Paul Celan

For the great German-language poet and translator from 8 languages

fast, cold, deep

or a dream I woke up


     A Place Called September
     A Time Called the Rhône

won’t heed my calling him

through some drift of date, dreaming

what is late,

my rope-bridge.

But I won’t, in brutal fact
give up on the sink-tests
in beds of municipal pools
where my word-words
bob. Still

on rare occasions,
I see clouds, hear
the sky

—light, water, dust

his swimming—

his way toward meaning farther
            his crawl
through stone dark

what he made room of,

and one night joined them

     the cruelest month ebblessly below
     le Pont Mirabeau

joined them unto each other

a passage between the bones

“Mit allem, was darin Raum hat, auch ohne Sprache.”

The End

In love – written inside the end – maybe yours maybe mine – inside the cover that closes the book – like the room at the center of a closing – down the hall, on a train, along lengths of fallen trees – in a room that loves room – more than you more than me – I read from the book where rooms are still open – With all that has room in it – rooms I rove in, words that you move – as we all pretend we have nothing to share – and once, glimpsed – a room in a book of two people readingeven without language – even the wound – surge up from the depths, plunge down from the ceiling – to hold open – along the lengths of halls you can’t see curve – what I try to give you is what gives of itself – All that has room in it, even without language

La fin

Amoureuse – écrit à l’intérieur de la fin – peut-être la tienne, peut-être la mienne – à l’intérieur de la couverture qui ferme le livre – comme l’espace au milieu d’un cercle qui se ferme – dans un train, le long d’un couloir, en longeant des arbres coupés – dans une chambre qui adore l’espace – plus que toi, plus que moi – je lis à partir du livre où les chambres sont toujours ouvertes – Avec tout ce qui a ici de l’espace – des espaces dans lesquels  j’erre, des mots que tu fais bouger – pendant que tout le monde fait comme si nous n’avons rien à partager – une fois, guettée – une chambre dans un livre, deux personnes qui lisent – même sans langage – même la blessure – remontée des profondeurs, plongé d’en-haut – le ciel ouvert – en longeant des couloirs que l’on ne voit pas tourner – ce que j’essaie de te donner est ce qui se donne de lui-même – Avec tout ce qui a ici de l’espace, et même sans parole


Amidst and Across – Paul Celan’s Atemwende in Translation

Densities of Presence and Absence

“Everything holds within itself so as not to be submerged by the multitude of forms dreaming to appear.” This sentence—or rather, its incarnation today—is one I have been translating for several years. The words are mine, and are not, just as their “real” writer, the French poet Jean-Louis Giovannoni, was inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin; the long poem this sentence sets en route is called Variations à partir d’une phrase de Friedrich Hölderlin. The “phrase” or sentence in question I never did locate in Hölderlin’s German, but Giovannoni’s French reads as follows: “Tout est un intérieur / Et pourtant sépare.” Thus, through the French, Hölderlin says in the epigraph of my translation, for now: “Everything is an interior / And yet separates.” This displeases me, in that I don’t quite hear the grace of Giovannoni’s Hölderlin, which lies in the near-perfect aural symmetry of this enigmatic paradox, linking the inmost with—not so much the outmost, but rather with the separation brought about by the many—by which, in turn, the inmost becomes the stance of the one.

To some degree, this is an example of the sort of thing literary translators ponder to the confoundment of others, such as technical translators, of which I am one (while feeling my true calling to be literary translation, which I understand as a sort of poetic conjuncture between a broadening and a narrowing into focus). In any event, one of the reasons Giovannoni’s poem keeps calling me back is because I have come to identify more with the dreaming, formless multitude of self, than with its holding-into structure and form. In other words, and rather to my dismay, I am the nothing-as-everything-else sort, rather than the single point of precise focus, or the crystalline arrangement between several points. Still, the latter touches me, moves me, even speaks to me; and I respond this way: could I, might I not be the dream of a crystal? This I doubt, but the (im)possibility secretly compels me. Which brings us to a stranger question still: Could I be the Other of a crystal? The Other for whom its intricate form exists, stands, comes into presence, if you will, the other for whom it breathes. You might ask, but does it breathe, and if so, how? But already I am wondering about the crystalline form of breath, about the secret enigma of what it moves through and what it might be trying to say…

I am not crystalline; I do not hold within as much as I drift, wander. Still, my questions take on their own dreamy form. In the poetry of Paul Celan, they meet a kind of foreign nearness, that is, poems which both stand and move, which are both a precise array of points and a sensing, thinking, feeling through those points. In this way, Celan’s poems have called me into the unheard of, which is to say, into “encounter”—the translation of Celan’s “begegnung”—toward which his Meridian speech reaches and turns, following the breath, but also its absence, and thus approaching the Strange, which Celan’s poems fearlessly address….

…continue reading here


“Rehearsal” for my MFA graduate seminar on reading poetry in translation, featuring the poetry of Paul Celan

How to read poetry in translation (when you don’t read the source language)

Watch my seminar PPT on YouTube

Reading Poetry in Translation (when you don’t read the source language)
Featuring the poetry in German of Paul Celan