W. G. Sebald’s Late Lyrics Between Words, Images and Languages


  • Axel Englund Institutionen för Kultur och Estetik, Stockholms universitet, 10691 Stockholm




W. G. Sebald, Tess Jaray, Jan Peter Tripp, For Years Now, Unerzählt, poetry, painting, intermediality


W. G. Sebald wrote and published poetry from the early 1960s until his death in 2001. Even though Sebald’s oeuvre is among the most extensively studied in Germanistik today, however, his lyric poetry remains in the shadow of his prose and has yet to be afforded extensive critical attention. Working on what was to be his last novel, Sebald appears to have devoted more time to poetry than previously, which resulted in several publications: For Years Now (2001), a collection of micropoems juxtaposed with images by the British painter Tess Jaray, and Unerzählt (2003), a set of similar poems in German, published together with etchings by the artist Jan Peter Tripp. The present article takes as its point of departure the observation that these two books overlap substantially – many of the poems exist in several versions none of which can be said to be the definitive one – and attempts to interpret a selection of poems with a particular view to their material, linguistic and intermedial particularities. Using the concept of differential poetry, a term coined by Marjorie Perloff, it asks what meanings may emerge from Sebald’s sparse verses when the subtle variations between the different versions – caused by versification, typography, translation, and word-and-image interplay – are brought to the fore.


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