Thursday, December 21, 2006

Paper Making, Etching, and the Mulberry in Celan

Paul Celan’s poetry, more often than not, causes me to slow down, to meditate on the images, and once I think that I have grasped their meaning, they surprise me and turn me in another direction. This surprise usually springs from a trap of images. In reading and re-reading the first poem of Atemwende, SuhrkampVerlag (Frankfurt am Main 1967), I thought I had tripped the spring and that the trap of meaning was sprung; however, through an accident really, I discovered yet another meaning behind the word-Maulbeerbaum. I happened onto a book that I read in 1965, when I was in middle school, entitled The Black Rose (1945), by the Canadian novelist, Thomas Costain. In that novel Costain describes, in some detail, Chinese paper making techniques, which depend upon the use of mulberry bark. Suddenly the line-sooft ich Schulter an Schulter/ mit dem Maulbeerbaum-ushers us into the realm of the literary. Perhaps, Celan is saying that “You may celebrate me because I have walked shoulder to shoulder with paper-with the page, with poetry.
Nevertheless, even though you may celebrate him for his literary excursion, the “leaf” still cries out. We know from prior explications that "leaf," often refers to the poet; consequently, we have yet another possible meaning for the poem. We also have the obvious connection between "Blatt" from tree and "Blatt (leaf) of paper. In fact, the use of the word Blatt in regard to paper and writing is as rich or richer in German than in English.
Finally, as an aside and for future consideration, etching is an image that permeates the collection-Atemwende. Etching and papermaking are handmade arts that have a physicality to them, which I believe, as images, thematically emerge.

No comments: