Apus, Apus

Hans Magnus Enzensberger in 2010

He weighs just forty grams.
For months he lives in the air without a break--
hunts, loves and sleeps up there.
He's indomitable.
"Tyrannical, stormy, high-spirited,"
is what old Brehm calls him.
Shrill cries in a frantic, circling swarm;
furious fights of jealousy.
Awkward on the ground, he easily flies
three, four, five thousand meters high
over our heads, far away--
into the Tropics.
He's streamlined.
He manages without radar.
He drinks as he glides across the water's surface.
He's in synch with the weather.
For so long he sails, motionless, with the thermals,
but his swoop is swift.
Our amazement is nothing to him.

"Apus, Apus" by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Translated by Frank Beck

Born in Bavaria in 1929, Hans Magnus Enzensberger is the dean of German-language poets. This poem, which takes its title from the Latin name for the common swift, appeared in his 2010 collection, "Blauwarts. Ein Ausflug zu dritt." The reference in line 6 is to German zoologist and illustrator Alfred Brehm (1829-1884).


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