In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

Strindberg in BerlinRobin Robertson
Vol. 29 No. 14 · 19 July 2007

Strindberg in Berlin

Robin Robertson

315 words

All the wrong turnings
that have brought me here –
debts, divorce, a court trial, and now
a forced exile in this city and this drinking cell,
Zum Schwarzen Ferkel, The Black Porker:
neither home nor hiding-place, just
another indignity,
just a different make of hell.

Outside, a world of people queuing
to stand in my light, and that sound
far in the distance, of my life
labouring to catch up.
I’ve now pulled out
every good tooth,
in search of the one that was making me mad.
I squint at the flasks and alembics,
head like a wasps’ nest,
and pour myself
three fingers and a fresh start.
A glass of aqua vitae, a straightener,
stiffener, a universal tincture – same again –
the cleansing fire, a steadying hand
on the dancing hand, the great purifier,
clarifier – one more, if you wouldn’t mind –
bringer of spirit and the spirit of love;
the famous transmutation of the leaden
into gold, the dead back into life.

The Pole at the piano, of course;
Munch opposite me, his face
like a shirt done up wrong.
My fiancée in one corner, my lover in another,
merging, turning, as all women turn,
back into my daughters,
and I am swimming naked at night,
off the island, in the witch-fire of mareld light,
listening to the silence of the stars,
with my children beside me,
my beautiful lost children, in the swell
of the night, swimming beside me.
And back
to the bright salts and acids,
the spill and clamour of the bar,
the elixirs, the women:
my wife-to-be, my young lover –
one banked hearth, one unattended fire.
Christ. The hot
accelerant of drink.
The rot of desire.
And out, out into the swinging dark,
a moon of mercury, lines of vitriol trees
and the loose earth that rises up,
drops on me, burying me,
night after night after night.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences