Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The "mandorla" in the poetry of Paul Celan

As I read more and more Paul Celan poetry, I have come to realize that his poetry is meant to be a mandorla, a sacred space of creation. The mandorla symbolizes that dark fecund space between the two doors of existence, where the poet, alchemist, or the shaman can create, conjure and remember the greenness of life. Remember the lines from Epitaph for François that I quoted in an earlier post: Die beiden Türen der Welt/ stehen offen/ the two doors of the world stand open.

As J.E. Cirlot states in A Dictionary of Symbols (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1995), “two circles are sometimes used to symbolize the Upper and Lower worlds, that is heaven and earth.” In the poetry of Celan, the two worlds break down between the void or darkness before life and the void or darkness after death. The two circles intersect to form life, where the living remember, observe and create art, which grows the memories of the dead, through the express medium of language. The poet, then, is an alchemical creature, a Hermes, that creates between the two doors. Further, through this creation of man, God becomes whole.

In a poem in Die Niemandsrose, Celan explicitly states his theme. Your/ Being beyond in the night./ With words I fetch you back, there you are,/all is true and a waiting/ for truth. (Poems of Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger, Persea Books 2002, p. 139).

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