Skip to content

[Bobrowski's] haunting, mysterious oeuvre abounds with paradox, it is both monolithic and intimate; concrete, vet seemingly impalpable; consciously post-war, yet timeless.

Times Literary Supplement

Johannes Bobrowski

20th century German lyric poet, narrative writer, and essayist

The great-great nephew of Joseph Conrad, Johannes Bobrowski (1917–1965) was born in Tilsit, East Prussia. He began to write poetry on the Eastern Front in 1941, and was a prisoner of war in Russia from then until 1949, when he returned to Germany. He lived in East Berlin and worked as a reader for the publishing house Union Verlag until his death in 1965 of an infection. He received major literary awards for his poetry and fiction in Austria, Switzerland, East and West Germany.


Levin’s Mill

Fiction by Johannes Bobrowski

translated by Janet Cropper

Johannes Bobrowski (1917-1965) is known as one of Germany’s greatest writers. His first novel, set in a West Prussian village in 1874, tells the story of the narrator’s grandfather, who plots and schemes to ruin the Jewish newcomer who has built a mill downstream from him. With splendid irony, Bobrowski describes the diverse characters of the Jews, Poles, Gypsies, and Germans who inhabit the village, and whose affairs mirror the larger history of Poland. As The Irish Times says, "Bobrowski has a marvelous ability to evoke the countryside and a vanished way of life… throughout the entire book there is a keen though understated element of humour, as well as a compelling, dream-like sense of fantasy."


Available: April 01 1996


Darkness and a Little Light

Fiction by Johannes Bobrowski


A P.O.W. in Russia after World War II, Bobrowski (1917-1965) returned to his forever-changed native province, former East Prussia, in 1949. His lost homeland––which he called by the region’s ancient name of Sarmartia––haunts all his work. Full of longing and an astonishing poetic beauty, the stories in Darkness and a Little Light are visionary elegies to vanished ways of life. Some of the stories, set in the nineteenth century or in the darkness of World War II, are directly threnodic. But underneath the tales relating the dreary, oversynthesized reality of East German life in the ’50s and ’60s linger traces of an older, more atmospheric world of nature and memory.


Available: October 01 1994


Shadowlands: Selected Poems

Poetry by Johannes Bobrowski


Johannes Bobrowski is widely regarded as the most important German poet of this century. He began to write poetry on the Eastern Front in 1941 where, as a 24-year-old German soldier in Kaunas, he saw the "slavering wolves” of the SS drive the “grey processions" over a hill to death. A prisoner-of-war in Russia until 1949, he returned to Berlin to write with a purpose: to inform his countrymen of the history and myths of Eastern Europe and to preserve the memory of his childhood home. The poems in Shadow Lands reflect Bobrowski’s hope, in the words of Michael Hamburger, "that he might succeed poetically in bearing witness to that vanished world," that is, the world of Eastern Germany before the war. With an almost real lyrical beauty, he evokes the pre-Christian era of the gods and heroes of the ancient Prussians. The poems also resonate with the most eloquent and picturesque descriptions of Bobrowski’s homeland––its rivers, its forests and quiet villages––ultimately leaving us with a sense of "the hiddenness of all perfect things.”


Available: October 01 1994