Swiss-German Poetry

Bern, Switzerland


The High Window is grateful to Esther Murbach for curating this selection of Swiss-German poetry. Esther, a former journalist and translator, lives in Basel, Switzerland, and Galway, Ireland. She writes fiction and poetry in German and English. Her work contains several novels as well as short story and poetry collections published in Switzerland, one poetry collection published in Northern Ireland.   In the Republic of Ireland, her short fiction and poetry have appeared in The Galway Review, The Galway Review Printed Edition, The Galway Advertiser, Crannóg, The High Window, Boyne Berries and Pendemic.


Esther has supplied the following introduction to her delection

Multilingual Switzerland and Poetry

Switzerland is a small country with a large variety of languages. Situated in the centre of Europe and thus a hub of migration from ancient to modern times, the nation found its present political form in 1848, including different ethnic groups with different languages and dialects. The biggest group is German speaking, the vernacular being Swiss dialect, the official and printed language standard German. Swiss dialect is a variety of Alemannic which is also spoken in the south of Germany, the west of Austria and in the Alsace region in France. The second largest Swiss language group is French, the third Italian and the smallest Romantsch. All four languages are officially recognised and treated as national languages.

 Within the German speaking parts of Switzerland there is a multitude of regional dialects, some of them very pronounced and closer to medieval than to modern standard German. Since the 1960s, there has been a revival of dialect in literature, prose and poetry. The colourful Bernese dialect, in particular,  has enjoyed increasing popularity, e.g. as lyrics in dialect rock and ballads. In the city of Basel, popular poetry in the local vernacular is celebrated mainly during the ‘Basler Fasnacht’, the yearly carnival, by reading and singing satirical ballads which comment upon events and scandals of the past year; but there is also ‘serious’ Basel dialect poetry.

Traditional as well as modern poetry in standard German is written in all parts of Switzerland. Living in a niche for a long time, poetry has been revived in recent years. Poetry slams have found their way in from abroad, and poetry on the whole is enjoying growing esteem in publications and festivals all over the country. The literary market in Switzerland is too small for most writers, which explains why many are published abroad. On the other hand, immigrants and refugees from other countries have established themselves as Swiss writers. This supplement presents the reader with translations of a variety of Swiss German poetic works typical for a multi-ethnic and multilingual country.


The Poets

Carl Spitteler •  Flandrina von Salis Zsuzsanna GahseRudolf Bussmann Kurt Aebli Sascha Garzetti  • Marina Skalova Polo Hofer


Previous Translations

THW 18:  May 4, 2020  THW 17: March 18, 2020

THW 16: December 9, 2019  THW15: September 20, 2019

THW 14: June 17, 2019  THW 13 March 20, 2019  

THW 12 December 10, 2018   THW 11  September 5, 2018

THW 10: May 21, 2018  THW 9: March 7, 2018

THW 8: December 6, 2017  THW 7: September 10, 2017

xxxxxx THW6:  June 3, 2017  THW5: March 7, 2017                

THW4: December 6, 2016  THW3: September 1, 2016    

THW2: June 1, 2016  THW1: March 1, 2016


Carl Spitteler: Two Poems from ‘Butterflies’


The tower, steep, into the blue it pierces
The sky a dome evading the attack
By moving upwards, to the side the clouds.
Through dentate hatches slips the eastern wind.

Around the oval of the stately nave
Evenly on widespread level wings
A Camberwell floats calmly through the air.

Passing behind the choir it appears
Above dark bushes and the elm corona
around the garden; motionless the trees
listen to the organ’s dusky psalms
As the butterfly bats lightening wings.

From palatine and platform then it turns
Away, gently drifting through the poplars
To watch proud Amazons below the grove
On the valley road, on horses bold who trot
Along the river, blue in fragrant May


With quiet eyes I took it home with me
This image, painted my allegory:
A thousand pains are torturing this earth
The eternal mill, it rustles, rattles
Heaves and lifts within the senseless battles
Beauties which may suddenly submerge
Perhaps per chance and through a sunray’s mirth
They help us see a niche where we find peace
From time to time a moment of release.


Purple beeches over the garden ledge
Sleepy air and lazy the brooke’s course

A bank of clouds shows seams of silvery white
Cuts in half the pure blue of the sky

A leaf is tumbling through the blood-red treetops
Singed it seems.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxStuck on the wall now
Floating in a sun sheet. Casts a shadow,
Triangular, like dark ink on marble.

It grows and dwindles; ever changes angles;
Shortens legs; turns around its axis;
A swelling circle; now shrunk to a stick;
While around it, to its right and left,
No whiff of wind, no single grass blade trembles.

Suddenly – real movement or delusion?
The leaf takes wings.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxHaltingly at last
It unfolds. It sprouts, it springs, it buds.
Born from a flower just half-open
A glow like velvet, scarlet and carbuncle
Like tulip’s shine, fragrant jewel’s sparkle
Which fills the heart with light from paradise.

Behold: the magic tulip wondrously
Takes tiny steps.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxIts wings are breathing,
A chalice spewing sparks of fiery red,
A rosette blazing; the Aglais circles
On the marble. – Its shimmer shames the sun
Dulls the universe to grubby grey.

Twice, then thrice it traces the contour
Of the rose with flapping wings.
Quickly it takes flight with strokes so light,
Fully unfolds its flaming cloak to fly
To the rose’s core with widened eyes.

Four eyes: four jewels. In these eyes lie sadness
Love and woe, as well as youth and joy.

In quiet bliss it rests for many hours
Bestowing rapture on my heart and eyes.
A mountain range of sombre clouds is rising
The bull Busiris. Thunderous drone,
Heavy silver drops fall through the beeches.

Suddenly extinct, the flame goes lost.
A fine carbon line – a fleeting shadow –
Forever gone the gossamer enchantment.

But the orphaned marble wall has saved
the imprints – tulip’s shine and dream and grief.

Carl Spitteler (1845 -1924 in Lucerne) is the only Swiss-born writer  to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1920, which makes the year 2020 a Spitteler anniversary. After studying law and theology to please his father, he spent eight years in Finland as a tutor, then returned to Switzerland where he worked as a teacher and a journalist. Altogether he published some thirty volumes of poetry, fiction and essays. Spitteler also became an important political figure in Switzerland through his famous speech against nationalism which he gave in Zurich after WW I, in 1914, “Our Swiss Standpoint” (Unser Schweizer Standpunkt). This speech cost him the sympathy of many Germans, but increased his popularity in other European countries. To this day, Spitteler is one of the heavyweights in Swiss literature.

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Flandrina von Salis: Poems


Sparkling silver rope
A bridge between two box trees
– Spider’s enigma

After their foray
The starlings will reel southward
Drunken from sweet grape

Beside cyclamen
The first of autumn crocus
– Please do not hurry!

When just one of you
Hears my poem in his heart
I shall die gladly

(From different collections)

Flandrina von Salis was born in 1923 in St. Moritz/Grisons. She is descended from old nobility whose  history goes back to the 13th century. She grew up in the Engadin mountain valley, studied German philology and art history, travelled and lived in Italy, England, France and Spain. From 1962 she lived in Malans/GR and the city of Basel where she worked as a secretary for the conductor Paul Sacher. She died in 2017, her last work being Wüstensand/Desert Sand, a collection of haiku. She is know as the pioneer of German haiku since 1955 when she published her first haiku collection, Mohnblüten/ Poppy Flowers.

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Four Poems: Zsuzsanna Gahse

Photo © Yvonne Böhler


On Lake Constance I lull
myself in a sense of security
on a boat, security
and me are sitting in the same boat,
and sometimes I even say out
loud what I think.

But mostly
I stop thinking
what others
and the news proclaim.

First you need to
morals follow on,
is my new conclusion and
I peruse official lists
which take the lead
on the shows
on TV and Radio.

Demonstrations on
the piazzas, round or square,
now the soldiers
go too far, they don’t
go far enough,
rubber bullets from
both sides, the
protestors are
insurgents, I am told
knowing that
I should rely,
must rely
on official wording. Just follow
through, even Jan says so.

Demonstrators, rebels,
separatists, renegades,
insurgents, protesters,
I know in which country
and in which case I
have to choose which word,
and I know what expects me
in case I use
the wrong term, the word
I’m thinking of. As to thinking,
farewell to thinking. I’m afraid,
I tell the fish,
as soon as dusk sets in,
and while they flock around me,
curious, I present them with
more words: strike,
boycott, smash mob.

The fish raise their heads,
looking up from the lake,
and at the last words they fly,
turning into eagles,
white-tailed eagles, keen on
in their own way, but
I bring them down again, tell them tales
of billionaires,
oligarchs, clever
captains; seemingly serene
I declare until
downcast by clarity,
enlightened again by talking,
that is what I want,
not clarification,
I say, and crying
for a while I let my brine
trickle down to them,
and they understand a lot.

On Lake Constance, in-between
several countries,
where the Rhine submerges,
hardly visible
when snaking through the lake,
I reflect on giving up
thinking, at once,
because there is no sense in it,
it makes no sense, finis, the end!
Or – of course it does make sense,
and exactly what I think at night
on the boat, is natural.
Yes, you just have to place yourself
down there, and reflect
some more, while the fish
are ready to jump up again.

But in the daytime I know
that I’d better memorise
which demonstrations
are right and which ones
wrong, vicious mutinies.

In the early morning
once again I try, pounding it
into my hardhead: demos,
insurgents, constables,
militia etc, the terms according to
national denomination.
In the meantime I
do some thinking of my own. That is
what happened to me. But at once
I hang my head again.
Don’t get out of line.
They, they, they must know
the reason why
they prompt you, and I should
just keep nodding in tranquil content.
Should I do that? Should I do that?

In the middle of the lake, nearly
drowned, Jan calls that I
only need to say what
is said, don’t think,
just follow through, repeat.
At last, no moment too soon, I succeed
to pull him on board.
He’s totally exhausted, so am I.

(Previously unpublished)


Three Poems from: Seventy-seven Siblings


When the twins came
into this world, happily
they both cried, for the first time
finding their voices
and joyful moods
they would have preferred
to stay in the mood.


Dancing at home, on twelve
square meters, with my
father, at the time he was about
sixty, and we danced a kind
of boogie. Great joy at
every sound, at every single
made up step, save the last
dance for me or Rumba Pa Ti


Let’s assume that
words, all words at that,
affect our hormones or
thoughts or
hormones as well as thoughts.

(From Siebenundsiebzig Geschwister ©  Korrespondenzen, Wien 2017)

Zsuzsanna Gahse, born 1946 in Budapest, is an Austrian-German-Swiss writer. She lived in Vienna, Stuttgart and Lucerne; today her home is Müllheim in the Canton of Thurgau, Switzerland. Her literary work contains prose, poetry, narrational and scenic texts, published in thirty books. Since 1983 she has received many awards and prizes, amongst others the Johann-Heinrich-Voss-Preis of the German Academy, Darmstadt/Germany, in 2010, and the Swiss Grand Prix Literatur in 2019.

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Rudolf Bussmann: Four Poems

Photo © Claude Giger, Basel


maybe this is a laboriously advancing
body bent forward just about
avoiding a fall yes he is tired
knows not where to go
but he’s on his way
to take measure
of the world
with each


One glass is on the table : a single lonely line
Two glasses on the top : two lines bent over the wine
Three glasses standing there : a haiku at the buffet
Four glasses on the top : complete is the quartet

Five glasses on the top : the Limerick-camarilla
Six glasses circling round : sextet invites to dance
Joining a seventh glass : aquì la seguidilla
Eight glasses on the top : mirroring the stanza

If nine are on the table : is Edmund Spenser here*
Ten glasses on the top: decastich bright and fair
With eleven glasses : elevenie spouts beer

Twelve glasses on the top : two sestinas clinking
Et voilà treize verres : le rondel chante un air
Fourteen glasses empty : the sonnet now stops drinking

aquì la seguidilla:  ‘here the seguidilla’ ( a Spanish stanzaic form)
is Edmund Spenser here?original line in English
Et voilà treize verres : le rondel chante un air:  ‘And here thirteen glasses : the rondel sings an air’


In the heart of the wood
Where the sky is invisible
No sound comes from the trees
Silent they stand
Keeping in touch below the soil
Tightly interleaving their crowns
Against the storm. Not one
Shall be missing.


The breath is here. Nothing else.
The breath.
The brow is here. Nothing else.
The brow.
The tickle around the navel is here.

The tickle, the scar.
The fall, the pain.
The push and the sting
The cry and
The light.

The tickle around the navel is here.
The chest is here.
The darkness is here
Nothing else.
The breath.

(From Standard German poetry collection Ungerufen/Uncalled © Edition Bücherlese, Luzern, 2019)

Rudolf Bussmann was born 1947 in Olten, Switzerland. He studied German and Romance philology as well as history in Basel/Switzerland, Paris and Berlin. He lives in Basel and in the Jura mountains, Switzerland. He is a trained Grammar school teacher and also works in adult education. Since 1991 he has been writing fiction and poetry. He is also a publisher, translator, facilitator of writing workshops and reading groups as well as a presenter.

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Kurt Aebli: Four Poems from Drops

S. 10:

Drops with too much
weight on their shoulders.

Flakes with waterlogged

So softly
the rain transitions
you barely notice it snows.

S. 29:

On the way with my wish to inscribe
every detail of what I’ve seen into my core
sensing it with all my senses
joins me a need impossible to meet:
to match my very own tempo
with the speed of objects
remains a longing unfulfilled.

When somewhere for just an instant
I stand
I’m still
too fast.

Charged with the assignment
to register
a fleeting perception,
my biro
runs out
of ink.

S. 32

The woodpecker
who takes a break
before he again:


da capo

da capo

S. 57

That once upon a time
I must have spent
my whole life in a wood
is what the wood reminds me of
at each step.

At each tread the soil so soft
yields a quiet sigh
a gentle bounce,
the slightest sound which barely pierces
the darkness of this hush with light.

The being that I was
seems to have withdrawn
into the depth
of a wide woodland
inside of me.

It never shows itself again.

It has gone quiet
like a plant.

(From Tropfen © Edition Korrespondenzen, Vienna, 2014)

Kurt Aebli was born 1955 in Rüti, Switzerland.  He studied German philology, history and ethnology at Basel University, lived temporarily in Vienna, Paris, Sofia and Berlin. He is the author of fourteen books of prose and poetry. Aebli received several bursaries, was awarded a prize by the Schweizerische Schillerstiftung in 2004 and a testimonial by the Canton of Zurich in 2005. He was the first poet to receive the Basler Lyrikpreis in 2008.

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Sascha Garzetti: Four Poems

Photo © Julia Weber


My parent’s dog stands in the daisies,
carrying the squashed fig
in his snout, like a flower
it rests between his teeth
softening the contours
of his face.

Behind the house grows mother’s fig tree
at the façade, the twigs like fans
over the balcony,
dark fruits
bearing from memory
whatever they can bear.

Once my school friend’s father slapped
his son with his flat hand,
I waited, watched the cheek change colour,
search for it’s colour, closed my eyes
until the rockinghorse’s skids
stopped rocking.


He falls out of sync,
away from father’s hand,
kneels down
towards a pebble
and another one,
bends forward
over the water
between two cobble stones,
cannot see
the ugly miens of the gargoyles
perching on the edge of the ledge
too small the mirror,
his face
a close likeness,
looks down
as into a well shaft
where a herd
of white cows is grazing,
only he can see
how they fly away
as soon as he
drops a pebble
and another one


Snow falls
on the landscape’s mouth,
everything goes mute.

How you two shrink,
each sunken in her sleep,
knowing nothing

of the other.
The crow on the banister outside.
You on your sickbed.

Later one of you
will fall prey to death
the other rise with magic lightness.

(From Mund und Amselfloh/Mouth and Black Bird’s Flea ©  Wolfbach Verlag, 2018)



I might write you
a letter

You could
put it aside

without reading
one word

just checking
where I posted it

and telling me
where my home is.

(From Und die Häuser fallen nicht um/And The Houses Do Not Tumble Down ©, Wolfbach Verlag, 2015)

Sascha Garzetti was born 1986 in Zurich. He studied German and Nordic Philology as well as History at Zurich University, one semester in Stockholm. He has a diploma from Zurich University as a teacher on grammar school level. He teaches at the Kantonsschule Baden, writes prose and poetry. Garzetti has published four poetry collections, received two bursaries and the Heinz-Weder-Anerkennungspreis für Lyrik in 2011.

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Marina Skalova: Poem

Photo © Wiebke Zollmann


autumn is here

lashes fall from eyelids
resin trickles from a glance

gangrene within roots


on the inside of the wrist
veins design their twigs

in the autumn leaves I discern
the map of a territory

where no blood flows


leaves rustle in bordeaux red
enfold the world in blooming rust

we are only tubes, I guess
crumbling metal
if such a thing exists


from the nape to the contour
of the buttocks

just the wavering

of a vertebral scar

(From  Atemnot/souffle court © Cheyne éditeur, 2016)

Marina Skalova is a writer and literary translator. She was born in 1988 in Moscow, grew up in France and Germany, studied in Paris, Berlin and Bern. She now lives in Geneva and is a writer, a literary translator and a dramaturge. For her bilingual (G/F) poetry collection Atemnot (souffle court), (Cheyne éditeur, 2016) she received the french Prix de la Vocation en Poésie in 2016. Exploration du flux (Le Seuil, Fiction & Cie), a musical, poetical and political flux has been published in 2018. During the2017/2018 season, she was author-in-residence at the POCHE/GVE Theatre in Geneva, where she wrote the play La chute des comètes et des cosmonautes (published in 2019 by l’Arche éditeur in French and by Fischer Verlag in German). In 2020 she published Silences d’exils, in collaboration with the photographer Nadege Abadie, a book based on writing-workshops with exiled women and men. She has been the recipient of several fellowships and residencies, amongst which the Jan Michalski Foundation, the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, Pro Helvetia Moscow.

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Polo Hofer: Two Songtexts in English and in the original Bernese

Polo Hofer (his real name was Urs Alfred Hofer) was born on 16 March, 1945, in Interlaken. He was a pioneer of Swiss dialect rock music, writing his own lyrics in Bernese dialect.
In 1961 he started training as a lithographer, founded his first band The Jetmen in the same year, in 1971 the dialect band Rumpelstilz, 1984 Schmetterband. He recorded several albums, played with numerous orchestras and other bands. In 2006 his song ‘Alperose’ was chosen as Biggest Swiss Hit of All Times by the Swiss TV audience. Polo Hofer died on 22 June, 2017, in Oberhofen on the Lake of Thun, but he lives on as a Swiss legend in his songs and lyrics.


You can watch a performance of ‘Alpenrose’ here


Blüemlisalp on a summer night
Returning from a mountain tour
Around the hut I saw her when
She fetched water for some flowers
On the bench beside the stable
She said to me, “This must be fate
It’s only once we’re here, I think”
‘Twas like a film, I’ll never forget

Alpenrose come to my mind
Alpenrose they were
Alpenrose they must have been
Beside us in the hay

We moved in where we had met
When autumn came, she went away
Gone is gone, and soon it snowed
Love does come and love does go
Now it has been quite a while
Often wished, it had not been so
And always when the mountains shine
Memory gets to me again

Alpenrose come to my mind
Alpenrose they were
Alpenrose they must have been
Beside us in the hay


Blüemlisalp i re Summernacht
Nachdäm i ha ä Bärgtour gmacht
Da ha se troffe vor der Hütte us
Si het Wasser gholt für ne Bluemestruss
Uf em Bänkli vor em lääre Stall
Seit si zu mir: “Es isch kei Zuefall
I gloube mir sy nume einisch hie”
Als wär’s e Film vergissen i’s nie
Alperose chöme mir i Sinn
Alperose sy das gsy denn
Alperose müesse das gsy sy
Wo näben üs im Höi gläge sy
Sy zäme zoge am glyche Ort
Wo der Herbscht isch cho, da isch si wider furt
Furt isch furt, u gly het’s gschneit
Liebi chunnt u Liebi geit
Das isch jetz schon es Wyli här
Hätt mängisch wölle, dass es nid eso wär
Und immer wenn i die Bärge gseh
Isch es wider um mi gsche
Alperose chöme mir i Sinn
Alperose sy das gsy denn
Alperose müesse das gsy sy
Wo näben üs im Höi gläge sy



He collects for a worthy cause, he claims
This guy who blocks my way
Will beg myself, if things do not improve, I say
They all want something from me
Revenue and military
Although just recently they got my salary

Later in my regular haunt
“Pal, treat me to a pint!”
But wouldn’t know where to get funds, I’m not the solvent kind
And then another bloke
Is cadgeing for a smoke
Snatches a fag, of course my last, I even give him a light

Am I a kiosk, dammit? Or a bank, hello?
Or do I look like a hotel? Or a safe with lots of dough?
Am I a kiosk, dammit? Or a bank, hello?
Or do I look like a hotel? Or a safe with lots of dough?

A rugged looking hippie, his pants patched quite a bit
Asks me overfriendly
“Could ye spare two quid?”
Ten meters on another one comes up and makes a fuss
Only fifty cents he needs, no money for the bus

I’m chewing on me chewing gum, a chick gives me a smile
She bats her lashes, and she says “Hey, you!
May I have one too?”
She doesn’t have a bed tonight, could she crash with me?
But I have just been asked to move, have myself no roof, you see

Am I a kiosk, dammit …

I’m no kiosk, dammit! I’m no bank, hello!
I don’t look like a hotel, and not like a safe with dough!


[Värs 1]
Är sammli für ne guete Zwäck
Seit dä Fritz, wo vor mer steit
Derby muesi sälber sammle, we das so wyter geit
Si wei aui öppis vo mer
Ds Militär u ds Stüürbüro
Obschon si ersch grad chürzlech hei my Zahltag übercho

[Värs 2]
Nachhär heisst’s I myre Stammbeiz
“Du zahl mer no es Bier”
Aber I weis nid wohär näh, I bi ja schliesslech sälber stier
Und da chunnt scho wider eine
Wott es Zigarette näh
Natürlech isch’s my Letschti gsy, unes Füür hanem ou no gäh

Bini Gottfriedstutz e Kiosk? Oder bini öppen e Bank?
Oder gseehni uus wines Hotel? Oder wine Kasseschrank?
Bini Gottfriedstutz e Kiosk? Oder bini öppen e Bank?
Oder gseehni uus wines Hotel? Oder wine Kasseschrank?

[Värs 3]
Ja, da chunnt sone wilde Hippie mit gflickte Hosebei
U fragt mi überfründlech
“Säg, hesch mer nid zwe Schtei?”
U chuum zäh Meter wyter, da quatscht mi eine aa
Es läng em nid für ds Busbillet, öb är chönnt es Füffzgi ha

[Värs 4]
Un I chätsche mi Chätschgummi, da lacht mi es Meitli aa
Lat d Wimpere la klimpere u seit
“Darf I eine ha?”
Äs wüssi nid wo pfuuse, öb’s vilich gieng bi mir?
Aber si hei mer doch grad kündet, I stah sälber vor der Tür

Bini Gottfriedstutz e Kiosk? Oder bini öppen e Bank?
Oder gseehni uus wines Hotel? Oder wine Kasseschrank?
Bini Gottfriedstutz e Kiosk? Oder bini öppen e Bank?
Oder gseehni uus wines Hotel? Oder wine Kasseschrank?


I bi Gottfriedstutz kei Kiosk! I bi Gottfriedstutz kei Bank!
Und I gseeh nid uus wines Hotel und nid wine Kasseschrank!

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