Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Paul Celan. A Poem and a Short Story by Germany's Greatest Post W W II Poet

"Prussia, the ruler of Germany, was always an enemy of the intellect, of books, of the Book of Books—that is, the Bible—of Jews and Christians, of humanism and Europe. Hitler’s Third Reich is only so alarming to the rest of Europe because it sets itself to put into action what was always the Prussian project anyway: to burn the books, to murder the Jews, and to revise Christianity."  Joseph Roth, 1933"

I am estatic to once again be able to Participate in German Literature Month, elegantly and lovingly hosted by Lizzi's Literary Live and Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. This is my fourth year as a participant.   On the host blogs you will find the particularities of the event but the basic idea is to read literature first written in German (translated or not) and share your thoughts.  I began accumulating works for the event soon after the event ended last year and I began reading for it in mid-September.  

Works Read for G L V So Far

1.  Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada. A brilliant recreation of life in Nazi Germany. 

2.  Ostend, Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth and the Summer Before the End by Volker Weidermann. A fascinating social history 

3.  Buddenbrook Ths Decline of a Family by Thomas Mann.  Must reading 

4.  "The Governess" by Stefan Zweig

5.  Demian:  The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth by Herman Hesse.  Read the major works first.

6.  The Tanners by Robert Walser.  

7.  Hotel Days Wandering Between the Wars by Joseph Roth 

8.  "The Dandelion" by Wolfgang Borchert

9.  "The Foundling" by Heinrich. Von Kleist 

10.  "A Conversation About Legs" by Alfred Lichtenstein 

"Death Fugue"

By Paul Celan

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden
hair Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are
flashing he whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair
your ashen hair Sulamith we dig a grave in the breezes
there one lies unconfined

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you
others sing now and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his
eyes are blue
jab deper you lot with your spades you others play
on for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at at noon in the morning we drink you
at sundown
we drink and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith he plays with the serpents
He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master
from Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then
as smoke you will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one
lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink
and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in
the air
He plays with the serpents and daydreams death is
a master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith

Translated by Michael Hamburger 
A very interesting work, more a prose poem than a story, is included in an anthology I highly recommend, Tales of the German Imagination From the Brothers Grimm to Ingeborg Bachman (Celan had a long lasting relationship with Bachman), "Shadowlight", first published in 1949.  I do not see it as subject to analysis but it will make you think deeply if you let it.  The shadow of the war and the Holocaust hangs over this as it does all of Celan's work.  

"All talk of justice is for naught so long as the biggest warship hasn’t been torpedoed by the forehead of a drowned man."

Paul Celan


Paul CelanEd
Paul Celan was born Paul Antschel in Czernovitz, Romania, to a German-speaking Jewish family. His surname was later spelled Ancel, and he eventually adopted the anagram Celan as his pen name. In 1938 Celan went to Paris to study medicine, but returned to Romania before the outbreak of World War II. During the war Celan worked in a forced labor camp for 18 months; his parents were deported to a Nazi concentration camp. His father most likely died of typhus and his mother was shot after being unable to work. After escaping the labor camp, Celan lived in Bucharest and Vienna before settling in Paris. Celan was familiar with at least six languages, and fluent in Russian, French, and Romanian. In Paris, he taught German language and literature at L’École Normale Supérieure and earned a significant portion of his income as a translator, translating a wide range of work, from Robert FrostMarianne Moore, and Emily Dickinson to Arthur RimbaudAntonin Artaud, and Charles Baudelaire. His own work as been translated into English numerous times and by several noted poets and translators including Michael HamburgerRosmarie WaldropHeather McHugh, John Felstiner, and Pierre Joris.

Though he lived in France and was influenced by the French surrealists, he wrote his own poetry in German. His first collection of poems, Sand from the Urns, was published in Vienna in 1948; his second collection, Poppy and Memory (Mohn und Gedaechtnis, 1952), brought him critical acclaim. Katherine Washburn, his translator, noted in her introduction to Last Poems (1986): “The title of this book [Poppy and Memory] pointed with a fine vividness to the central predicament of Celan’s poetry—the unstable and dangerous union between Paul Celan, caught early in that sensual music of the Surrealists, pure poet of the intoxicating line, and Paul Ancel, heir and hostage to the most lacerating of human memories.”  From The Poetry Foundation 

I hope to read as much as I can of the poetry of Celan.  

I hope those familiar with Celan will share their experience with us.
Mel ü


Anonymous said...

I have really fallen under the spell of Celan over the past year or two. I have been spying that massive Breathturn into Timestead too. My go-to translation at the moment is The Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan tr by John Festiner. It is a dual language edition and I love his translation of Todesfuge which leaves some of the German intact. There is also a small uncollected poem in there called "Don't Write Yourself" that I use a lot.

I am hoping to add some poetry to German Lit Month with a review of a new translation of Trakl from Seagull books.

Marina Sofia said...

I'm a big Celan fan as well - although I find I need to constantly reread him and always find a new meaning. He is really a master of the succinct yet richly layered. I've only ever read him in German though, so I cannot recommend any translations. I find some hints of Trakl and Holderlin in him.

Mytwostotinki said...

Czernowitz is the hometown of many German-Jewish poets and writers. One of them, Immanuel Weissglas was Celan's friend and classmate. For those who read German it may be interesting to know that Celan's most famous poem is indeed a variation of a poem by Weissglas:

Wir heben Gräber in die Luft und siedeln
Mit Weib und Kind an dem gebotnen Ort.
Wir schaufeln fleißig, und die andern fiedeln,
Man schafft ein Grab und fährt im Tanzen fort.

ER will, daß über diese Därme dreister
Der Bogen strenge wie sein Antlitz streicht:
Spielt sanft vom Tod, er ist ein deutscher Meister,
Der durch die Lande als ein Nebel schleicht.

Und wenn die Dämmrung blutig quillt am Abend,
Öffn' ich nachzehrend den verbissnen Mund,
Ein Haus für alle in die Lüfte grabend:
Breit wie der Sarg, schmal wie die Todesstund.

ER spielt im Haus mit Schlangen, dräut und dichtet,
In Deutschland dämmert es wie Gretchens Haar.
Das Grab in Wolken wird nicht eng gerichtet:
Da weit der Tod ein deutscher Meister war.