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Seenot is a dark little emo-goth song by Joachim Witt (see: track 6 of Bayeuth II), but it is also a short little poem by Kurt Schwitters, known by many as being tangentially related to but not an actual part of Dada. Just a short entry today.

I got the Witt from Christoph back in 2001 or so, which is to say, shortly after Bayeuth II came out. Upon listening to this Joachim Witt it's hard to imagine him as the guy who performed the classic early 80s “Der Goldene Reiter” that is found on Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW) collections, especially if you've seen the video to that song (you can occasionally find it on YouTube). The newer 90s Witt is a mix of Napoleon and Johnny Cash, the man in black with a little pomp, circumstance, and regalia.

unter'm Fuss kein festes Land
meine Hand sucht Widerstand
festes Fleisch wird uferlos
und die Welt ein warmer Schoss

Not exactly award-winning verse, though better than my own penned products I'll admit. The first stanza gives us the dislocation, the second a little trip through the landscape, and the third a zombie mermaid (or, perhaps just a metaphor for death and dying).

Most people who know Schwitters (1887–1948) probably know him for the rather famous poem “An Anna Blume” (1919). I'm skipping that one today, though it is a sentimental favorite of mine, not just because of the text but also because there is a Berlin cafe I rather like called Anna Blume.

Instead I'll go with “Seenot,” which has a rather different tone than the song by Joachim Witt.


Wenn die Kraniche bellen
Auf den tanzenden Wellen,
Muß das Schifflein zerschellen.

Und die tausende Raketen,
Die beleuchten das täten,
Würden grausam zertreten.

Wer das jemals erlebet,
An den Zähnen erbebet
Und ins Jenseits entschwehöbet!

—By Kurt Schwitters

To keep the analysis brief: what one notices here as with other verse by Schwitters is that he doesn't keep to the orthographic or grammar conventions of standard High German. Quite a few poems by Rilke contain one sentence per line, but generally the syntax is such that Rilke manages to be both supremely lyrical and rhetorical at once, whereas the one ‘sentence’ per stanza model in “Seenot” is a matter of loosely linked clauses of similar syllable length and consistent end-rhyme. With August Stramm I would expect the rhyme to result in a pounding home of the violence or insanity or war or modernity. Take your pick. But here I instead read a sing-songiness that runs out of breath as the third line approaches. The modal and subjunctive (muß and würden) of the 2nd and 3rd stanzas lend them each a prophetic tone. This tone and the imagery work well on their own but the poem as a whole feels like a random collection of sentence parts held loosely together by rhyme.

Thus instead of a mediocre poem I'll finish this with a list of software engineering proverbs.

—February 22 2007