If there were no death, there would be no need for literature.

Consolation, pastime, memento mori and the hope of a literary legacy are just a few impulses for writing against finiteness, for putting off the darkness.

In the works of great poets, the existential urgency that death presses into life can be felt even if it is only mentioned marginally or not at all.

Like Ror Wolf, who was born in 1932 and has been writing prose, poetry and radio plays since the 1950s and whose death in 2020 could not and will not affect his literature.

Everywhere in his work the skeleton has his ashy fingers in play, and in his late work the transience is fully evident, albeit intricately and playfully.

As in many of his late writings, 2013's 'Inspection of Darkness' has death foreshadowed in the darkness of the title.

But as always with Wolf, things are only partly what they seem.

It is a work of double bottoms and double meanings, mean trapdoors and impish feints.

A sizzling irritation shimmers through the alienating combination of “besichtung” and “darkness” in the title.

Maybe there is a little smile about the fact that the darkness can be visited, looked at, examined and is not an all-swallowing state.

How to unhinge time

The poem evokes associations of two completely opposite states: On the one hand, it is not actually the darkness that is to be viewed, but fireworks with "noise" and "dirt" and distant "banging" at the "tip" of a New Year's Eve, when the old year is dying and a new is born.

In this way, future and transience blow through the poem, not just through the New Year's blues.

On the other hand, with the “fire” and the conflagrations, with the “ending” and the general shattering of the second part of the poem, there is also a state of the end of the world.

As human beings we tend to avoid the apocalyptic as well as the finite, and so it is not surprising that the abruptly announced “End” (“And End”) is still a few lines away.

It is as if delaying this ending was the poem's speaker's only course of action in a world in which he participates only as a spectator and listener.

Long before he reveals himself directly as "I", the impression arises that this I lives on passively or helplessly.

As is so often the case with Wolf, the pronouns create an eerie vagueness: “someone is laughing”, there is “something empty, something turned away”, “someone has closed the window”.

Either the ego is missing out on a fantastic New Year's Eve party, or it's seeking shelter from the end of the world in a room.

Both readings are possible, but also cause each other to falter.

As always, caution is advised against one-sided interpretations, especially as far as the darkness is concerned.

It is a multifaceted motif in the Wolfswerk.

In his first novel "Continuation of the Report" she is described as pretty as "shaggy", in the second novel "Pilzer und Pelzer" of course as "furry", and he even gave his last novel the title "The Advantages of Darkness".

In Wolf's literary cosmos, darkness is a sensual thing.

Pleasurable, bizarre and exhilarating characters emerge from her, and again and again she is sensually felt in search of the odd, the foreign and the fantastic because her eyesight is not very reliable.

But the ultimate virtue of darkness is that it means one locus amoenus a day, day by day, when the stillness of sleep makes the darkness a safe and lovely place in which to dream uninhibitedly.

In his writing as well as in his picture collages, Wolf repeatedly sought out darkness as his own place of artistic creation.

His aesthetic is born of the fragment, of the obscured and obscured absence, and of a “shattered” world that can be reassembled, just as the dream arbitrarily reassembles the unconscious traces of the day.

In two places, "The Inspection of Darkness" seems like a poem in which only the rhymes are left of the verses.

On the one hand, when the same sounds pile up in the first two lines and the gentle sound doubling of the syllable "ände" in the second line softens the noise that was initially heard.

On the other hand, in the penultimate and penultimate line, when repeated sound repetitions in the syllable "erben" have a lulling effect.

And the rhyme scheme moves equally towards the middle of the ten-liner and away from it again.

However, the metaphors of destruction and the last sentence do not bring the gentle sleep into play, but the final passing away.

But the ego cannot be silenced that easily and begins with the incomparably simple, beautiful final movement.

And so the last sentence appears as a thundering contradiction against the chronological order of life and of literature.

Because everything is striving towards the end of the poem, the end of the story, the end of life, with the tightrope walking simplicity of the writer, time is simply and poignantly lifted from its hinges: "And I'm much too old to die already. "

The unimaginative coupling of old age and death is questioned with carefree ease.

In its clarity and beauty it is a unique last movement, not unique to Ror Wolf's work, a movement that allows an inspection of the darkness of our human existence.