Paul Celan, his birthday

Paul Celan’s  92nd birthday was yesterday — he was born 23 November 1920. I waited out Black Friday to post on it. So, to celebrate the man, here, in my translation, a poem, the last one in the final posthumous volume Zeitgehöft / Timestead:

Vinegrowers dig up dig
under 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 a Sabbath.

* * *

Rebleute graben
die dunkelstündige Uhr um,
Tiefe um Tiefe,

du liest,

es fordert
der Unsichtbare den Wind
in die Schranken,

du liest,

die Offenen tragen
den Stein hinterm Aug,
der erkennt dich,

am Sabbath.


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Pierre Joris

Pierre Joris is a poet, translator, essayist & anthologist who has published more than 50 books, most recently, Meditations on the Stations of Mansur al-Hallaj (poems) from Chax Press and The University of California Book of North African Literature (volume 4 in the Poems for the Millennium series), coedited with Habib Tengour. Exile is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader edited & translated by Joris, and Pierre Joris: Cartographies of the In-between, essays on Joris’ work edited by Peter Cockelbergh, came out in 2012. Forthcoming are Barzakh — Poems 2000-2012 (Black Widow Press) & Breathturn Into Timestead:The Collected Later Poems of Paul Celan (FSG).

4 opinions on “Paul Celan, his birthday”

  1. I’m curious as to why you have “dig up dig” when “graben” appears only once. In the third stanza, I’m also wonder why you chose to make “the invisible / one” the subject of the sentence, acting on the wind, while in the German “der Unsichtbare” is the object of the sentence.

    1. François, hi: 1) actually it should be read as “dig up dig / under…” which is my attempt to translate the “Um” of umgraben. maybe too much or too heavy handed.
      2) grammatically the German construction is complex, but the subject is “der Unsichtbare” i.e. the meaning is “der Unsichtbare fordert den Wind in die Schranken” (“den Wind” is in the accusative, i.e. is the object)

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