Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A note on Ihn Ritt die Nacht by Paul Celan

There is an image in Paul Celan’s Ihn ritt die nacht, which resonates with depth and meaning. For me, the image of the orange in the third stanza exemplifies the concept of the primordial word, which energizes and mythologizes poetry.

Here is the original with my translation.

Ihn ritt die Nacht

The night rode him, he came to himself,
the orphan’s overall was the flag,

no more detours
it rode him straight-

It is, it is, as if the oranges stood in the hedge,
as if, so ridden, he wore nothing
but his

Ihr ritt die Nacht, er war zu sich gekommen,
der Waisenkittel war die Fahn,

kein Irrlauf mehr,
es ritt ihn grad

Es ist, es ist, als stünden in Liguster die Orangen,
als hätt der so Gerittene nichts an
als seine
muttermalige, ge

What comes first the primordial word or image?

When I first read this poem, I immediately focused on the orange, standing in the hedge, shining like a beacon in green, cool darkness. The orange does not hang; it stands. Although it stands boldly within the boundary of the hedge, it glows like a full moon on a dark night. It is hidden and yet it shines.

The orange is an anomaly, which functions as a beacon, calling us, filling our mind and imagination with its vibrancy, its color. From this initial attraction, our imagination moves to the other senses to create a sense of weight and depth. We touch the rough peel of the orange, we smell its citrus aroma, we taste its tart sweetness, we chew its thick pulp, and we suck the slick pips that slide around our tongue. Our mouths water as our eyes linger on the glowing orange, which stands like a prisoner within the hedge.

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