Evening Hour, Karl Marx (translated by Philip Wilson)
Arc Publications, 2022 £7.00
Marx in young love
I was apprehensive when this pamphlet arrived for me to review: I know very little about Marx. But I have been nineteen, and it turns out that the poems collected here were all written by the great man at that age.
There are three sections: poems in the German tradition of Marx’s day, poems to his future wife (Jenny), and satirical poems. The poems to Jenny are the ones that work best for me, because what I generally look for in poetry is a way into someone else’s experience or thinking. The awkwardness of young love is really vividly conveyed in some places here.
There are some lines that make me grin. I see not only Karl, but Jenny too, even couched in all their foreign nineteenth-centuriness, as in the first of the sonnets ‘To Jenny’:
Jenny! You mock me as you question
Why my song is always called “To Jenny”,
Why every pulse carries only your name
And why you are my verse’s one lament
You see, your name is just the sweetest sound
And everything is said when it is told.
This brief collection is full of help for the reader, with an introduction setting the historical context, and notes on almost every poem. Facing-page translations clearly show the extent of the translator’s task, which is — as Wilson says in the introduction — to convey ‘how tightly structured Marx’s verse is’ through ‘suggest[ing] this formalism in translation’.
Personally, I’m glad to have been given a glimpse into the humanity of this writer prior to his life as a famous bushy-bearded Major Thinker. I feel sure that readers familiar with his later work will find more here, too.
Ramona Herdman, 9 July 2022