Friday, May 19, 2006

Color in Paul Celan's "Sand from the Urns"

The strength of the first line lies in the juxtaposition of the color-mold green-against the concept-the house of forgetting.

Celan begins the poem with the word Schimmelgr√ľn, a compound construction that functions as an adjective, describing the house of forgetting. Mold green conveys a color and a tone. This tone is expressionistic in nature and presents a worldview and is also consistent with the themes found in the hermetic poets of the 30s. In other words the House of Forgetting or Oblivion is in a state of decay. It is important to note at this juncture that the word for oblivion in German is Vergessenheit, which Celan did not use; instead he uses Vergessens/forgetting. Oblivion is a state of unknowing, while forgetting is an active erasing of memory.

More specifically, the use of the world "mold" elicits a tone (somber, sinister, sad) as well as presents several alternate meanings that serve to deepen the complexity of the poem as well as unify the overlying theme. For instance, molds are fungi that cover the surface of something organic that is either in some stage of decay or moist. The fungi cover the surface in the form of fluffy mycelia, which produces masses of spores. These spores can be either asexual or sexual. The use of mold in the first line, then, raises Celan themes of decay, water, and sex, all of which are reinforced in the later sentences. This type of precision in word choice differentiates Celan from the surrealists and demonstrates his craftsmanship but also raises the specter of hermeticism, a term he did not like.

Our first image then is a house, a container of forgetting, mold green in color, decaying and dying.

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