Saturday, May 03, 2008

Poems of Paul Celan

Just as I feared, the further I read into the volume, selected and translated by Michael Hamburger, the less I like the poems. The lyrical richness of the first two books seems to dry up into obsession repetitions in the third.

My favorite in Mohn und Gedachtnis, or Poppy and Remembrance, (1952) is the heartbreaking "Your hand full of hours."

Your hand full of hours, you came to me--and I said:
Your hair is not brown.
So you lifted it lightly on to the scales of grief; it weighed more than I . . .

On ships they come to you and make it their cargo, then put it on sale in the markets of lust--
You smile at me from the depth, I weep at you from the scale that stays light.
I weep: Your hair is not brown, they offer brine from the sea and you give them curls . . .
You whisper: They're filling the world with me now, in your heart Im a hollow way still!
You say: Lay the leafage of years beside you--it's time you came closer and kissed me!

The leafage of years is brown, your hair is not brown.

From Von Schwelle zu Schwelle, From Threshold to Threshold, (1955), I am particularly moved by "In Front of a Candle," and the simple exactness of "With a Variable Key."

With a variable key
you unlock the house in which
drifts the snow of that left unspoken.
Always what key you choose
depends on the blood that spurts
from your eye or your mouth or your ear.

You vary the key, you vary the word
that is free to drift with the flakes.
What snowball will form around the word
depends on the wind that rebuffs you.

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