A lecture hall in Vienna.
‘With Watch in Hand’
‘On the 17th of September, one of our U-boats sank a fully-laden troop ship in the Mediterranean. The ship sank in less than 43 seconds.’
Technology and death meet face to face.
Does bravery play no further part in might?
Time runs out as day turns into night.
O God of War, deliver us from this place!
And you who stole in stealth from that machine,
You made no sacrifice; it was the machine’s alone!
It stands triumphant, dispassionate as stone,
A proud creation whose soul you now demean.
A mortar fires its shell. Flak bursts and cracks.
The man who made it cowers in a trench.
The giant chokes in the dwarf’s all-strangling clench;
You can see the stopwatch stop time in its tracks.
But sleep, sleep on. You need rest. You shouldn’t neglect that.
And when the malingerer limps to the stock exchange floor
And hits the button so futures will spiral and soar,
And London’s wiped out? The business of war. You’d expect that.
What was the time then? When did it happen? Why?
Our eyes don’t see clearly corroded by poisonous gas.
But ears still hear. The clock strikes thirteen, and as
Clouds loom we look up; doomsday falls from the sky.
Chaos and farce are the entropic end of our story –
God forbid God should hear the words of our hymns!
Progress drives on, counting profit and prosthetic limbs,
A stopwatch in hand, its heart set on ever more glory.
 ‘With Watch in Hand’, ‘Mit der Uhr in der Hand’, the title of the poem. In 1882 Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in ‘Die fröhliche Wissenschaft’, translated as ‘The Gay Science’ in Walter Kaufmann’s 1960’s version: ‘We now think with watch in hand, as we eat lunch, as we turn our eyes to the stock-exchange report’. The book’s title is derived from an old Provençal phrase for the technical demands of the art of poetry, ‘gai saber’; ‘The Joyous Wisdom’, the title of the 19th century translation, offers a more helpful equivalent now. The words and images of Kraus’s poem contain more found material, as ever, than we can readily identify; the same words and imagery also look forward to important material in the Epilogue.