The poem, Paul Celan once said, “is lonely,” and in its loneliness it reaches outward, “intends another … goes toward it.” In this way, Celan went on to explain, the poem creates the possibility for an encounter with the reader, for being heard and understood. One of the most revered and prolific European poets of the 20th century, Celan, born Paul Antschel in 1920 in Czernowitz, held out hope for that possibility of meaningful contact and communication through poetry.
“Breathturn Into Timestead,” a bilingual compilation of the poet’s five final volumes with translation and commentary by Pierre Joris, shows how Celan’s later, more obscure poetry continues to engender that kind of hope for connection, even while recognizing the very limits of poetry, of the German language, of words themselves.
In his illuminating introduction Joris points to an untitled poem, which begins: “Line the wordcaves / with panther skins” and suggests that the word, like the cave, is “hollow … a formation with its own internal complexities and crevasses,” and thus must be toyed with, reworked, reimagined, if it is to be meaningful at all. Put differently, and in Celan’s own language, poetry must be subjected to the “radical putting-into-question of art.”
(… ctd. here)