Selected Poems by Oscar Kanehl

Oscar Kanehl (1888 – 1929) was a German poet and communist activist. From 1908 he studied philosophy and German literature at the Humboldt University in Berlin and at the University of Greifswald. After completing his studies, Kanehl published a short-lived journal entitled “Wiecker Bote”, which contained important texts of early literary expressionism. Kanehl also published in “Die Aktion”, an journal for art, literature and left-wing politics. In 1914 Oscar Kanehl was called up for military service. He rejected the war and wrote anti-war poems.

After World War I, Kanehl joined the German Communist Party, but after a short time he switched to various ultra-left splits of the party. In 1920, Oscar Kanehl published a first book of poetry, “Stand up, Prolet!” During the Weimar Republic he worked as a theater director in Berlin and directed plays in various theatres. He continued to publish revolutionary poems in the magazine “Die Aktion” and published two further volumes of poetry (“The Shame”, 1922 and “Street free”, 1928). On May 28, 1929, Oscar Kanehl commited suicide by jumping from his window.

A selection of his poems were translated into English by the Hungarian-German translator Paul Acél (1885 – 1949).


The Bourgeois

original German title: Der Bürger

Who stretches on downs. 
Who, in boxes sprawls.

Who in palaces dwells.
Who takes care of health.

Who sparkles of diamond-curse.
Who sits on the money-purse.

Who is stuffing the belly.
Who always is merry.

Who ever is smoothed; who perfumed; who fully dressed;
Who with “honor”, “moral” and “fine taste”.

Who with monocle; who with blue eyes,
Who with epaulets; who is ever nice.

Who bows thrones and altars along
The subject, who obeys and holds his tongue.

Who hunted is into war and hate,
Who belied us; early and late.

Who with bayonets and machine guns,
Workers, your revolution overruns.

Burgher he is called; bourgeois or burgher,
Working people: that is your murderer.

He sucks your blood; he eats your bread;
He imprisons you; he shoots you dead.

With him, no freedom for you sent,
Get up, prolet! For the judgement!


The Prolet

original German title: Der Prolet

Who the engine moves,
Who the seed-corn sows.

Who pokes in hte pits,
Who the hammer leads.

Who bread and light makes,
Who, with tormented wrinkled face.

Who in sweat and soil,
Must toil.

Who stooping over writing books,
From whom the hunger looks.

Whom the money-mob enslaves,
Whom he pumps out. Whom he all takes.

Whom he puts into arrest,
Till his last breath.

Whom he shoots dead,
Like mad.

Prolet, he is called. His children are prolets.
Bourgeois! They hate you! Will you annihilate?

For you they don’t work more. Want no wages, no illusion,
They are raising the arms. For revolution.

They accomplish the hour. Their reign is near.
Give free the Earth. The man is here!


Challenge to Strike

original German title: Aufforderung zum Streik

Let rest the hammers.
Let stop the wheels.
Let burn down the fires.
Put out the light.
Disturb the idlers’ comfort.
Shut off the supplies of their larders.
Harvest, which doesn’t nourish you, may rot.
Cool, which doesn’t warm you, may vanish underground.
Chimney that doesn’t smoke for you, may collapse.
Look here.
The bourgeois builds upon your labor’s ground.
His house is rich. His bed is soft.
By your labor’s favor he feeds his belly.
By your labor’s favor his wife dresses.
By your labor’s favor his children grow up.
Industrious, brought up to master over you.
Poisoned to hate you.
By your labor’s favor.
And you? Prolets? – Labor creatures?
And your hired barracks? – Hunger-towers?
And your wives? – Bearing-machines?
And your children? – Misery-brats?
Curse upon every slag for bourgeois-pack.
Curse upon every step into their slavery.
Curse upon their thanks. Curse upon their traitor’s wages.
Yours is the Earth.
Out of the workshops!
On the street!


How long yet?

original German title: Wie lange noch?

How long, you mean, we will yet look on,
that from life’s horn of plenty you single drink?
The whole day you are lounging, swilling and devouring
and at evening full-greedy in silk-cushions you sink?
How long yet?

How long, you think, we will yet be silent
because hunger-salary us blunt and tired makes?
Didn’t bring you parasites while
The harvest of our seed in your safes?
How long yet?

How long, you believe, we will yet endure
that our bests behind prison walls
by class right are gagged?
How long yet shall us lurk your murderer pack of hounds?
How long yet?

How long, you hope, we will yet wait,
that our fists are starting upon your skull?
Hate hollow threatens. Chains bleed.
Long ago, that the last man heard the judgement’s call.
How long yet?


We Are The Mob

original German title: Wir sind der Pöbel

We are the mob. Thank God.
To suit?
We have no more to loose
Than our chains.

We are the mob. Thank God.
To be moderate?
Tell it those,
Whose measure doesn’t overrun.

We are the mob. Thank God.
Recommend it those
Who are lounging on cushions.

We are the mob. Thank God.
Desire it from those
Who are eating from filled dishes.

We are the mob. Thank God.
Ever to toil only?
We have nothing in our body
Nothing upon the body.

We are the mob. Thank God.
Desire nothing more from us.
Recommend us nothing.
Tell us nothing.

We are the mob. Thank God.
Why keep it secret?
We are the mob. Thank God.
We will show it to you.


Street Free!

original German title: Straße frei!

Street free.
In big crowd red banners wave.
Tramways respectfully still stay.
Loudly calls the Internationale:
People, hear the signal.
Street free.

Street free.
We have hunger. Look, we freeze.
In hired-barracks we must decease.
To toil as slave we have no mind.
We take our right, where we it find.
Street free.

Street free.
Up to the gardens, to the palaces.
Where they puff, where they are in fatness.
Where by race-horses and automobiles
Before prolets they live safe and still.
Street free.

Street free.
Up to the prisons, up to the keeps.
Where class-fighters pay for heroic deeds.
Out with them. Give free them at once.
Else we fetch them. With violence.
Street free.

Street free.
Who isn’t for us, is against us.
Who blocks our way, we will him rush.
Vanish and die, bankrupted bourgeoisie.
March up, proletarian army.
Street free.


Man Is Going Over the Earth

original German title: Über die Erde geht der Mensch

Put chains on our hands,
Our mouth will sing.
Imprison us,
We shall be free.
Kill us,
We rise from the death.
Man is going over the Earth.
Before whom kings are fleeing,
Thrones are falling.
Motley uniforms and blank stars are getting bleached in masks.
Burghers are bursting.
Priests are stealing away from the pulpits.
Generals are shooting themselves.
Soldiers are throwing away their arms.
Tattlers become dumb. Boundary posts fall down.
States are breaking.
Power is budging.
Man is going over the Earth.
Bare. Young.
Good. Loving. Embracing.
Sun rises. Blessing flourishes.
Follow him. Create with him. Joyous like him.
Work begins. Earth becomes fruitful. Sown with love.
All is ours. Without possession.
Divide with me,
Brother man.


Who Cares For It?

original German title: Wer fragt danach?

Workers slain. Who cares for it?
Workers-widows. Who cares for it?
Worker-children orphaned. Who cares for it?
Who hunger and freeze and die on the street.
Workers slain. Who cares for it?

Workers slain. Who cares for it?
Murderers are rubbing their hands.
Murderers have passports.
Murderers have mild judges.
Workers slain. Who cares for it?

Workers slain. Who cares for it?
Ministers are sinking their backside in easy-chairs.
Ministers are fattening murderer-guards.
Ministers are cringing behind laws of the land.
Workers slain. Who cares for it?

Workers slain. Who cares for it?
Workers, living! We are for it!
By the blood of our dead brothers:
We, livings will give you answer.
Workers slain. We care for it.


The New War

original German title: Der neue Krieg

Hate songs are raging thru the streets.
On wide places the patriot-mob is crying.
For arms. War! And for new blood.
The president of republic is kingly behaving.
Minister-braggarts are beating up for recruits.
Swordmen are cleaning their orden-buckles.
Hirelings are fattened.
Machine guns, hand grenades, soldiery
Drills on peace-fanatical working people.
Power practices on faintness.
Takes prisoners. Besieges.
Storms. Marches in. Celebrates victories.
Freedom-fighters are dying at flight-trial.
Prophets are slain.
Offering blood is streaming.
Murderers have charter.
But –
Man is coming upon you.
One morning you will not awake.
The skull of your chieftain will shatter
On the barrier of men
The lances of his truest slave will split.
Your hell-heaven will be torn
Across in two.
Stars are rising.



original German title: Melancholie

And those, who living still, are so:
The one is longing from dark cell for light,
Which behind grates tells him a lie of liberty.
Perhaps already happier, who in the neighbor-cell
Is running against stone-wall with the madness-skull.
The rest are working-animals.
Straps are cutting them deep in the flesh.
They don’t more feel it.
They don’t feel the whip upon the bony back.
They don’t feel the wounds upon the naked foot.
They devour every fodder from the master’s crib.
Joyless already long ago, now also without will.
Their faith chokes
In illness, dirt and disgust of treachery.
Hunger strangles revolution.
The fists fall and the hate becomes tired.
The hope-spark of their eyes goes out.
The hunter-poet’s strophe hits upon deaf ears.
Look your ‘exploiters’ cynical luxury!
– it doesn’t disturb them.
Do you hear raging the soldiery’s victor-sneer?
– it doesn’t provoke them.
Knowledge dies.
Sense extorted.
Farther no more.
On gas-cock hangs the hollow look.
Only this last class-pride is awake:
Although – then rather –
On pavement trickles our blood.
Slowly we are murdered.