Nathan Katz came into contact with Johann Peter Hebel’s poems when he was a child. This had such a strong influence on him that he later on only wrote in Alemannic dialect. Working as a travelling salesman, he was very seldom at home. Thus he wrote most of his poems about Sundgau far away, tormented as he was by homesickness and longing for home.
Maybe all that happens¶
forever before :¶
each sprout in the garden,¶
each deadly stormwind in blooming trees,¶
each pain and joy in our wide world. –¶
Even our love for each other. –¶
How else could it have been¶
We had to meet each other¶
and are in bed now¶
on sleepless nights¶
longing for each other in pain.¶
The poet was born in Waldighoffen (Sundgau); he discovered very soon works by Rainer Maria Rilke, Charles Péguy, Francis James, Frédéric Mistral,…. in newspapers and magazines that a ragman coming back from Basel left at his family's butcher shop. He had already learnt by heart several poems by Johann Peter Hebel at primary school. A merchant from Baden, who had heard him say some of these poems, gave him a book of poetry by Hebel. After having written some essays in German, he remembered that moment and wrote almost only in Alemmanic dialect. He was a travelling salesman from 1923 on. His job led him to France, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands. He only seldom came home. The economic crisis hit him hard too. He lost his job. Thanks to his friend, the poet and painter Henri Solveen, he was hired by the firm Ancel. He was sometimes on his way for months in the South of France or in North Africa. He wrote most of his poems about Sundgau in trains, hotels, on boats or sitting at a table in a pub, tormented as he was by homesickness and longing for home. He took three books with him, which shaped his personality – pantheism, tolerance, oriental peace of mind, humility –: La Vie de Bouddha, Faust by Goethe and La Vie de Jésus by Renan. In Limoges, where the firm Ancel had been evacuated, he met Paul Valéry in 1942. From 1942 to 1958, when he retired, he worked a librarian at the public library of Mulhouse. In 1972, when he was honoured for his 80th birthday, he said with great humility: “I have sung the landscapes, the days and the woman, that’s all“.
Das Galgenstüblein. Ein Kampf um die Lebensfreude. Editions de la littérature populaire, Mulhouse, 1921.
Annele Balthasar, Editions de la jeunesse, Thann, 1924.
D’Ardwibele. E Spiel üs’m Sundgäu, Colmar, 1930.
Die Stunde des Wunders, Alsatia, Colmar, 1930.
Sundgäu. Gedichter, Alsatia, Colmar, 1930.
Sundgäu. Gedichter, O loos da Rüef dur d’Garte. Näii Sundgäugedichter, Alsatia, Colmar, 1958
S Rosele. Contes et récits d‘Alsace (avec traduction de Roger Kiehl), Petite Anthologie de la poésie alsacienne, Association Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin, tome III, Strasbourg, 1966.
D’Gschichte vom e Rolli (avec traduction d’Eugène Guillevic), Petite Anthologie de la poésie alsacienne, Association Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin, tome III, Strasbourg, 1966.
Dr Schorschle / Georgela (avec traduction d’Antoine Wicker et Charles Walker), Editions Bueb et Reumaux, 1983.
Oberrheinischer Kulturpreis (1966)
Großer Preis des Instituts der volkstümlichen Künste und Traditionen des Elsass – Institut des Arts et Traditions populaires d’Alsace, Bretzel d’or (1997)