Of All That Ends

Leah Fritz offers a very personal response to a final compilation of writings by Günter Grass

Of All That Ends
Gunter Grass (Translated by Breon Mitchell)
ISBN: 9781784703684
176 pp   £8.99 

Grass wrote this when he was finished with life. At 88 and ill, he had a lot to think about, of course. This book includes poetry, short prose pieces, and extraordinary drawings. I too will be 88 at the end of May 2019, so I especially wanted this book. I got it out of the St. John’s Wood Public Library, which like most ‘public libraries’ in this country at the present time, is supported and run by the community, and there’s a hefty collection of books for sale outside. The libraries are very hungry. Well, I won’t go into the politics of this.

The translations are up front, so I didn’t have to go far to find this. In a poem called ‘Snail Mail’, Grass remembers the snails

labouring along the postal route, 
they come from far away,
on the road for years;
and I see myself each evening,
patiently deciphering their slimy trail,
reading what my dear dead friend,
what my beloved, wrote.

Grass writes about letters which no longer are handwritten and sent. They wind up as email, and something is lost, the handwriting, the mailman… In a prose passage elsewhere he says: ‘Soon we will have nothing more to say to each other. No secrets between the lines or implied in a hand that trembles – unless mail is written on its own, tenderly written in the sand at low tide.’ In a poem called “Libuse My Love”, Grass writes that recently he looked for her castle and found it in Bohemia. She’s given orders to the restorers to renew the facades. ‘It comforts me, their toil,/ for I too loved you/ on all sides/ in vain.’

In another poem, and I quote the whole of it, Grass writes:

up and out of bed
to clear with a sharp pencil
the flickering void;
that’s what we gain in old age:
sleep is a waste of time.
                                      [“After Endless Torment”]

How wonderful this book is for me. It was first published in 2015 by Steidl Verlag in German. Grass was born in 1927 and died in 2015. Wikipedia says he grew up in Hitler’s Germany where so many were tortured and killed. So he was 4 years older than me. I was 14 at the end of World War II. My final quotation comes from “Fear of Loss” which is a prose poem (I might as well dub all of Of All That Ends poetry, because it is, except the drawings – which are poetry in another language). This poem ends:

Not long ago I was searching, as I often do, for my eraser. Hopeless. The mongrel fear attacked:
with my last tooth I might lose other things too, the boulder I rolled, and you, who make up for
my more recent losses.