Dreamweed: Poems by Yvan Goll

Publication Date: October 2012


In the last weeks of his life, Yvan Goll was consumed with completing his poems inspired by “das Traumkraut” or the dreamweed. The poems appeared on every scrap of paper he could find-envelopes, prescriptions, newspaper margins-all written “with the tiny birds of his beautiful handwriting.” Poets of many nationalities, including the young Paul Celan, lined up to donate blood so that Yvan could finish his work. But after great suffering and a prolonged battle for his life, Yvan Goll succumbed to death on 27 February 1950. His body was finally laid to rest in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, opposite the grave of Chopin.

In these Dreamweed poems, death becomes Yvan Goll’s familiar, and love is his salvation in a winter world of pain. The snow creates a death mask for him. His body is no longer his body but a hostel for his ancestors’ bones; his heart is plundered for iron; his kidneys are meat for a bloodhound; his flesh is consumed by eternal fire. Yet wandering down the road to death and tumbling down the steps into the ocean of time, Yvan Goll, in the guise of Jean sans Terre, continues to seek and question. Ultimately it is love that sustains him as his earthly body crumbles to dust and his spirit rises from the confines of his hospital bed to soar freely among the stars in the vastness of eternal night.


“Yvan Goll’s work has been undeservedly underappreciated and I am very glad to know that his Traumkraut will see print.”

-Galway Kinnell

A man face to face with Death has nothing to hide. In these magnificent and stirring last poems, the great Yvan Goll is recording nothing less than the disintegration of the European soul, using the intellectual resources of a highly influential and cosmopolitan imagination. One of the finest and most revered poets of the 20th Century, Goll receives the tender treatment he deserves in these remarkably vivid and masterful translations.”

-Keith Flynn

Nan Watkins brings us the gift of Yvan Goll in English, retaining the poet’s enigmatic lyricism and profoundly introspective sensibility. This collection not only brings forth the well-tempered passion of a great poet’s voice, but also stands as a remarkable achievement in the art of translation. Focusing on his later poems, Watkins brings the German original into a highly readable English. Dreamweed is ground-breaking–a tribute to Goll and the possibilities of language as alchemical gold.”

-Neeli Cherkovski

These are mystical poems recalling the visions of a dying man, who perceives the despair as well as the incomprehensible beauty of death. The deeply haunting poems of Yvan Goll’s final years, here masterfully translated and transplanted into the English by Nan Watkins, describe the strange, rare flower that blooms from the hollow of the poet’s skull, poems full of unconditional love, impossible pain, inevitable doubt, towers of forgetting and rumors of a beauty beyond the world we inhabit.”

-Caleb Beissert

Nan Watkins is responsible for bringing this first English translation of the final poems of the brilliant 20th century poet Yvan Goll and such a gift it is. Her introduction to this collection almost stands alone as a novella/biography of this under known poet in the United States. It is extraordinary writing on the part of Nan Watkins!”


Watkins has brought the German across into English more than creditably-and credibly.”


About the Authors

© Collection du Musée Pierre-Noël, Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France, cote VIII A 5-4 4033-4

Yvan Goll

YVAN GOLL (1891-1950) is one of the great lyric poets and authors of the twentieth century. His birth in Alsace-Lorraine gave him native fluency in French and German, making him a commanding bilingual poet, but his work is little known to English-speaking audiences today. His facility to absorb different cultures and points of view produced a large and varied body of work. Living and working among the Dadaists in Zurich, the Expressionists in Berlin and the Surrealists in Paris, Goll penned some of the finest love poems of our time. His satiric drama Methusalem, or the Eternal Bourgeois (1921), was a precursor to the Theatre of the Absurd. His "Manifesto for Surrealism," honored Apollinaire and debated Breton. His early interest in film yielded Chapliniade. His active life as a novelist, playwright, translator and publisher produced collaborations with Chagall, Dali, Picasso, Leger, Weill, Joyce, et al. Among those he published during his exile years in New York are W.C. Williams, Breton, Patchen, Henry Miller, as well as his own English collection, Fruit From Saturn. His diagnosis of leukemia sparked his last passionate poems in Traumkraut. This classic volume appears for the first time in English with Black Lawrence Press.

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Nan Watkins

Nan Watkins is a writer, translator, musician, and librarian. She holds degrees from Oberlin College and Johns Hopkins University, with further study at the University of Munich and the Academy of Music in Vienna. She worked as reference librarian at Western Carolina University and lives near Asheville, North Carolina. Her travel writing has appeared with Seal Press in Season of Adventure and A Woman Alone, along with her memoir, East Toward Dawn: A Woman's Solo Journey Around the World, (also in Chinese). Her conversations with musicians, made together with Thomas Rain Crowe, are documented in Rare Birds (University Press of Mississippi). Her translations from the German include Erwin Eisch's "Towards a Conception of Glass Art" (Eisch Retrospective, exhibition catalog), Karin Struck's "Voluntary Death" (Dimension), and Christine Brückner's "Sappho's Farewell" (Oxygen). She translated Claire Goll's poems in 10,000 Dawns: The Love Poems of Yvan & Claire Goll (White Pine Press) and has published translations of Yvan Goll's poems in Asheville Poetry Review, International Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal. Her interest in the work of Yvan Goll has led to publication of several essays; her translation of Goll's late work, Traumkraut, is published by Black Lawrence Press as Dreamweed.

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