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An airplane lands with a hundred liars on board.
The city greets them with a handful of flowers,
With a smell of naphthalene and sweat,
With a wind from the plains of Asia.
Beneath the floodlights the liars say
In fifty languages: We are against the war.
Quietly, I consider the liars to be right,
The liars are telling the truth, but
Why do they need fifty hours
For a single sentence?
When they depart, the flowers have turned gray.
The ashtrays overflow with butts joined in solidarity,
With unswerving cigar stubs
And unconquerable stumps.
Peace is swimming in the spittoons.
In the White House, under the floodlights
The honest people announce at the same hour
A new truth. The war is growing.
Only the liars are unswerving.
In the White House, the flowers are fresh,
The spittoons have been disinfected
And the ashtrays are as clean as bombs.
A blast of wind passes over the city,
A wind from the plains of Asia. A throttled woman
Whistles this way, as she battles for her life.
–Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Friedenskongreß in: Die Gedichte p. 270 (1983) (S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”