Günter Grass Poetry: European Poets Analysis
Before he became a world-renowned novelist, Günter Grass wrote poetry that presaged, echoed, or underscored the tones and themes of his fiction. His poetry and fiction both owe a debt to Franz Kafka for their concise, parable-like nature.
From the beginning of his career, Grass demonstrated a unique poetic voice that offered readers and listeners several overlapping personas. The sensitive, wide-eyed teenager of World War IIwho witnessed terrible things that left indelible impressions on his psycheis seldom absent. The cynical critic is lurking, too, extrapolating on small observations to broach more complex issues of greater import, to ask questions for which there are no answers, and to hope for the best while expecting the worst. The radical liberal sometimes shows up to rant. Grass the humorist is often present: His wit is sometimes sardonic, tinted black, prurient, or crude, but comic relief has helped soften audience reaction as he deftly negotiates between the extremes of anarchy and servility. The most obvious presence is the craftsperson: Grass at his best has an uncanny ability to blend a few precise words with memorable images to produce symbols that extend into metaphors. His early verse in particular is notable for its concision: Grass pares language to its essence, resulting in epigram-like pieces (ostensibly about food or common objects or ordinary events) of surreal brevity with multiple layers of meaning.
Grass’s poetry, often enhanced by the author’s evocative drawings and etchings, generally touches on one of several broad subjects. A constant thread is autobiography, life as filtered through the poet’s consciousness, where the everyday has the potential to illuminate the universal. National history is also a major concern. Grass muses about the effects of the devastation wrought on Danzig, where he grew up, and of the demolition of Germany, and speculates on how events from the past shape the present and inform the future of his countrymen and of the world at large.
The poetry of Grass can be appreciated on several levels. Casual readers can enjoy the author’s sly turns of phrase, the quickly sketched visions that open up into panoramas of possibility, and the rhythm (and occasional rhyme), especially in bilingual editions. Depth of understanding can be increased from an examination of the meaning beneath the surface; the similes, metaphors, and allusions reveal new facets. Complete enjoyment of Grass’s poetry comes with specialized knowledge: the ability to grasp linguistic puns and...
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