During my meditation on Hermes, Paul Celan slipped into my conscious mind. In an attempt to understand why he is here, I have left the trail and followed his image into the woods. I have asked myself, why has Celan appeared when I am looking for Hermes? The response I feel belongs to a constellation of shadow, symbol, and language.
Celan is the master of darkness and language. Hermes was not only the guide of the soul but he was also the inventor of language. Hermes is associated with the herm, the four-sided stone that marked the way to the agora in Athens. The word herma, the mute stone, is connected with hermeneia, the word “explanation.” Hermes then, according to Karl Kerényi, is the hermeneus-the “interpreter.”
Celan was a translator of poetry. He used images of stone throughout his work. He was a language creator, known for his creation of new words. His use of neologisms was so unique that he was called a hermetic poet, an epithet he detested.
Somewhere, along the line, he became interested in alchemy and he used alchemical expressions to show change and transformation.
His use of darkness juxtaposed against light hints at the interaction of the shadow with the ego. Sometimes, his poems seem a discussion between the Ich and the du, the “I” and the “you,” the other, the shadow.
There is a poem in Lichtzwang that seems to express this split between the “I” and the other. Once again the translation is mine.
By Paul Celan
schon tief in der Macchia, als du
Doch konnten wir nicht
hinüberdunkeln zu dir:
already deep in the shrubs, when you
finally crawled along
but we could not
darken over to you: