Paul Celan, Three Poems

Anselm Kiefer, Dein Goldenes Haar Margarethe

My translations of three poems by Paul Celan, one of Germany’s greatest twentieth century poets.

Death Fugue

Black milk of the early hours we drink it evenings
we drink it midday and mornings we drink it nights
we drink and drink
we dig a grave in the air there one lies spaciously
A man lives in the house he plays with the snakes he writes
he writes he writes when it darkens towards Germany your golden hair
Margarete
he writes it and goes outside and the stars glitter he whistles for his hounds
he whistles for his Jews has a grave dug in the earth
he orders us play now for the dance

Black milk of the early hours we drink you nights
we drink you mornings and midday we drink you evenings
we drink and drink
A man lives in the house and plays with the snakes he writes
he writes when it darkens towards Germany your golden hair Margarete
Your ashen hair Shulamite we dig a grave in the air there one lies spaciously
He shouts dig deeper into the earth you lot you others sing and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
dig deeper the spades you lot you others play on for the dance

Black milk of the early hours we drink you nights
we drink you midday and mornings we drink you evenings

we drink and drink
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamite he plays with the snakes

He shouts play death more sweetly death is a master from Germany
he shouts stroke the fiddles more darkly then you shall rise as smoke into air
then you shall have a grave in the clouds there one lies spaciously

Black milk of the early hours we drink you nights
we drink you midday death is a master from Germany
we drink you evenings and mornings we drink and drink
death is a master from Germany his eye is blue
he strikes you with his leaden bullet he strikes you squarely
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his hounds on us he gives us a grave in the air
he plays with the snakes and dreams death is a master from Germany
your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamite

I am Alone

I am alone, I place the ash flower
into the glass full of ripe blackness. Sister mouth,
you speak a word that lives on outside the windows
and what I dreamed climbs silently up my body.

I stand in the full bloom of the withered hour
and save a rosin for a late bird:
it wears a snow flake on its life-red feathers;
a little grain of ice in its beak, it shall survive the summer.

Psalm

No one kneads us again from earth and clay,
No one speaks over our dust.
No one.

Praised be you, No one.
For your sake shall
we flower.
Towards
you.

A nothing
were we, are we, shall
we remain, flowering:
the nothing-, the
no-one-rose.

With
our pistil soul-bright,
stamen sky-ravaged,
corolla red
with the crimson word we sang
over, oh over
the thorn.

[Paul Celan, 1920-1970, Rumanian-German Jew, with Rilke, Benn and Brecht and now, possibly, Enzensberger, considered one of Germany’s great 20th century poets; translated Mandelstam, Blok, Rimbaud, Valéry, Essinin, Ungaretti; mother murdered in Nazi concentration camp; spent two years in a Nazi labour camp; lived in Paris from 1948; sectioned in a psychiatric ward after murder attempt on wife; committed suicide by drowning in the Seine; considered hermetic; Celan: ‘the poem displays, that is obvious, a strong tendency to grow silent… the poem holds its own at its own edge; it calls and, in order to survive, continually brings itself back from its already-no-more into its still-there.’]

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~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on October 30, 2010.

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