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Yvan Goll

20th century Franco-German bilingual writer, playwright, novelist, translator and poet

Yvan Goll was born in 1891 in Saint-Dié (Vosges). Both his parents were French, but he was brought up in Metz, then under German rule, and became bilingual, writing and publishing a number of his early books, including the play Methusalem in German. A year after he received his PhD at the University of Strasbourg war broke out and the young poet fled to Switzerland to avoid conscription in the German army. There he joined the pacifists Romain Rolland, Franz Werfel, Stefen Zweig and Jean Arp, met his future wife, the writer Claire Goll, and became a friend of James Joyce in Zurich. In 1919, the Golls moved to Paris, where he worked closely with Joyce on the German translation of Ulysses. Methusalem was first published as a book in 1922 and then produced on the stage of the Dramatisches Theater, Berlin, with sets and costumes by George Grosz. When France fell in 1939, the Golls fled to New York, which was to be their home until 1947. Yvan Goll founded the French-American magazine Hemispheres and worked with André Breton in the French section of the Office of War Information. He came to know many of the leading American poets, among them William Carlos Williams, who did the translations of what is perhaps Goll’s finest work in poetry, the Landless John (Jean sans terre) sequence, published in 1944 by the Grabhorn Press, with an introduction by Allen Tate. The Golls returned to Paris in 1947, after Yvan Goll had been stricken with leukemia, and he died there in 1950. Beginning with Lothringische Volkslieder in 1912, Goll published over fifty books of poetry, fiction, plays and essays, in French, German and English, many of them in editions illustrated by the greatest artists of the period who were his friends. Methusalem was revived in Frankfurt, and at the Berlin Festival, in 1962.