Thursday, April 06, 2006

Recaptured Image of Shulamith in Paul Celan's "Encounter"

We have been discussing Paul Celan’s poem “Encounter” for almost a week and the meaning still runs ahead of us, refusing to be trapped or captured.

The translators chose the title-Encounter-while the Romanian word “regasire” could also be translated as “recaptured.”

What has been “encountered” or “recaptured?”

In an earlier post, I felt that the poem was once again addressed to Celan’s mother. The reason that I turned so quickly to that was the references to death, the military images, and, most importantly, the image of “hair,” which seemed to point toward her memory.

Celan has used the image of female hair numerous times when discussing the events of the Holocaust. The best-known reference is in his most famous poem-Todesfugue. (Dein aschenes Haar Sulamith wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften da liegt man nicht eng. Your ashen hair Shulamith we scoop a grave in the air there one lies freely.)

Shulamith is the "black and comely" princess in the Song of Songs in the Old Testament, whose name holds echoes of the Hebrew words shalom for peace and Yerushalayim for Jerusalem. According to Felstiner, the name Shulamith stands for the Jewish people themselves. John Felstiner, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew, Yale University Press, 1995), p. 38.

When Celan, in the third stanza, writes “your hair dripping out of the mirrors will blanket the regions of air," I feel that the “regasire” is the captured image of the mother, frozen in the mirror, of memory; and when he writes in the second stanza-“let it douse in your eyes, so I’ll think that we’ll die together”-he is referring to her death and his desire to think that they will die together, not apart and alone.

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