Our Republic by the Sea, and two translations from German

PETER LILLIOS is an auditor and poet based in Sound Beach, New York. He writes: ‘I believe that poetry — and particularly formal verse — shows its strengths most readily when presented as an auditory experience. When spoken or sung expertly, the inherent musicality of well-crafted verse comes to the fore, creating a powerfully synergistic effect: delivery of meaning at an intellectual level is paired with a much more primal experience of truth as revealed through the rhythm and flow of speech itself. To this end, I’ve enlisted professional voice actors and singers to vocalise my poetry — both original works and English interpretations of existing works.’

Our Republic by the Sea

I know a little plot of land

That’s one part grass and one part sand;

Though twice a day it’s one-third sea,

There’s room enough for you and me.

No one’s staked as yet a claim;

None have stayed, though many came.

It hasn’t lustre or acclaim,

But let us take it, all the same.

We’ll build ourselves a cabin there

With driftwood bound and stacked four-square,

In order that we fell no tree

To craft our lodging by the sea.

We’ll pay no tithes, demand no tolls

From passersby who simply stroll

Through our surf, along our shore,

And leave things as they were before.

We’ll have no children of our own—

None to reap what we have sown;

And when our time has come and gone,

No monuments to gaze upon.

Yet if a child should someday sift

Through our ruins near the cliffs,

She’ll find our charter there below,

Untouched by water’s ebb and flow.

It shall not state our reasons why,

Nor seek to boast or codify.

Its form shall be a simple list

Of lessons learnt and lessons missed;

The ways we lived, the stands we took,

The rules we did and did not brook;

The things we gave and we forgave

Six metres from the lapping waves.

Our ode to life and love austere

Will linger well beyond our years.

Its title, set in bold, shall be,

‘Our Republic by the Sea.’

Music, vocals and instrumentals by Joseph DeNatale

Two Translations

The Midnight Watch

The Argonnerwaldlied (‘Song of the Argonne Forest’) was composed by Hermann Albert Gordon in 1914/1915.

The Western Front, six hours ’fore dawn.

A watchman gazes over yon:

Above the trench, beyond the wire,

At one small star, to which his thoughts aspire.

His love, he knows, beholds it too.

She’d sworn an oath, her word was true:

At midnight, till their eyes could meet,

She’d send the little star her beau to greet.

And with his gaze still fixed on high,

A flash of red illumes the sky.

The cannons’ thunder shakes the ground;

Shells burst and shrapnel splinters all around.

His comrades rally to his side:

A dozen left, the rest have died.

They fell by fate or happenstance—

Just twelve remain to halt the foe’s advance.

The watchman bids them hold the line.

Above the fray, his star still shines.

The guns resound, the rifles crack—

Until the foe is turned and beaten back.

He asks not ‘why?’ nor ‘what’s the sense?’

Seeks neither fame nor recompense;

Knows precious little of grand plans,

Yet at the fore the watchman firmly stands.


Argonnerwald, um Mitternacht,

Ein Pionier steht auf der Wacht.

Ein Sternlein hoch am Himmel stand;

Bringt ihm ’nen Gruß aus fernem Heimatland.

Und mit dem Spaten in der Hand

Er vorne in der Sappe stand.

Mit Sehnsucht denkt er an sein Lieb:

Ob er sie wohl noch einmal wiedersieht?

Und donnernd dröhnt die Artill’rie.

Wir stehen vor der Infantrie.

Granaten schlagen bei uns ein,

Der Franzmann will in unsere Stellung ’rein.

Der Sturm bricht los, die Mine kracht,

Der Pionier gleich vorwärts macht.

Bis an den Feind macht er sich ran

Und zündet dann die Handgranate an.

Die Infantrie steht auf der Wacht,

Bis daß die Handgranate kracht,

Geht dann mit Sturm bis an den Feind,

Mit Hurra nimmt sie dann die Stellung ein.

Er frug nicht warum und nicht wie,

Tat seine Pflicht wie alle sie.

In keinem Liede ward’s gehört,

Ob er geblieben oder heimgekehrt.

Vocals: Chloe Edgecombe. Producer: Luks Rivera

Thoughts Unrestrained

Die Gedanken sind frei (‘Thoughts are Free’) is an ode to freedom of thought whose original lyricist and composer are unknown. The most well-known version was composed by Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1842.

Unrestrained are our thoughts, no man can divine them;

They cannot be caught, nor jailer confine them.

No seer can know them, oppression won’t slow them,

So let it be taught: unrestrained are our thoughts!

I think as I will and as brings me gladness,

And do so until it drives away sadness.

This joy and contentment spurns censor’s resentment;

It remains as it ought: unrestrained are our thoughts!

And should I be thrown into a dark prison,

My captors shall bemoan my thoughts having risen—

Because my own thinking will set the bars clinking

And bring them to naught: unrestrained are our thoughts!

So I shall have ever this simplest of pleasure,

And bandits shall never steal from me this treasure.

No mob can demolish, no law can abolish

What Nature hath wrought: unrestrained are our thoughts!

Die Gedanken sind frei

Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten,
sie fliehen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten.
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger sie schießen
es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket,
doch alles in der Still’, und wie es sich schicket.
Mein Wunsch und Begehren kann niemand verwehren,
es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!

Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker,
das alles sind rein vergebliche Werke;
denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken
und Mauern entzwei: die Gedanken sind frei.

Drum will ich auf immer den Sorgen entsagen
und will mich auch nimmer mit Grillen mehr plagen.
Man kann ja im Herzen stets lachen und scherzen
und denken dabei: die Gedanken sind frei.

Vocals and production: Caroline and Darren Clarke