Thursday, April 20, 2006

Eyes and Walnuts in Paul Celan's "Love Song"

An archetype moves upward toward the world of ideas, images, and symbols and downward toward “the natural, biological processes-the instincts-it presents certain affinities with animal psychology.” Jolande Jacobi, Complex Archetype Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung, Bollingen Press 1974.

An archetype manifests itself primarily through metaphors. Jung initially referred to archetypes as Urbild or urtümliches Bild or, in English, “primordial images.” Jacobi states that Jung meant “all the mythologems, all the legendary or fairy-tale motifs, etc., which concentrate universally human modes of behavior into images, or perceptible patterns.” (id. 33)

An archetypal symbol appearing in the here and now can be “felt” as much as known by the conscious mind because of the psychic energy that surrounds it. The word “walnut” in Paul Celan’s poem Love Song has a psychic charge to it. When we read the poem we feel its mystery and its weight as symbol and as sexual image.

The first three lines of the poem, translation from the Romanian by Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi, set the stage and presents the images:

When the nights begin for you at dawn
Our phosphorescent eyeballs will scurry down from the walls, chiming walnuts,
You’ll juggle with them and a wave will crash in through the window

In this image, we have eyeballs scurrying about and compared to chiming walnuts. This, of course, is a surrealistic device, using an unusual, discordant metaphor to shock and also excite us. The metaphor shocks us primarily because both eyes and walnuts have sexual connotations and a long history, primarily in Greek and Roman literature, as sexual images. However, the shock comes from the new-the comparison of the two.

The comparison, no matter how shocking is not illogical. Both images convey a sense of wholeness and sexuality. The eye was thought to be a symbol of the androgyne, which we learned in an earlier post, is a symbol of wholeness and the nut because of its roundness is a symbol of unity and completeness. It is perhaps because of these initial associations that the two symbols have also represented sexuality. When Oedipus commits a sexual misdeed, he puts out his eyes and “walnuts” were known among the Romans as “Jupiter’s nut” and the Greeks as Dios balanos or “Zeus’ nut.” A nut is the end result of flowering and the walnut because of its shape and size was particularly “phallic” to the Romans. Varro states that juglans is a derivation of Jovis and glans means, “nut.” We have taken the word “glans” into our language as both the glans penis and the glans clitoridis.

According to J. C. Cooper, the walnut “shares with all nuts the symbolism of hidden wisdom, also fertility and longevity; the walnut was served at Greek and Roman weddings as such.” An interesting fact is that not only did the bride and groom share a quince at the marriage feast but the guests also threw walnuts at the bride and grown, symbolizing the impending cracking of the shell and the hope for fertility through the planting of the seed.

Consequently, when Celan compares these two images-eyes and walnuts-he brings all of the underlying connotations, associations, and psychic energy with them.

In my mind, Celan accomplishes, where maybe some of the other surrealists failed, the mandate to reach the archetypal through the use of startling metaphors.

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