Monday, May 29, 2006

Headless Minstrel in Paul Celan's "Sand from the Urns"

This is a photograph of the monument to the White Rose in Munich.

In the last post, we concentrated on the color blue in line two of Paul Celan’s Sand from the Urns. Now I want to turn to the image of the headless minstrel. The second line reads- Vor jedem der wehenden Tore blaut dein enthaupteter Spielmann./ Before each of the blowing gates your decapitated minstrel turns blue. The most obvious conclusion is that a headless minstrel is no minstrel at all. In other words the minstrel has been silenced and the discordant image is that of a headless body, turning blue, painting the face of the “you.” As I said in a previous post, the minstrel is turning blue through the cold, his sadness, or his death. Through the use of the word, minstrel, Celan alludes to both a medieval servant, who entertains the nobility, or an American form of entertainment where whites performed in black face. Here, the minstrel has been beheaded. Decapitation has a long history and has been prevalent throughout western cultures for thousands of years. Additionally, severed heads play an important role in myths and folktales. However, in this poem we are not dealing with a talking head; instead, we have a headless body that performs its art without the benefit of its head. This headless minstrel, I believe, is to be seen as a political figure. As is well known, Nazi justice was dispensed to political criminals via the guillotine, the same form of punishment used during the French Revolution. The most notorious Nazi use of the guillotine was the execution of Sophie Scholl in Munich. On February 22, 1943, Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans, and Christoph Probst, stood trial before Judge Roland Freisler in Munich. Upon sentencing, they were quickly transferred to Munich-Stadelheim prison and within mere hours of their conviction executed via guillotine. Sophie Scholl was a member of the White Rose and she was arrested for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets. The pamphleteer was silenced through beheading but the pamphlet took on its own life. It was smuggled out of the country and then distributed throughout Germany by the allies. In this poem, the minstrel, the poet, is silenced but its art continues through the strength and discordance of the image. We will explore this theme more in our continuing explication.

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