Poetry by eighty-four year-old Germans is rarely read by anyone, however Gunther Grass’s WHAT MUST BE SAID has reaped the Nobel Prize winner a firestorm of condemnation from Israel and Germany. The Israeli interior minister went so far as to declare the writer of THE TIN DRUM ‘persona non grata’ and demand that Norway stripped the novelist of his award for literature.
The poem criticized both the Fatherland and the Mideast nation for endangering world peace through an arms race designed to attack Iran.
Few people have read the poem, so here it is.
Make your own judgment.
WHAT MUST BE SAID
What is obvious and has been
Practiced in war games, at the end of which we as survivors
Are at best footnotes.
It is the alleged right to the first strike
That could annihilate the Iranian people—
Subjugated by a loud-mouth
And guided to organized jubilation—
Because in their sphere of power,
It is suspected, a nuclear bomb is being built.
Yet why do I forbid myself
To name that other country
In which, for years, even if secretly,
There has been a growing nuclear potential at hand
But beyond control, because not accessible to inspections?
The universal concealment of these facts,
To which my silence subordinated itself,
I sense as an incriminating lie
And coercion–the punishment is promised
As soon as it is ignored;
The verdict of “anti-Semitism” is familiar.
Now, though, because in my country
Which time and again has sought and confronted
Its very own crimes
That is without comparison
In turn on a purely commercial basis, if also
With nimble lips calling it a reparation, declares
A further U-boat should be delivered to Israel,
Whose specialty consists of guiding all-destroying warheads to where the existence
Of a single atomic bomb is unproven,
But fear wishes to be of conclusive evidence,
I say what must be said.
But why have I stayed silent until now?
Because I thought my origin,
Afflicted by a stain never to be expunged
Forbade this fact as pronounced truth
To be told to the nation of Israel, to which I am bound
And wish to stay bound.
Why do I say only now,
Aged and with my last ink,
The nuclear power Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace?
Because it must be said
What even tomorrow may be too late to say;
Also because we–as Germans burdened enough–
Could become suppliers to a crime
That is foreseeable, wherefore our complicity
Could not be redeemed through any of the usual excuses.
And granted: I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the West’s hypocrisy;
In addition to which it is to be hoped
That this will free many from silence,
Appeal to the perpetrator of the recognizable danger
To renounce violence and
That an unhindered and permanent control
Of the Israeli nuclear potential
And the Iranian nuclear sites
Be authorized through an international agency
By the governments of both countries.
Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,
Even more, all people, that in this
Region occupied by mania
Live cheek by jowl among enemies,
And also us, to be helped.
It certainly doesn’t sound like Robert Frost’s A ROAD NOT TAKEN, but I don’t write poetry any more and I don’t have any plans to visit Israel in the future.
And I’m sure that neither does Gunther Grass.