Category Archives: Celan

Through the woods

I’ve found the patch in the woods where the muntjacs live; I guess they don’t move around much. I can usually find them if I’m careful, but I try to stem my desire to stalk them so they won’t get spooked and go away. I love to know they’re there, living their secret lives, and I think of them often.
‘Find your own silence’, say the animals’ eyes to ours. There’s no bridge between us, not anymore. Perhaps there never was.
The silence of writing. What is it a sentence can do, even a banal one, when it’s brought back from contemplation and coupled to the world through the act of writing it? The reflexivity of writing isn’t a dead end as I once thought. Nor is it a game. It can be an event that moves you on, or back to where things silently happen with you. It can be a practical act in its own way – an act of faith – if done with ‘right effort’. What’s your task then? To bring the chaotic, detached everyday self into a clearer awareness: not of a spiritual world lifted out the material but of the two interwoven in every moment.

*

The trees are letting their seeds fly in the wind. White catkin fluff catches to things like sheep’s wool on brambles. I picked some from my beard this morning. The scatter-approach to pollination: something’s bound to take in the earth and grow lasting and solid, as if it was always there.

*

When I can’t write, when the building noise distracts me, or when I have nothing to say, I don’t recognize myself. I’m not at home. Writing is a house of being under construction. Sometimes you feel you’re living in rubble. But then the right sentence comes, the edifice rises up around you and the edifice is what was there all along. At the same time the sentence you’ve written stands as a witness to what it’s revealed, even made richer than it was, at least for you. When this happens the world lies open. You can get up from your desk and live in your home, kiss S., make plans with her.

I say these things again and again because every day they escape my grasp, or rather I escape theirs.

*

When you think, you’re both thinking and describing your thoughts. Isn’t the act of writing – the blackening of the screen – just a way of shaping thought? And when you think, aren’t you already in writing, committed to building a house of being around you whether you like it or not? You move from thought to act and back again, trying to find your way through the words of others. What happens when you write a thought down? Often the subject eludes you. The words disperse. But doesn’t something happen nevertheless? No matter how unsure you are of what you’re saying, no matter how badly you fail to grasp it, doesn’t something take place in the saying itself?

*

When we go through the woods, says Heidegger, we’re always already going through the word ‘woods’. Both the woods and the word were there before us. But it’s the going through them that brings them together. In a sense the saying of the word summons the thing. The word summons but doesn’t create. We don’t give being, but call and respond to it, help unveil it, enter it. And as we do, being at the same time withdraws from us.

*

What is it that sometimes happens to you in the moment when word and thing come together? What light comes slanting in on your words? What glints on the other side of being? Celan once wrote that he saw God in a ray of light under his hotel door. Is it something like that – a ray of light under the door of a dark rented room?

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Corona

Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.
From the nuts we shell time and we teach it to walk:
then time returns to the shell.

In the mirror it’s Sunday,
in dream there is room for sleeping,
our mouths speak the truth.

My eye moves down to the sex of my loved one:
we look at each other,
we exchange dark words,
we love each other like poppy and recollection,
we sleep like wine in the conches,
like the sea in the moon’s blood ray.

We stand by the window embracing, and people
look up from the street:
it is time they knew!
It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.

It is time.

— Celan (tr. Hamburger)

Towards what?

A poem, as a manifestation of language and, thus, essentially dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the — not always greatly hopeful — belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps. Poems in this sense too are under way: they are making toward something. Toward what? Toward something standing open, occupiable, perhaps toward an addressable Thou, toward an addressable reality.

— Celan

It, the language, remained

It, the language, remained, not lost, yes in spite of everything. But it had to pass through its own answerlessness, pass through  frightful muting, pass through the thousand darknesses of a death-bent speech. It passed through and gave back no words for that which happened; yet it passed through this happening. Passed through and could come to light again, ‘enriched’ by all this.

— Celan, Bremen Literary Prize Acceptance Speech, 1958

The mystery of encounter

The poem is lonely. It is lonely and en route. Its author stays with it. Does this very fact not place the poem already here, at its inception, in the encounter, in the mystery of encounter?

The poem intends another, needs this other, needs an opposite. It goes toward it, bespeaks it. For the poem, everything and everybody is a figure of this other toward which it is heading.

*

The poem becomes conversation – often desperate conversation.

— Celan, The Meridian (tr. Waldrop)

Psalm

No one moulds us again out of earth and clay,
no one conjures our dust.
No one.

Praised be your name, no one.
For your sake
we shall flower.
Towards
you.

A nothing
we were, are, shall
remain, flowering:
the nothing-, the
no one’s rose.

With
our pistil soul-bright,
with our stamen heaven-ravaged,
our corolla red
with the crimson word which we sang
over, O over
the thorn.

— Celan (trans. M. Hamburger)