Fragile Sweetness

Based on Die Zärtlichkeiten, by Stefan Zweig
Tr. by Carla Stockton

I love those initial anxious tendernesses
Dangling halfway between maybe and YES.
Trusting, distrusting, hesitant, pursued
By weighted arrows, stalking memories.

They are airy menace – mere scent, a paltry whiff of blood,
A glance, a smile, the gossamer graze of a gloved hand.
They crackle with excitement, seducing, tempting as they rise
Only to spiral down, flames twisting in the ribbon of night.

Yet oddly sweet they are, a playful presence
Gentle and naïve, perhaps a bit confused
Like saplings shivering in the merciless March wind
That draws near to crush them in its pitiless fist.

Die Zärtlichkeiten

By Stefan Zweig

ich liebe jene ersten bangen Zärtlichkeiten,
Die halb noch Frage sind und halb schon Anvertraun,
Weil hinter ihnen schon die anderen Stunden schreiten,
Die sich wie Pfeile wuchtend in das Leben baun.

Ein Duft sind sie, des Blutes flüchtigste Berührung,
Ein rascher Blick, ein Lächeln, eine leise Hand –
Sie knistern schon wie rote Funken der Verführung
Und stürzen Feuergraben in der Nächte Band.

Und sind sie doch seltsam süß, weil sie im Spiel gegeben
Noch sanft und absichtslos und leise nur verwirrt,
Wie Bäume, die dem Frühlingswind entgegenbeben,
Der sie in seiner harten Faust zerbrechen wird.

 


Born in 1881 in Vienna, Stefan Zweig was once among the most famous writers in the German speaking world, though in translation his work never quite regained the breadth of its readership.  He became more famous for “discovering” Joseph Roth, and for nurturing Roth's career; nowadays Roth's place in the pantheon is far more recognizable that Zweig's. 

By the time Zweig wrote Die Zärtlichkeiten, his grief was bottomless, the result of his  disillusionment with love and the loss of his homeland. 

In 1936, after Nazis ransacked his palatial manor outside Vienna, Zweig left and joined a group of writers in Belgium, where they planned to summer before returning to Austria, by which time, Zweig believed, the country would have come to its senses and thrown the Nazis out.  Of course, that did not happen.  The Nazis confiscated everything Zweig had left in his castle, and by summer's end, it was clear that Anschluß was imminent.  Zweig fled, eventually landing in Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he and his second wife committed suicide together in 1942.

Interest in Zweig’s work was recently rekindled by Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel, which was based on Zweig's various autobiographical writings and which captured the dreamlike quality of much of Zweig’s fiction.

 

Carla Stockton is currently working to complete her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Literary Translation at Columbia University School of the Arts.  Her translation thesis project, an adaptation of King Gordogan, an absurdist play by Croatian playwright Radovan Ivsic, is being prepared for production, and her essays have recently been featured in The Toast and The Guardian.  Raised by a family who revered their compatriot and coreligionist Stefan Zweig, Carla's review of Ostend, by Volker Weiderman and translated by Carol Janeway, about Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth and their summer retreat in Ostend, Belgium in 1936, will be featured in the January 4 edition of Bookslut