PAUL CELAN: A TORMENTED POET


I translated the Death Fugue for my friend Tommy Mandl many years ago.  I just came across the translation and thought I’d share it.

The poet, Paul Celan, was a German-speaking Jew from Bukovina (northern Romania), an area that was occupied by the USSR in 1940.  The Romanians got it back for a few years following the 1941 German invasion of the USSR, but the USSR reclaimed it in 1945.  Today, it is part of the Ukraine.

As so many surviving Eastern European Jews, Celan was a tortured spirit.  He ended his life in 1960 by jumping into the Seine River.  The original German version of the Death Fugue is absolutely riveting, and I hope that my translation captures a little of that.

Black milk of morn we drink of you evenings

we drink of you noons and mornings we drink of you nights

we drink and we drink

we shovel a grave in the air now there’s plenty of room

A man lives in a house he frolics with serpents he

writes

he writes in the gloaming to Germany your golden

mane Margarete

he writes it and steps on the porch and the stars gleam above

he whistles for his hounds

he whistles at his Jews start digging a grave in the earth

he commands and he plays so heed him and dance

Black milk of morn we drink of you nights

we drink of you mornings and noons we drink of you evenings

we drink and we drink

A man lives in a house he frolics with serpents he

writes

he writes in the gloaming to Germany your golden

mane Margarete

your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave

in the air now there’s plenty of room

he yells you dig deeper you there and you now sing out and play

he reaches for the iron in his belt he swings it his eyes

are blue

thrust those spades deeper now strike up a tune so you can dance

Black milk of morn we drink of you nights

we drink of you noons and mornings we drink of you evenings

we drink and we drink

a man lives in a house your golden mane Margarete

your ashen hair Shulamith he frolics with serpents

he yells play death more sweetly death is a master

from Germany

he yells play the violin more darkly then you will rise

into the air as smoke

in the clouds you’ll lie buried where there’s plenty of room

Black milk of morn we drink of you nights

we drink of you noons death is a master from

Germany

we drink of you evenings and mornings we drink and we drink

death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue

he hits you with a lead bullet that passes clean through

a man lives in a house your golden mane Margarete

he sets his hounds on us he grants us a grave in the air

he frolics with serpents and dreameth death is

a master from Germany

your golden mane Margarete

your ashen hair Shulamith

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About Michael J. Kubat

I'm a grumpy Czech-born clinical social worker who is vitally interested in the survival in the United States as a viable democracy and a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
This entry was posted in 20th-Century Socialism, genocide and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to PAUL CELAN: A TORMENTED POET

  1. Pingback: Herbert Marcuse on the concrete reproduction of experience in Paul Celan’s ‘death fuge’, noted also in art of 1945 « Aaron Asphar: poetry, critical theory + philosophy

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