Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Celan Poem: exactitude and magnificence overshadowing

If you don't know of the poet Paul Celan I am most comfortable in directing you to Paul Celan: After the Disaster, an article in Spike magazine.

Celan's work is discussed in contexts of poetics (Modernism and its flaws; his leaps beyond), philosophy (Heidegger), betrayal (Heidegger), history (the Holocaust), genius (the poems and his translations).

When a poem is as efficient and spare as the following, any reaction seems a bit heavy-handed. Somewhere along the line I lost my collected poems (of Celan), so it's been a long time since I encountered this. My heart did that fake-heartstopping-thing when I read the second line ... the heavenleaf's web of veins.

Here in a ratty cubicle on the seventh floor of a midtown Manhattan office building, I was under that sky, saw it, knew it, knew empty time, the thought-beetle climbing.

I won't risk even that much about the couplet, except I'm in thrall to its exactitude and so magnificence overshadows (or shines out) the blood-bloom, the beetle, the feelers. Yes, yes, yes. The top of my head is missing.


Ring–narrowing Day under
the heavenleaf’s web of veins.
Across large cells of empty time, through
the rainfall, climbs
a black–blue thing: the

Words in blood-bloom
throng before his feelers.

Paul Celan (1920-1970); translated from the German by Heather McHugh and Nikolai Popov,
in Jubilat # 1 (

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