11 July 2005

Europe after the Rain

Interactions: Poetry and Painting
2005 is the 60th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War, an apt time to consider two works - a painting and a poetry cycle - which address the legacy of that destruction. The poetry made in the 1990s is in dialogue with the painting from the 1940s.

Max Ernst’s painting ‘Europa nach dem Regen’
(in Wadsworth Atheneum, USA)

This apocalyptic work, made in 1940-42, shows a filigree landscape, brittle and intricately composed of thin corpses and decayed plant and mineral matter. The sky is pure, clean, the petrified earth eerie russets, yellows and greens. Birds, bird-headed humans and other indeterminate creatures hang or stand elongated. The flotsam-encrusted architecture suggests nature spreading over civilisation. Before this painting, Ernst made another with the same title in 1933, which resembles an aerial view of Europe ruined.

Durs Grünbein’s poems ‘Europa nach dem letzten Regen’
(in Nach den Satiren 1999)

Like the painting it is named after, Grünbein’s sequence of eleven poems is about an aftermath, about what remains after destruction. The poems, written in August to October 1996, focus on Dresden, bombed in 1945, as a crystallisation of Europe’s recent history. The first poem posits the perspective of a displaced person, returning home after the war is over to find a city destroyed. The final poem nods to the painter Ernst in the lines ‘Im Ernst, Max, von so einer Stadt / Träumt man leicht’, and the reference to ‘grausam zerschlissener Brokat’ recalls the texture of Ernst’s landscape in the painting.

See more on Dresden in poetry and on Grünbein's poetry