry publications, collaborations and translations are the spirit / that kiss (North and South, 1993), Bela Fawr’s Cabaret (West House, 2008), Disco Occident (Knives Forks & Spoons, 2013), Dreaming Across the Wake Field (2017), Red Bank (Knives Forks & Spoons, 2018) and Resonance Field (Aquifer, 2021).



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