Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Paul Celan as Shaman

Michael Hamburger in his excellent Poems of Paul Celan, Persea Books, 2002, places two poems side by side, creating, at least for me, the impression that they are to be read together. The two poems are From Darkness to Darkness/ Von Dunkel zu Dunkel and Epitaph for François/Grabschrift für François. The truth of the matter is that Epitaph was written a year before Darkness. Nevertheless they both involve and elicit an understanding of death and its relationship to life and they are both haunting in their simplicity and depth. Ted Hughes believed that the poet was a shaman and that his poetry was ritualistic in nature and had the power to transform the reader. I believe Hughes and I think that the shaman’s power is alive in these two poems. The shaman, like our friend Hermes, is a psychopomp; he leads us to the underworld and then back again. In Darkness, the “I/ich” sees his own darkness in the eye of the other. “Du schlugst die Augen auf-ich seh mein Dunkel leben./ You opened your eyes-I saw my darkness live.” In Epitaph, the dying child opens the two doors of existence-life and death- and the living, the survivor, carries the “green” memory of the dead forward.

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