Friday, April 21, 2006

Water, Wave, Shipwreck in Paul Celan's "Love Song"

Yesterday, we discussed the first three lines of Paul Celan’s Love Song and focused on the image of the “walnuts.” Today, I want to look at line two and the first few words of line three and the water imagery that emerges. Once again the translation from the Romanian is by Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi.

You’ll juggle them and a wave will crash in through the window,
Our single shipwreck . . ..

The “you” is juggling the “chiming walnuts” or the “phosphorescent eyes.” In the word “phosphorescent, ” Celan provides an image that conveys a sense of burning through oxidation. This burning will not be extinguished by water, by inundation, nor will walnuts be drowned by a crashing wave.

“Water” here has an intrusive and destructive quality but “phosphorescent eyes” will continue to burn and “walnuts” will float. At dawn, after the lovemaking, “a wave” will crash in through window and reveal the “shipwreck.”

The image places them-the you and the I- floating on the sea. I believe that once again we have an image of stuck-ness. The poem’s location now is not up in the sky, not below at the bottom of the sea, but on the surface of the water; and, the surface of the water is not safe: it is the location of a “ship wreck,” a dangerous place where the participants might drown. People caught in a shipwreck find themselves washed up on beaches lost and desolate.

Additionally, there is something nonchalant and sinister about the “you” juggling the walnuts because through the juggling or because of it the wave comes through the window. There is an invasion of their containment, their space. With the invasion of the room by the wave, a split occurs, revealing yet another layer within the poem. Below their room is yet another room, just, as within the poem, there are additional layers of meaning.

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