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Poems of Paul Celan [Revised and Expanded Edition] [Paperback]

Paul Celan
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

28 Nov 2002 089255276X 978-0892552764 Bilingual
The first Anvil edition of this book was awarded the EC's inaugural European Translation Prize in 1990. Paul Celan is among the most important German-language poets of the century, and, in George Steiner's words, 'almost certainly the major European poet of the period after 1945.' He was born in 1920 into a Jewish family in Bukovina, a German enclave in Romania which was destroyed by the Nazis. His parents were taken to a concentration camp in 1942, and did not return; Celan managed to escape deportation and to survive. After settling in Paris in 1948, he soon gained widespread recognition as a poet with the publication of his first collection of poems in 1952. Language, Paul Celan said, was the only thing that remained intact for him after the war. His experiences of the war years and of the loss of his parents are the recurrent themes of his poetry. In the end they led as well to his suicide by drowning in 1970. This third Anvil edition of Michael Hamburger's selected translations now includes the previously uncollected longer poem "Wolf's Bean", several additional short poems, and the essay "On Translating Celan" in which he discusses the challenges faced over many years in his engagement with Celan's poetry. The first Anvil edition of this book was awarded the EC's inaugural European Translation Prize in 1990.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Bilingual edition (28 Nov 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 089255276X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892552764
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.8 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 341,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"How am I to proceed? The self-evident impulse is to say, 'Go and buy this book. Insist that your bookstore order it if it has not yet done so. Borrow it from a friend while you wait for your own copy. Steal it if you must. But, now that Celan is in some measure available in English, let him enter your life. At risk. Knowing that he will change it." - GEORGE STEINER, THE NEW YORKER "Michael Hamburger has been translating Celan for many years... his translations have acquired a legendary status as some of the best of the century." - PETER FORBES, THE INDEPENDENT "I'm reading the Anvil Press edition of the poems of Paul Celan, a very great poet whose work I didn't know. It sends shivers down my spine - it's terrible, moving, extraordinary, and changes your ideas about language." - A.S. BYATT, THE SUNDAY TIMES "Celan stands within the tradition of Holderlin and Rilke and it seems the common judgement of competent critics that his achievement is not less than theirs... Michael Hamburger's translation is a great achievement also... It is a memorable volume and will influence our moral outlook and the practise of poetry for a long time to come." - THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS "In poetry the event of the year for me was Poems of Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger (Anvil Press): difficult but immensely rewarding work, superbly rendered into English." - JOHN BANVILLE, THE SUNDAY TIMES" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Michael Hamburger is the foremost translator of German poetry into English. He knew Paul Celan personally. He received the Goethe Medal of the German Federal Republic, for services to German literature, and won the European Community's first ever European Translation Prize for this book. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful but ill-made 15 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
These are wonderful, terrible poems of painful memories and gratitude for survival. They are not easy, the language sometimes wrenched almost to breaking point, but the images and the sounds remain with you long after you have closed the volume. However the paperback is very badly made and falls apart at the seams immediately it is opened. I would not dream of returning it, but have hamfistedly glued back whole sections somehow to keep it together.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Bilingual Edition of Celan Thus Far 20 April 2002
By Nessander - Published on Amazon.com
Poet and translator Michael Hamburger has done us an excellent service by giving us this book, which will certainly become the bilingual edition of choice for Paul Celan. A few words.
On Celan: Probably the second most important German-language poet of the 20th century after Rilke, but very different in style and mindset! Whereas Rilke provides incredible lyricism, Celan's poetry is jerky, raw, cut-off, even tortured. Struggling with how to write poetry in the German language after the Holocaust (Celan was a Jew), he chose to focus on the basics of language - prepositions, pronouns - and place the language under such pressure and in such tension that poetry could again speak. To Adorno's claim that there could be "no poetry after Auschwitz", Celan proved there was a way, but it was a very difficult one. If you have not yet come across Celan, I can heartily recommend him as one of the greats of the 20th century. His most famous poem is "Todesfuge" or "Death Fugue", but his other poems are also excellent. But be forewarned - this is no light verse. You'll get some heavy stuff, but you'll love it.
On Hamburger: he is a good poet in his own right and a wonderful translator, having already provided the best edition of Hoelderlin's poetry. Now that he has turned to Celan, we benefit very much from his efforts. Celan is incredibly difficult to translate, and the translator must make many choices and must try not to destroy the ambiguity in the German by reducing it simplistically into the English. Hamburger does a good job in this - in most cases a better job than Felstiner, who is the other main translator of Celan (and has a different collection). I would recommend Hamburger's translations over Felstiner. In most cases, he retains more, and there are fewer times when you will say "Eh? Why did he do that??" I suppose if you don't speak any German at all, this will make less of a difference, but if you're getting a bilingual edition you probably can at least read a little bit.
Well, a very good book of translations and a fantastic poet. What more could you ask for?
53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a feat of mutated disbelief it must... 7 Feb 2000
By Philip Welsh - Published on Amazon.com
...have been for him to come across the words he found growing in himself in the tongue of the enemy:
Schimmelgrün ist das Haus des Vergessens.
Vor jedem der wehenden Tore blaut dein enthaupteter Spielmann.
Er schlägt dir die Trommel aus Moos und bitterem Schamhaar;
mit schwärender Zehe malt er im Sand deine Braue.
Länger zeichnet er sie als sie war, und das Rot deiner Lippe.
Du füllst hier die Urnen und speisest dein Herz.
Green as mould is the house of oblivion.
Before each of the blowing gates your beheaded minstrel turns blue.
For you he beats his drum made of moss and of harsh pubic hair;
With a festering toe in the sand he traces your eyebrow.
Longer he draws it than ever it was, and the red of your lip.
You fill up the urns here and nourish your heart.
I read these translations side-by-side with the originals, and find them to be about as ept as it gets -- German poetry is clunky enough put into English, but with Celan it gets completely out of hand -- his Deutsch reads like a patois of German and Martian -- twisting the sounds into shapes like a balloon-animal-maker before a birthday party of children, wringing meaning and context and consonance from consonantless animal cries, deep in the night, skinned on frost, in a crater of some prison moon, staring down at the earth very small and far away and jewellike from that distance...
He is such a poet of genuine Mystery -- each poem is like a game wherein he asks you, very nicely, to allow him to blindfold you; you assent to it, and then let him lead down through the scrub and over the cobbles and down to the riverbank and then you hear him jump in. By the time you get the blindfold off and figure out where you are, he has sunk from sight, shoes full of stones... All that is left is the poem, written on dry leaves with a stick dipped in mud, already coming apart in your paws...
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry After Auschwitz 23 Aug 2006
By Brian A. Oard - Published on Amazon.com
Adorno was wrong. There is poetry after Auschwitz, and this is what it looks like. Celan's short poems are compressed visions of horror. He tears at the fabric of language in order to render the torn fabric of reality. Reading Celan, I think of the best paintings by the contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer, an artist who, like Celan, attacks his materials with fire, sometimes even burning gaping holes into his vast canvases. Art after Auschwitz must be prepared to show the damage, the tears in the fabric of what makes us human. Celan--and Kiefer, at his best--points toward a new way to be human. I cannot praise an artist more highly than that.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A poet who moved from direct social relevance to difficulty and paradox 8 Dec 2007
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Paul Celan stands as one of the most influential and visible poets of the second half of the 20th-century. The work he produced from World War II to his suicide by drowning in 1970 has been lauded by subsequent poets, taught in German history courses, and set to music by Berio, Birtwistle, and Rihm. The central theme of most of Celan's poetry is the slaughter of European Jewry in the Holocaust, as the poet was born in a German-speaking Jewish enclave in Bucovina and there lost his parents and his home, scars which even a successful new life in Paris could never erase. This volume of selected poems with English translations by Michael Hamburger is a fine introduction to his work.

Celan's poem "Todesfuge" (Death Fugue) is one of his earliest mature pieces and the most common introduction to his poetry. It's opening lines "Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown / we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night / we drink and we drink it / we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined" are a powerful depiction of the death camps and fully repudiate Adorno's claim that poetry after Auschwitz is impossible.

Some critics have claimed that "Todesfuge" was Celan's only great poem and had it not been for that, then we would have never heard of him. That poem was certainly his break into the literary world, but other material in this volume is just as fine. "Einfuehrung" (The Straitening) is something of a rewriting of "Todesfuge" in considerably more desperate language and my favourite of Celan's poems. Here the motifs of the first poem are shattered into pieces ("Grass, written asunder. The stones, white / with the shadows of grass blades ... Ash. / Ash. ash. / Night. / Night-and-night.") which in turn are dissolved into their component atoms (Gales, / Gales, from the beginning of time, / whirl of particles.").

In "Tenebrae" Celan reverses the relationship of God and his people in Judaism and explicitly evokes the violence of the camps: "We are near, Lord, / near and at hand. // Handled already, Lord, / clawed and clawing as though / the body of each of us were your body, Lord." One of Celan's main concerns was how speech might remain meaningful when so much of life had become meaningless after the horrors of the war years. In "With a Variable Key" he writes: "With a variable key / you unlock the house in which / drifts the snow of that left unspoken ... You vary the key, you vary the word / that is free to drift with the flakes. / What snowball will form round the workd / depends on the wind that rebuffs you."

While much of Celan's work is haunting, I cannot make much of his last works. With the last collections he saw published in his lifetime ATEMWENDE (Breathturn) and FADENSONNEN (Threadsuns) his poetry became so hermitic and so obsessed with polysemy (multiple meanings) that it effectively means nothing. Take, for example, the poem "Coagula" which in its entirety reads: "Rosa, your / wound as well. // And the hornlight of your / Romanian buffaloes / instead of stars above / the sandbed, in / the talking, red- / ember-powerful / rifle butt."

Now, some of the linguistic games of these late poems are entertaining, but I cannot sketch them here because I'm assuming readers of this review have no German, and they indeed cannot be preserved in English. Hamburger has attempted to give the poems some intelligibility by basing his translations on our knowledge of Celan's life, but in doing so he collapses the possibilities inherent in the German text.

In reviewing this volume of selected poems, and consequently the poet's entire career, I'm not sure how to rate it overall and therefore have given it three stars. Celan is certainly a poet worth getting acquainted with, but I can't help feeling that he was going astray into irrelevance with the late poems that only the author himself would have understood. If you are a fan of modern European poetry, or interested in the Holocaust and its influence on literature, pick up Hamburger's translations if you cannot read the original German. John Felstiner's Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew also makes a good companion for those who might miss the Jewish symbolism found throughout the early poetry.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars With A Variable Key.... 28 Aug 2003
By Kelly Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
I first discovered Celan last November when I read "With A Variable Key" on the web page for Roman Polanski's "The Pianist." Curious, I checked out a book of his works from the university library and was immediately enthralled with Celan's world. I purchased this book soon after.
Celan gives new meaning to the idea of an artist putting his/her life into their work. His tortured existence replays itself over and over in his work and one can almost feel the agony Celan suffered through dealing with and ultimately losing the battle with his demons. Hamburger's introduction to Celan's life and his methods of translation were also insightful and ironic considering German was the language of Celan's own prison.
There is the darkness found in such sweeping works as "Death Fugue" and "Wolfs Bean." Then there is the subtle beauty which I personally find in "How You" and "Not Until." My favorite of his poems has to be "With A Variable Key."
Celan is hailed by some as one of the greatest poets of German literature and the 20th century. Hamburger's collection and translations do Celan's work justice.
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