J. M. Cohen (essay date 1960)
SOURCE: Cohen, J. M. “The Vision of Apocalypse.” In Poetry of This Age: 1908-1958, pp. 105-06. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1960.
[In the following excerpt from his discussion of German Expressionism, Cohen describes Stramm's poetic style as concentrated and direct.]
The prime aim of Expressionism was to write powerfully of matters within the experience of the majority. It was, in fact, an attempt to reverse the esoteric drift of Symbolism. For this it had to break more violently with the German poetic tradition than Rilke or George, who had merely assimilated French influences. The Expressionists found it necessary to sacrifice the whole stiff syntax of their language. August Stramm (1874-1915), the most extreme of them, evolved a concentrated style that recalls that of the Imagists who were working on more peaceful themes at the same time in Britain and America.
Stramm's simple intention is to communicate the sights, sounds and horror of war more directly than would be possible in a reasoned and punctuated statement. He chooses his words to act as missiles that will explode in the reader's mind, with the impact of a shell. In describing a trench-attack he attempts with raw immediacy to convey not a picture or a recollection but the actual sensations of the moment itself:
Aus allen Winkeln gellen Fürchte Wollen Kreisch Peitscht Das Leben Vor Sich Her Den keuschen Tod Die Himmel fetzen Blinde schlächtert wildum das Entsetzen.
[From all corners fears yell will shriek whips life before it pure death the heavens shred blindly terror slaughters wildly on all sides.]
Each word is used in isolation and, lacking punctuation, most lines can be read in more than one way. Stramm uses nouns as verbs, and sometimes verbs as nouns. The alliteration is crude, the line-breaks arbitrary. The attempt to convey excitement succeeds, but there is no statement.