28 May 2014

Two by Celan

Paul Celan is probably the most important poet of the post-war generation working in German. He takes on Rilke and Brecht on a regular basis, and Goethe, and turns them inside out. Paul Antschel was born a Jew in Romania in 1920, his parents were murdered in the Shoah (aka The Holocaust), and he spent the rest of his life, mostly in Paris, writing some of the most significant poems ever produced in German. His Mother-Tongue was the language of the murderer, yet he continued to explore the rich history and possibilities of this wonderful language, pushing the boundaries of language and meaning as far as he could, to a place that many cannot follow. His desire to write in German is both a contradiction, as such, and a resistance to that force of death that the Nazis brought so powerfully to what we call Germany and the German language. This is the place of poetry. He drowned himself in the Seine in 1970. I do not blame him.

I have waited at least twenty years to even attempt any translation of his work. It is a very difficult work and among the most worthwhile in the world of poetry--that least understood and disappearing genre of letters. There never was and there never will be again an artist of the kind, calibre, depth of feeling, and depth of thoughtfulness that we find in Paul Celan nee Antschel.

I humbly present these well-intentioned attempts to bring Celan out in any kind of English. Please forgive me. Please, forgive me.

by Paul Celan (b. 23 November 1920)

Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.
We shell time from the nuts and teach it to walk:
the time goes back into its shell.

In the mirror is Sunday,
in dream will be sleeping,
the mouth speaks true.

My eye descends to the sex of the beloved:
we look at each other,
we speak darkness,
we love each other like poppy and recollection,
we sleep like wine in seashells,
like the sea in the bloodshine of the moon.

We stand by the window embracing, and people look up from the street:
it is time they knew!
It is time that the stone tried to bloom,
that unrest had a heartbeat.
It is time that it is time.

It is time.

Translation attributed to L. Steve Schmersal, May 2014


Aus der Hand frißt der Herbst mir sein Blatt: wir sind Freunde.
Wir schälen die Zeit aus den Nüssen und lehren sie gehn:
die Zeit kehrt zurück in die Schale.

Im Spiegel ist Sonntag,
im Traum wird geschlafen,
der Mund redet wahr.

Mein Aug steigt hinab zum Geschlecht der Geliebten:
wir sehen uns an,
wir sagen uns Dunkles,
wir lieben einander wie Mohn und Gedächtnis,
wir schlafen wie Wein in den Muscheln,
wie das Meer im Blutstrahl des Mondes.

Wir stehen umschlungen im Fenster, sie sehen uns zu von der Straße:
es ist Zeit, daß man weiß!
Es ist Zeit, daß der Stein sich zu blühen bequemt,
daß der Unrast ein Herz schlägt.
Es ist Zeit, daß es Zeit wird.

Es ist Zeit.

*** *** *** *** ***

by Paul Celan (b. 23 November 1920)

Nobody kneads us again from earth and loam,
nobody summons our dust.

Blessed are you, Nobody.
For your sake would
we bloom.
Against your

A nothing
we were, we are, shall
we ever remain, blooming:
the nothing--, the
nobody's rose.

pistil bright as soul,
stamen waste of heaven,
corona red
from the purple word, which we sang
over, oh, over
the thorn.

Translation attributed to L. Steve Schmersal, May 2014.


Niemand knetet uns wieder aus Erde und Lehm,
niemand bespricht unsern Staub.

Gelobt seist du, Niemand.
Dir zulieb wollen
wir blühn.

Ein Nichts
waren wir, sind wir, werden
wir bleiben, blühend:
die Nichts-, die

dem Griffel seelenhell,
dem Staubfaden himmelswüst,
der Krone rot
vom Purpurwort, das wir sangen
über, o über
dem Dorn.

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