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Home > Blog > March 2007 > Poet of the Week--Paul Celan

Paul Celan (born Paul Antesche) was born in Romania in 1920. He was raised in a Jewish family speaking Romanian, French, and Russian. When World War II began, his family was deported to the Nazi labor camps where they perished. Celan himself was imprisoned as well, but eventually escaped and joined the Red Army. At the end of the war, he moved to Bucharest where he worked as a reader and translator at a publishing house. He began publishing his own works as well, writing under various pseudonyms (Celan was his favorite). Celan’s first book was published to no acclaim whatsoever in 1947; however, his sophomore effort, Mohn und Gedaechtnis (Poppy and Memory), garnered much critical attention. In the 1960s, he published more than six books of poetry and continued translating works by the likes of Henri Michaux, Osip Mandelstam, Rene Char, Paul Valéry, and Fernando Pessoa. Celan committed suicide in 1970. “Fugue of Death” is perhaps his most famous poem and intimately describes the experience of the concentration camps.

 

Fugue of Death (translated by Christopher Middleton)

 

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall

 

we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night

 

we drink it and drink it

 

we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there

 

A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes

 

he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden

 

hair Margarete

 

he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter he

 

whistles his dogs up

 

he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in

 

the earth

 

he commands us strike up for the dance

 

 

 

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

 

we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at

 

nightfall

 

drink you and drink you

 

A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes

 

he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden

 

hair Margarete

 

Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the

 

sky it is

 

ample to lie there

 

 

 

He shouts stab deeper in earth you there and you others

 

you sing and you play

 

he grabs at the iron in his belt and swings it and blue are

 

his eyes

 

stab deeper your spades you there and you others play on

 

for the dancing

 

 

 

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at nightfall

 

we drink you at noon in the mornings we drink you at

 

nightfall

 

drink you and drink you

 

a man in the house your golden hair Margarete

 

your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

 

 

 

He shouts play sweeter death's music death comes as a

 

master from Germany

 

he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you

 

shall climb to the sky

 

then you'll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie

 

there

 

 

 

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night

 

we drink you at noon death comes as a master from

 

Germany

 

we drink you at nightfall and morning we drink you and

 

drink you

 

a master from Germany death comes with eyes that are

 

blue

 

with a bullet of lead he will hit in the mark he will hit

 

you

 

a man in the house your golden hair Margarete

 

he hunts us down with his dogs in the sky he gives us a

 

grave

 

he plays with the serpents and dreams death comes as a

 

master from Germany

 

 

 

your golden hair Margarete

 

your ashen hair Shulamith.

Tags: Poetry

Paul Celan
Paul Celan
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