The Influence of Exile on Language and Style in the Poetry of Mascha Kaléko

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Mascha Kaléko was a Polish Jew and a German poet. Her father was Russian, her mother Austrian. She grew up in the 1920s in Berlin, had to immigrate to America in 1938 and then, later, moved to Israel with her husband. The loss of touch with her country and with her mother tongue did deeply affect her poetry and her language. Language is, to her, homeland, refuge, and peace. Language is not simply a means of expression or of communication, but the quintessential indicator of culture, tradition and civilization. In each language there are words, which are hardly translatable, as the very concept is unique to the culture and way of life a certain idiom expresses. This presentation aims to show how the distance to her native language affects Mascha Kaléko, whose poetry was inextricably bound to German culture. Before emigrating from Berlin, Mascha Kaléko’s poetry was mainly concerned with the day-to-day problems of common people, expressing them in witty, ironic poems and questioning overcome values and traditions. Once in America her poetry becomes more and more focused on her nostalgia for Germany, for her readers, and, particularly, for a lively, authentic contact to her mother tongue. After the war she visits Germany regularly and tries a comeback. She is offered the Fontane-Price by the Akademie der Künste in Berlin but refuses it, as a member of the jury had been in the SS from 1933 to 1943. This paper aims to do justice to a poet who is being rediscovered recently, as 2006 marked the centenary of her birth, but who has been neglected for far too long, by putting into light the influence of exile on language and style of her poetry.


Keywords: Poetry, Philosophy of the Language, Exile
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Francesca Goll

Student, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, Oxford University
Oxford, UK

I am half Italian half German and am currently studying French and German at Oxford University. The research on Mascha Kaléko is the subject of my extended essay which I wrote in the academic year 2006/2007. I spent the latter in Paris at the Sorbonne (Paris IV) as Erasmus student. My fields of interest lie in German literature of the 20th century and French political writers. I did moreover translate some of Mascha Kaléko's poems into Italian, but they are not published.

Ref: H08P0174