In the spring and summer of 1952 I hitch-hiked back and forth across France. I lived on nothing. I sketched on wrapping paper and, infected with logorrhea, wrote and wrote. Along with a number of exceedingly derivative cantos about the pilot Palinurus who fell asleep at the helm, I turned out an endlessly proliferating poem in which Oskar Matzerath, before assuming that name, made his appearance as a stylite saint.
A young man, an existentialist in accordance with the fashion of the day. A mason by trade. He lived in our times. A savage, rather haphazardly well read, not afraid of quotation. Even before prosperity erupted, he was disgusted by prosperity and in love with his disgust. Right in the middle of his small town (which remained nameless), he therefore built himself a pillar and chained himself to the top. His vituperative mother handed up his meals in a dinner pail fixed to a pole. Her attempts to lure him down to earth were supported by a chorus of young girls with mythological hair-dos. The small town’s traffic circled round his pillar, friends and enemies gathered, and in the end a whole community was looking up at him. He, the stylite, high above them all, looked down, nonchalantly alternating fixed leg and free-moving leg; he had found his perspective and expressed it through a volley of metaphors.
This long poem was a flop. I left it somewhere, and I remember only fragments, which show, if anything, how much I was influenced by Trakl, Apollinjaire, Ringelnatz, Rilke, and the wretched German translations of Lorca, all at once. Its only interesting feature was my quest for a perspective. But the stylite’s elevated situation was too static: it would take a diminutive three-year-old Oskar Matzerath to provide both distance and nobility. You might call Oskar Matzerath a converted stylite.