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Selected Poems (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 27 Jun 1996

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (27 Jun. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140189203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140189209
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 187,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Michael Hamburger's translations of Paul Celan were, for years, the only access English-speaking readers had to one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Celan's poetry is absorbing, intricate and difficult, and gives the lie to the critic Theodor Adorno's famous remark that 'To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric'; unlike Adorno, who had left Germany before the second world war, Celan had managed to survive Nazi terror but had also been unable to save his own parents, both of whom were killed. Much of Celan's poetry can be read as part of an attempt to find a way of writing poetry in the wake of the attempt by Nazi Germany to exterminate European Jewry.

Hamburger's versions of Celan were, for years, the only ones available, and translating Celan is a courageous venture in the first place, considering his knotted syntax and intense interest in philology. It now seems that younger translators are willing to have a go, and in some cases bring about in English a more accurate or at any rate an alternative take on the poems; John Felstiner and Iain Fairley have both delivered vivid and commendable takes on Celan's work. (The one essential book so far about Celan's life and work is Felstiner's 'Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew'.) In some cases they improve on Hamburger. Hamburger's version of Celan's most-anthologised poem 'Todesfuge' renders one phrase as 'digging your graves in the breezes', whereas Felstiner prefers the more prosaic 'digging your graves in the air'. The difference may seem trivial, until you consider that those victims of the Holocaust who were incinerated literally were given graves in the air.
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By A Customer on 2 Jan. 2002
It seems rather impertinent to comment on poems such as Celan's when I've only been reading them for a short time. I only do so to encourage anyone who has heard about them, to read them. Celan was a poet who translated the work of Rimbaud, Emily Dickinson and Osip Mandelshtam: and this list gives some indication of where his debts, as a poet, might lie; and may also indicate the breadth of reference that his poetry utlises. Celan was far from being a national poet, both for historical reasons -- he wrote in German, but was not from Germany -- and for poetic reasons: and is neither a poet who is only for German readers. (His influence, to give one example, can be seen in the later poetry of the "late Modernist" J.H. Prynne.)
Michael Hamburger's bi-lingual edition (with German on one page, and translation into English poetry on the other) gives the reader an introduction to Celan.
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He deserves to be much better known and I rank him amongst the very best of the twentieth century poets. What a soul he had, all captured here in exquisitely sensitive verse. His tragedy is that of a most terrible century and it is painful that despite the testimony of great artists like Celan, anti-semitism is resurgent.
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excellent
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very poor quality paper, not nice to linger over.
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