I Can’t Think of the Word (Mir fehlt ein Wort)


I am going to go to my grave without knowing what it is that birch leaves do. I know what it is, but I can’t say it in words. The wind blows through the young birches, their leaves vibrate so quickly back and forth that they… what? Shimmer? No, the light shimmers on them. One could perhaps, at most, say that the leaves shimmer, but that is not it. It is a nervous movement, but what is it? How does one say it? What one cannot say remains unresolved. ‚To speak about‘ is really important. Did Goethe say ‘the ripple of leaves’? I don’t want to get up to find out, it is such a long way to these reference books, five yards and a hundred years. What is it that the birch leaves do?

(Choir): “If that’s the biggest problem you have, we’d like to have some of it… Have you ever heard such…? The workers… And he is playing little games with the German language, which he doesn’t even write half as well as our Hans Grimm[1].“ Aerial earthed, end of transmission. I know it’s not the point, it’s convictions that count. The future belongs exclusively to the social novel, and current affairs. Oh, yes, I’ve done my homework! But I would like to say something:

If Upton Sinclair[2] were also a good writer, it would do our cause a great deal of good. If pacifist plays were also incisively written, so that the words drive home, that would also be to our advantage. Language is a weapon, keep it sharp! Whoever expresses himself sloppily will never be aken seriously. Whoever just spurts bits and pieces he has taken from newspapers, and quotations from public meetings, hasn’t got a leg to stand on. Read the chapter about the German language in Alfons Goldschmidt[3]‘s Deutschland Heute[4]. Like so many things, this is also thought to its conclusion there.

What is it that the birch leaves do? Only the birch leaves do it. The leaves of other trees move in the wind, they shiver and rustle, their branches wave. I am not short of any synonym, I know them all, but the birches are different, they are female trees. It’s funny how we always try to get around the problem with a comparison, if we can’t get there directly. There was an entire Austrian school of poetry which only expressed aural impressions facially, and olfactory impressions musically. It was an amusing parlour game, and some people even called it poetry, but what is it that the birch leaves do? While I am writing this, I get up every four lines and look at what they do. They are doing it, and I will pass away without having said it.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Grimm

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upton_Sinclair

[3] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfons_Goldschmidt. No English translation

[4] Germany Today

Author: Kurt Tucholsky

Published in: PantrTigerCo Tucholsky Panter, Tiger & Co.

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