Monday, April 10, 2006

Verticality in Paul Celan's "Encounter"

On March 30, I began a discussion of Paul Celan’s poem, “Encounter.” I am not sure that we have come to a conclusive determination of its meaning but at least we have made friends with the poem, entered and felt it. I don’t believe the poet ever intended us to do more than to feel its tone and its sadness.

Today, I will end my discussion with a final observation and look toward the next poem in the collection of Celan's Romanian poems translated by Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi. My observation, I hope, will act as a transitional device.

In reading the poem over and over, just as Celan instructed us to, I noticed that there is a movement downward and then back up. This movement is vertical and I believe that verticality-through descent and ascent-provides a prevalent image in his poetry and provides a sense of movement. This movement is transcendental or symbolic of certain psychological as well as religious concepts of development.

The poem begins with rain falling onto the “dunes of limestone.” We begin with the sky, clouds and falling rain. The movement is from the sky to the earth.

The rain falls and transforms the “wine preserved” and “douses” the eyes and causes “hair to drip out of mirrors.”

Then the poem, in the last stanza, turns back and looks up toward the sky where the memory of the dead resides. The hair blankets the “region of air,” and the poet climbs a “belated ladder.”

From the rain that falls onto the earth, the poet, now remembering, climbs up to the sky, where the smoke of the burning bodies rises and memories live and fall from time to time onto the earth.

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