W.G. Sebald’s long poem Nach der Natur (1988) contributed significantly to the swift recognition of his literary talent among fellow writers and poets, yet it received scant attention by the larger public and literary scholars alike.1 To the English-speaking world it was not even available until 2002, a year after its author’s death, when it appeared in Michael Hamburger’s excellent translation under the title After Nature. Like a triptych, it is divided into three untitled parts, each with a distinct thematic concern involving a specific historical period and a writer or artist: the first focuses on the Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald, the second on the eighteenth-century naturalist, travel writer, and Arctic explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller, and the last on elements from Sebald’s own biography.2 As opposed to Sebald’s later practice, apart from the landscape photographs that are reproduced on the end sheets of the first edition of Nach der Natur, there are no visuals in the volume, although paintings play a prominent role, especially in the first and final sections of the poem. In what follows, I shall support my reading of Sebald’s poem with reproductions of Grünewald’s paintings. I do so, however, in an attempt to provide a glossary, and I do not want to confuse this with Sebald’s own, later practice of including visuals in his texts.
more from Dorothea von Mücke at Nonsite here.