The peerless translations of this haunted—and haunting—Holocaust poet, including ten new poems and an illuminating essay by the translator. Paul Celan is one the twentieth century's most essential poets, and twenty-two years after its publication, Poems of Paul Celan continues to be the single truest access for English-speakers to this poet's work. This new edition adds ten more poems and a significant essay, "On Translating Celan" by Michael Hamburger.
George Steiner has declared, "The quality of aloneness in Celan is pitiless." Paul Celan's hermetic, Holocaust-haunted works call out to us and then resort to difficulty, private language, and--in the late art--splintering and silence. Celan, who committed suicide in 1970, was born in Romania and wrote in a German taut with archetypes, archaisms, and neologisms, which has both frustrated and inspired fellow poets and translators. Michael Hamburger has been more daring than most. Laboring on a dual-language selection, he had to resort to biographical clues to unravel entire poems; he bluntly states that "much of Celan's later poetry can be intuitively grasped, but not rendered in another language, without as much knowledge as possible of his sources.... What makes them difficult is the terrain itself--a terrain in which milk is black, death is the all-encompassing reality--not the nature of its charting."
The reference is to Celan's most famous work, "Todesfuge" ("Death Fugue"), a poem which grows more harrowing with each reading, particularly the iconic lines "death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue / he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true." Hamburger's translation begins:
Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon and in the morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there lies one unconfined...
Though this is among Celan's more accessible works, most of the poems in Hamburger's volume will reward, and stun, the attentive reader.