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KLIATTAfter Nature, a prelude to the novels for which Sebald is most commonly recognized, is an example of the somber tone, clear description and graceful prosody that distinguish his style. Here Sebald presents two distinct sections, the first regarding Matthias Grunewald, a 16th-century painter, the second concerned with Georg Steller, a 19th-century botanist, before presenting a concluding autobiographical third poem. While the first two poems are thoroughly researched and provide interesting information, the creation of their individual characters through interpretive speculation provides intriguing elements of venue and motivation to somewhat obscure historic figures and situations. It is, however, a sense of the sophisticated intersections between the three individuals that unites the work. The use of motifs such as water, green vegetation and snow suggests that relationship in style. But there is a more subtle thread linking the sections in tone. "Tell me, child, / is your heart as heavy as / mine is, year after year / a pebble bank raised / by the waves of the sea / all the way to the North, / every stone a dead soul / and this sky so grey?" Sebald's vision, the most refined connection between the three components, is stated at the outset of the third section. "But if I see before me / the nervature of past life / in one image, I always think / that this has something to do / with truth." While somewhat demanding in content, the echoing undercurrents that tie these eras and individuals together make this a rewarding read, and the clarity of the prose poem as translated by Michael Hamburger makes it more accessible than one might imagine. KLIATT Codes: A-Recommended for advancedstudents and adults. 2002, Random House, Modern Library, 116p., Ages 17 to adult.
— James Beschta