P O E T P A U L C E L A N
C E L A N 'S P O E T R Y
Celan wrote his poems in his mother tongue German, however contaminated the language had become by National Socialism. His early work in particular thematizes this field of tension. Poetry offered Celan an opportunity to keep the memories of these barbaric events alive. The famous poem 'Todesfuge' from 1945 ("der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland, sein Auge ist blau / er trifft dich mit bleierner Kugel er trifft dich genau") also incisively thematizes the persecution of the Jews (see also www.celan-projekt.de).
Celan’s poetry is significant not only because of his personal and historic scars. In both his speeches and his poems, Celan expressed his views about language and poetry. He wrote in the tradition of great poets like Hölderlin, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Eliot, Mandelstam, Rilke. He regularly quoted their work or referred to their opinions on the art of poetry.
Celan entered into a dialogue with other texts in his poems, and thereby used professional language, which resulted in his later works being less accessible than earlier pieces. The poems became increasingly more compact and layered. They demand the utmost benevolence and concentration of the reader. Celan’s meticulousness is unique, yet every one of his texts relates to concrete reality, so that reading his poetry also has its rewards.
Celan debuted in Vienna in 1947 with the poetry bundle Der Sand aus den Urnen, the entire run of which was withdrawn due to printing errors. Celan’s true debut, Mohn und Gedächtnis, was released in 1952, followed by Von Schwelle zu Schwelle (1955), Sprachgitter (1959), Die Niemandsrose (1963), Atemwende (1967) and Fadensonnen (1968). Lichtzwang (1970) was released posthumously, followed by the also authorised Schneepart (1971). Zeitgehöft (1976) was compiled from the extremely well ordered legacy he had left behind, and this was later followed by editions of early poems from this legacy. Prose and correspondence were also published.
text Ton Naaijkens
Translation Jo Gates
C E L A N 'S L I F E
Paul Antschel Celan was born on 23 November 1920 in Czernowitz, the former capital city of the Romanian Bukovina, now part of the Ukraine. Czernowitz was a gathering place for all kinds of people and cultures: it was home to Czech, Polish, Russian, Romanian, Jewish and Gypsy people. The multilingualism of his surroundings led Celan to make the Yiddish, Romanian, German, Russian, French and Hebrew languages his own. Paul Celan’s parents were German-speaking Jews who raised their son Jewish and sent him to a German Christian school. Celan’s youth was tinged with anti-Semitism. During the Russian, and later German occupation, he was forced to change schools and University three times. When war broke out, more than 3000 prominent Jews from the region were murdered and 45,000 people were forced to live in a ghetto. In 1942, the German occupier deported Celan’s parents to a labour camp, where they were murdered. Celan himself was initially able to go into hiding, but was subsequently forced to work in a labour camp from July 1942. Celan survived the war. Via Bucharest and Vienna he settled in Paris in 1948. In 1950 he completed a course in German studies and language science, after having briefly studied medicine in 1938, and romanistics in 1939. Celan worked in Paris as a poet and translator and taught at the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure. He was initially praised for his poetry, but later he received negative attention. Celan reacted with distrust and disappointment. The fact that he had survived a genocide caused him to feel guilt and despair. The severe depressions and tensions that this entailed ultimately led him to take his own life on 20 April 1970 by jumping into the Seine.
text Ton Naaijkens
Translation Jo Gates