Monday, March 30, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 15.3 (Paul Celan)

Celan, Paul
Hamburger, Michael, Tr.
Poems of Paul Celan

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote about and posted Charles Bernstein's poem, "Death Fugue (Echo)," which takes its title from what is probably Celan's most famous poem. I heard Charles read his "Death Fugue" at a reading in Buffalo in 2001. His discussion of Celan's poem by way of introducing his own inspired me to look up the original, which I found in this translation. I think I bought it at Talking Leaves, but I can't be sure.

I like Hamburger's selection because it contains so much of the earlier work, before Atemwende, Fadensonnen and Lichtzwang. While the sensibility is there throughout Celan's work, the earlier poems have a kind of directness about them that is very different from the dense, inward, later poems. Having cut my teeth on the most difficult work, it was kind of eye-opening to read this other Celan, who spoke with an intense clarity and with a much more public voice than his later incarnation. There's an amazing recording of him reading "Todesfuge" (as well as about ten others) here:

I am a big fan of the collection, Die Niemandsrose, or "The No One's Rose," which phrase I ripped off and riffed on in a poem in my first book, and which contains one of my favorite Celan poems, "Tübingen, January," which is about a visit Celan made to Hölderlin's tower in Tübingen (in January).


Eyes talked into
Their--"an enigma is
the purely
originated"--, their
memory of
Hölderlin towers afloat, circled
by whirring gulls.

Visits of drowned joiners to
submerging words:

should a man,
should a man come into the world, today, with
the shining beard of the
patriarchs: he could,
if he spoke of this
time, he
only babble and babble
over, over

("Pallaksch. Pallaksch.")

John Felstiner's translation is a bit different and a useful comparison, with its weird echo of Poe at the end:

Eyes talked in-
to blindness.
riddle, what is pure-
ly arisen"--, their
memory of floating Hölderlintowers, gull-

Visits of drowned joiners to
plunging words:

Came, if there
came a man,
came a man to the world, today, with
the patriarchs'
light-beard: he could,
if he spoke of this
time, he
only babble and babble,
ever-, ever-

("Pallaksch. Pallaksch.")

Finally, here's the poem in the original:


Zur Blindheit über
- redete Augen.
Ihre - ‘ein
Rätsel ist Rein-
entsprungenes’ –, ihre
Erinnerung an
schwimmende Hölderlintürme, möwen-

Besuche ertrunkener Schreiner bei
tauchenden Worten:

käme ein Mensch,
käme ein Mensch zur Welt, heute, mit
dem Lichtbart der
Patriarchen: er dürfte,
spräch er von dieser
Zeit, er
nur lallen und lallen,
immer-, immer-

(‘Pallaksch. Pallaksch.’)

According to Felstiner, that last phrase is something Hölderlin used to mutter in later years. Sometimes it meant "yes," other times, "no."


Chris said...

I for one would like to read Neil Hamburger's translations of Celan.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

That would be something, for sure.

Pierre Joris said...

Check out Jerry Rothenberg's translation of TODEFUGE which i reprinted in my Paul Celan: Selections (University of California press) with a number of new or retranslations of earlier work by myself. I also used the excellent translations of Joachim neugroschel & those of Cid Corman in that book. — Pierre

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Thanks, Pierre. I've been meaning to buy that volume for a while. I have a memory of having leafed through it at St. Mark's Books at some point while waiting to meet a friend. I have read some of Corman's translations at some point -- I guess I must have read them in Origin in the Poetry Collection here in Buffalo when I was in grad school. Do I have it correctly in my memory that Corman was the first person to start translating Celan in to English?

Pierre Joris said...

No, the first ones were Jerry's in his "New Young German Poets" (City lihts, 1959) as far as I know. Cid's were done in the 60ies, but he stopped as celan did give him permission to print them. But that's a whole other story... Pierre

Pierre Joris said...

I meant of course: "did not give him permission"