40 Years Ago: Paul Celan

Grave of Paul Celan (1920 - 1970) at the cemetery Thiais, near Paris, France.

In late spring 1970, Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, estranged wife of the poet Paul Celan, wrote to the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann, an early love and life-long friend of the poet’s: “In the night from Monday to Tuesday, 19 to 20 April, he left his apartment, never to return… ” (Bachmann-Celan Correspondence, p. 197).

This makes today the fortieth anniversary of Paul Celan’s death. He left the (very noisy, as he had complained to friends) apartment on avenue Emile Zola, walked to the Pont Mirabeau (the name of a bridge across the Seine near by his flat, but of course also the title of a famous Apollinaire poem) and went into the water. Below, my translation of the last poem Paul Celan wrote, starting it around April first and finishing it on the 13th.

Vinegrowers dig up
the darkhoured watch,
depth for depth,

you read,

the invisible
one commands the wind
to stay in bounds,

you read,

the Open Ones carry
the stone behind the eye,
it recognizes you,

on the Sabbath.

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8 opinions on “40 Years Ago: Paul Celan”

  1. Emotions so powerful they verge on the inarticulate; but the deepest human responses lie, as Celan knew, on the melting crust between reason and chaos.

  2. One I hadn’t seen before: thanks to the Web I read countless things that claim to be poems each week and it can become numbing but then, once in a blue yonder, appears the real thing, and I remember why I took to poetry in the first place.

  3. Thanks for posting this — I’ve reposted to FB. It’s the 90th anniversary of Celan’s birth on November 23 this year. There will be a whole series of events in London, in Germany, and in Czernowitz.

  4. Hi Pierre – Yes, will let you know. Both Goethe Society in London and British Library are planning events in November, Rita

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