Poetry Month 2023: Kandinsky’s Sounds

Wassily Kandinsky’s Sounds (Klänge) of 1912 is one of the earliest, most beautiful examples of a 20th-century artist’s book. Its “sound poems” are alternately narrative and expressive, witty and simple in form. During Poetry Month 2023, enjoy excerpts on our blog from a variety of poets published by Yale University Press.

Blue, Blue got up, got up and fell.
Sharp, Thin whistled and shoved, but didn’t get through.
From every corner came a humming.
FatBrown got stuck—it seemed for all eternity.
             It seemed. It seemed.
You must open your arms wider.
                  Wider. Wider.
And you must cover your face with red cloth.
And maybe it hasn’t shifted yet at all: it’s just that you’ve shifted.
White leap after white leap.
And after this white leap another white leap.
And in this white leap a white leap. In every white leap a white leap.
But that’s not good at all, that you don’t see the gloom: in the gloom is where it is.
That’s where everything begins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . With a crash . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


You all know this giant cloud that’s like the cauliflower. It lets
itself be chewed snowwhitehard. And the tongue stays dry. That’s
how it weighed on the deep blue air.
And below, beneath it on the ground, on the ground stood a burn-
ing house. It was solid, oh, solidly built of dark red bricks.
And it stood in solid yellow flames.
And in front of this house on the ground . . .


Within, the bluish wavelet tosses.
The torn and shredded scarlet cloth.
Scarlet tatters. Deep blue wavelets.
The ancient book whose place is lost.
Looking silent in the distance.
Dark confusion in the wood.
Deeper grow the deep blue wavelets.
Scarlet cloth sinks down for good.

Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian painter and art theorist, author of Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912) and Point to Line and Plane (1926). Elizabeth R. Napier is professor of English and American literatures at Middlebury College. Her literary translations include Selected Poems and Related Prose by F. T. Marinetti (co-translated with Barbara R. Studholme, Yale, 2002).

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