Politics, language, poetic strategies

Hinrich Kuhls kls at SPAMmail.online-club.de
Tue Jan 9 14:28:35 MST 2001

>I tried to explain [...] that politics
>and language were closely intertwined

Paul Celan

With a changing key
you unlock the house where
the snow of what's silenced drifts.
Just like the blood that bursts from
your eye or mouth or ear,
so your key changes.

Changing your key changes the word
that may drift with the flakes.
Just like the wind that rebuffs you,
packed round your word is the snow.


Review article on recently published poems by Paul Celan:

A German-speaking Romanian Jew needed
new and different poetic strategies.


"Poetry is what gets lost in translation,'' Robert Frost once said, without
explaining why it is that certain great poets get translated over and over
again. With its fragmented words, multilingual puns and recondite
allusions, the verse of Paul Celan -- arguably the greatest European poet
in the postwar period -- hovers on the edge of untranslatability. And yet,
despite an Everest of difficulties, translators have repeatedly felt
compelled to bring Celan's dark laments into English, especially his
hauntingly melodic poem ''Deathfugue,'' with its searing evocation of
Jewish prisoners forced by the Nazis to play music at their own executions.


In ''Glottal Stop,'' the translators Heather McHugh and Nikolai Popov (she
is a poet, he is a professor of comparative literature) take greater risks
than either Joris or Felstiner but the poetic rewards are incomparably
greater, at times breathtaking. One senses the originality of Celan's
language in an English that is resourceful and adventurous, not strained.
Language comes alive on the page as both vision and sound: ''Voices, scored
into / the waters' green./ When the kingfisher dives, / the split second


[skipping to the last paragraph of an interesting article:]

Himself a gifted and prolific translator of poetry, Celan once famously
compared a poem to ''a message in a bottle, sent out in the ... belief that
somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps.''
Against Frost's warning that poetry cannot be exported out of its local
idiom, the polyglot exile Celan cannot imagine poetry that is not itself
already in motion, caught in a condition of wandering between borders and
languages and historical epochs...

Full article at:

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