Thursday, March 30, 2006

Paul Celan's Romanian Poems

Recently, I was making my monthly run through Half Price Books, when I discovered Paul Celan: Romanian Poems, translated from the Romanian with an Introduction by Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi, Green Integer 2003. All translations in today’s posting are theirs.

I was excited to find this little book because it contains Celan’s works written during the time he “spent in Bucharest, Romania’s capital between his departure from his native Bukovina in 1945 and his arrival in Vienna in 1947.” (p. 7).

The first poem, Encounter, introduces a number of Celan’s central images and illustrates the way in which he maintains, supports and carries meaning, tone, and unity through images.

The poem consists of three, four lined stanzas. I will deal with only the first stanza today.

Tonight it’ll rain on the green dunes of limestone,
The wine preserved til today in the mouth of a dead man
Will awaken the land of the foot-bridges, displaced in a bell.
A human tongue will trumpet audacity in a helmet

His chief clusters of images involve water, bell shaped containers, and trees. Water imagery emerges through the use of “rain,” dunes,” “wine,” “coast,” “tide,” “dripping,” “waters,” “douse,” “land of foot-bridges,” and “imbibed.” The concept of “container” comes through the use of “mouth,” “bell,” urn,” and “helmet.” Tree imagery arises through the use of “tree,” “leaf,” “autumn on fire,” and “laurel.” These clusters of images intersect, reflect, and repeat.

The memories and the poem begin with rain falling on “green limestone.”

When the Germans interned Celan, he worked in a quarry, hauling stones and debris from the Prut River for the reconstruction of a bridge. While in this work camp, he learned that his father died in a slave labor camp from typhus; and, in the winter, he heard that his mother had been shot.

The rain drips into a container-“the mouth”-and becomes “wine.” This transformation is an allusion to John 2:3, where Mary asks Jesus to turn the water into wine. Celan’s use of Christian imagery is, of course, ironic and also hostile.

The wine awakens the memories of the camps-the German and Romanian soldiers used wooden planks to transverse the sea of mud that was created by the rains in winter-and forms an obvious allusion to Venice, the city of the dead. Additionally, the dead stuck in obscene positions in a sea of mud is emblematic of both world wars.

These images, then, are placed into another container-the bell, which is shaped like the German helmet (the Stahlhelm). The bell, perhaps ringing at a Christian Church, awakens the memory of the dead, and joins the audacious tongue, wearing a German Stahlhelm, and trumpeting, like the last days a call to awaken the dead and raise them from their graves.

1 comment:

thieone said...

you know a lot about bels. there is so much on this site. i have eternity to enjoy a surprise a day, or more. thanks for sharing.