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A History of Clouds

99 Meditations


In these 99 meditations, poet and novelist Hans Magnus Enzensberger celebrates the tenacity of the normal and routine in everyday life, where the survival of the objects we use without thinking—a pair of scissors, perhaps—is both a small, human victory and a quiet reminder of our own ephemeral nature. He sets his quotidian reflections against a broad historical and political backdrop: the cold war and its accompanying atomic threat; the German student revolt; would-be socialism in Cuba, China, and Africa; and World War II as experienced by the youthful poet.

            Enzensberger’s poems are conversational, skeptical, and serene; they culminate in the extended set of observations that gives the collection its title. Clouds, alien and yet symbols of human life, are for Enzensberger at once a central metaphor of the Western poetic tradition and “the most fleeting of all masterpieces.” “Cloud archaeology,” writes Enzensberger, is “a science for angels.”


Praise for the German edition

“After reading this wonderful volume of poetry one would like to call Enzensberger simply the lyric voice of transience.”— Sueddeutsche Zeitung

            “With this book Enzensberger reveals himself both as a spokesman of persistence and as a decelerator.”—Neue Zuercher Zeitung

144 pages | 5 x 8 1/2 | © 2010

The German List


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"In his most recent collection, A History of Clouds, he brings a scientific eye to a traditional subject, jumbling the pastoral language of ’gigantic nomads’ with technical prhases such as ’rotational symmetry.’"

Philip Oltermann | Guardian

"[Enzensberger is] one of the holy trinity of German postwar literature (alongside Grass and Walser)."

Philip Oltermann | Guardian

"This latest collection from one of the most respected poets in Germany was published in German in 2003. The book is a welcome addition to the body of Enzensberger’s work available in English and is a powerful reminder of the efficacy of his curiously wide-ranging intellect. As the title suggests, A History of Clouds is a series of meditations, on time, mortality, politics and the human condition, among other subjects. But Enzensberger never sinks into rhetorical preaching, even when dealing with the most contentious themes. Instead he relies on his seasoned wit and a touching attention to detail."

Colophon | the book blog of the Prague Post

Table of Contents


Remembering the Poignant Moment

Sins of Omission


Division of Labour



Underground Station Wittenbergplatz

After-Dinner Speech at an Engagement

Obscure Camera

My Wife’s Merits

Nude Shot


In Semi-Darkness


Thunderstorm in Winter


Profane Revelation


To the Spoilsport


The Way Out

Before Techno and After

For Max Sebald

The Copy

Low Notes in Liepāja

A Cosy Evening

One Day

Sans-papier. Boulevard de Port-Royal, March 1999

Peace Talks

Motivational Research

Poem in Parentheses

Child Soldiers


The Energy Field of the Dead




Further Cause for Complaint

All Kinds of Grievances

Astronomical Sunday Sermon

Little Theodicy

Ever Briefer Conversations

Concerning the Question What is More Blesséd

At Times


So Much for Good International Relations

Lovely Days in Xinjiang


Better Prospects

A Little Swan Song to Mobility

Power of the Keys


Also One Half of Life

The Party



The Buttons

The Instruments

An Earth-Coloured Ditty

Fish Knives and Ideas

19 Berggasse

Will and Representation

A Pity

Tripp’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Words Fail Me

The Words, the Words


The Autobiographer

Little Night Music on a Hotel Toilet

Interim Report

Superfluous Elegy

A Small Contribution Towards Reduction


Final Remarks on Certainty

It Might Escape Some Souls



The Advantages of the Finite

Theory of Names

Gaps in Our Knowledge

Problems Falling Asleep

Orders of Magnitude

Take Note, Bishop Berkeley

Questions for the Cosmologists


If You Believe It


Chemistry of Transparence


Climate Machine

Atomic Weight 12.011


History of Clouds

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