Friday, August 04, 2006

Alchemical Images in Celan's "Die Niemandsrose"

Die Niemandsrose by Paul Celan is a progression of poems that expropriates both alchemical images and mystical symbols of the Kabala to express his psychological distress and his return to Jewishness. I believe he was undergoing the suffering associated with the nigredo, the first stage of alchemical psychological transformation. I also believe he had intimations of a successful outcome: the achievement of the philosopher’s stone. However, his experiences and his personality were such that he could only approach the opus alchymicum in a cynical and pessimistic way. In psychological terms, he was undergoing individuation and as part of the process he was returning to, remembering, and evaluating his earlier spiritual influences. This thesis can be shown through a close reading of the first poem of the collection Es war Erde Ihnen. I have explicated this poem in an earlier post but I did not concentrate on the alchemical symbols. In this poem, Celan uses both images of the concentration camp as well as alchemical signals to illustrate a progression or movement through darkness. The subjects of the poem “dig.” On one level they dig their own graves in the earth but on another level the earth is in them and their digging is in the spiritual body. In alchemy, “earth” is one of the four elements and to achieve the earth metaphorically is to obtain or provide "divine service." In Celan’s poem to dig into the earth is not to achieve “divine service,” although he says that God wants it. Instead his or her dig is to “no one.” However, through the digging the “I” approaches the “you.” In other words, through the digging the “I” approaches and resurrects figuratively through language those who died in the concentration camp. Through the language of the poem, the "I" and the "you" draw closer to wholeness. The "I" says und am Finger erwacht uns der Ring. Through the digging, the “I” approaches the “you” and a certain perfection or wholeness is achieved through the use of the symbol of the “ring.” It is a synecdoche expressing mutiple meanings: the circle of life, the marriage of the opposites or the purification ritual, and wholeness.

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