The Midnight Sprite
The Midnight Sprite lifts his left hand
And twelve o’clock strikes across the land.
The pond listens with open jowls.
The canyondog so softly howls.
The bittern rises up in the reeds.
The mossfrog peeks out of its weeds.
The snail sits up in his house;
likewise the potatomouse.
The very will-o’-the-wisp halts now
and sits on a lone wind-broken bough.
Sophie, the maiden, has a vision:
The moonsheep goes to the high commission.
The gallows brothers sway in the breeze.
In a distant village a child weeps.
Two moles kiss on the hour
like newlyweds in their amour.
Deep in the dark forest mists
A nightmare clenches its fists:
While a late travelling sock
doesn’t lose its way in swamp and rock.
The raven Ralf calls out gruesomely: “Aai!
The end is nigh! The end is nigh!”
The Midnight Sprite lowers his left hand
And sleep once again falls on the land.
Palmström has become nervous;
So now he sleeps lying northwards.
Because sleeping to the east, the west, or south,
means that the heart is weakened.
(That is, when one lives in Europe,
not in the South in the tropics.)
Two scholars asserted this,
who had also converted Dickens —
and explained it by the constant
magnetism of the planets.
Thus Palmström heals himself locally,
takes his bed and places it northwards.
And in a dream, held in traps,
he hears the polar fox bark.
As von Korf is told of this,
he feels slightly pained;
because it’s self-evident to him
that one should sleep with the earth’s
revolution, with the post
of one’s body strictly eastwards.
And so he jokes caustically, pricelessly,
“No, my divan stays — west-easterly!”
The already slept sleep of healing
Palmström sleeps in front of twelve experts
the famous ‘Sleep before Midnight,’
to substantiate his healing power.
As he awakens at twelve,
the twelve experts are completely exhausted.
He alone is as fresh as a young hound!
In animal costume
Palmström loves to imitate animals
and tells two young tailors
to make only animal costumes.
So e.g. he likes to crouch as a raven
on the highest branch of an oak
and observe the heavens.
Frequently as a St Bernard
he raises a shaggy head over brave paws,
barks in his sleep dreaming of rescued wanderers.
Or he spins a web in his garden
from spaghetti and sits as a spider
all the day in its middle.
Or he swims, a staring-eyed carp,
around the fountain in his pond
and allows the children to feed him.
Or he hangs in the costume of a stork
beneath an airship’s gondola
and travels thus toward Egypt.
a kind of witticism,
that first works hours later.
Everyone hears it with boredom.
But as if tinder had been struck,
suddenly chuckling at night in bed,
one laughs blessedly like a satisfied baby.
Translated by Robert Mapson
Christian Morgenstern was born in 1871 in Munich. He wrote numerous short pieces and sketches, various volumes of lyric poetry, and translated authors such as Ibsen, but it is for his occasional nonsense verse, collected as the Complete Gallows Songs, that he is well known today. These works are now considered precursors of Modernism and Dadaism.
Originally an adherent of Nietzsche, he later became a follower (quite literally, travelling from town to town to hear him speak) of Rudolf Steiner.
Morgenstern died in 1914, aged 42, from long standing tuberculosis.