Monday, April 17, 2006

Paul Celan, Chestnuts, Walnuts and Love

Two and half months ago, I prepared an outline of topics for this blog. The list had twenty subjects and so far I have only covered one or two of them. One thing is clear to me, however, but may not be clear to you, and that is each of the topics is interrelated. You might ask, what has Paul Celan to do with your meditation on Hermes, and the answer would be-he is a hermetic poet. What is a hermetic poetic you might ask, and I would say I have not yet reached that point in our discussion.

Today, I was going to discuss the myth of Hephaestus and Aphrodite but instead, over coffee, I became interested in the first line of a Paul Celan poem and I rushed off to see if I could figure it out. The line is from a poem written in 1940, entitled Drüben: Erst jenseits der Kastanien ist die Welt/ Only on the other side of the chestnuts is the world.

I was interested in this line because I have been preparing an explication de texte of one of Celan’s Romanian poems, entitled Love Song, which begins

When the nights begin for you at dawn
Our phosphorescent eyeballs will scurry down from the walls, chiming walnuts

(Translation by Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi in Paul Celan Romanian Poems, Green Integer 81, 2003)

The Romanian word in the original is noci, “nuts.” Why did the translators choose the word "walnuts" rather than nuts or chestnuts for that matter?

We have already dealt with image of nuts in an earlier blog; however, is there any connection between the chestnuts of 1940 and the noci in 1947? Is there any relationship to the “love song” of 1947 and Drüben written during the war? Is Love Song really a poem about love?

Nevertheless, I am fascinated with the image of nuts, walnuts and chestnuts.

What was happening in 1940 to Paul Celan?

Because of the war, Celan could not return to his medical studies in France and he was forced to remain in Czernowitz. He, therefore, made the decision to enroll at the local university to study French language and literature.

On June 28, 1940, Russian tanks rolled into Czernowitz with little or no opposition.

Upon their arrival, the Romanian teachers fled to Bucharest and later the Russians installed their own teachers at the university. Out of necessity Celan began to study Russian.

A few months after the Russians' arrival, Celan was heard to say “Jetzt bin ich Trotzkist,” just as André Breton had declared in Paris when he learned the truth about Stalin.

During the summer of 1940 Celan met Ruth Lackner, an actress in the Yiddish Theater, and in September he met Rosa Leibovici. He was fated to have a romantic relationship with each of them.

With the stage set, I will begin a discussion of Love Song tomorrow.

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