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Poems of Paul Celan [Revised and Expanded Edition] Paperback – 28 Nov 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Revised, Expanded ed. edition (28 Nov. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 089255276X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892552764
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.5 x 21.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 486,418 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

Paul Celan was a poet and translator born in the East European province of Bukovina. Soon after his parents, German-speaking Jews, had perished at the hands of the Nazis, Celan wrote the poem "Todesfuge" ("Deathfugue"), which depicted life in a German concentration camp.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I fell upon a hardback edition of these translations by chance years ago (early 1990s) - the local town library was clearing out old stock and Hamburger's 'Poems of Paul Celan' - the Carcanet edition of 1980 - was among them. I think my antennae had been primed by reading George Steiner's Real Presences - Celan is referenced a number of times in that deeply disconcerting book - and I couldn't believe my luck. Steiner tells a moving story about chancing upon Celan for the first time at a railside bookstall between trains. Stories like these, and the entire Celan oeuvre, bring into focus the great question of the presence or absence of divine order (read truth, beauty and goodness) in the universe. Celan is sometimes bracketed with the "nay sayers" - the atheists - but his ideas, or - better - his feelings (Gefühle), are much more subtle and complex than that (Psalm to No one, is still a Psalm, yet to no one...)

Celan's poems are each a "Variable Key" which unlock the house of unspoken meaning. Whether you can use the keys offered depends on many things - your patience, your determination, perhaps even your willingness to surrender to Celan's strange voice. The poems are mostly difficult although some are remarkably direct ("I can still see you" comes to mind) and Hamburger's translations will forever hold a special place in my heart.

For the record, my copy arrived in good condition, did not fall apart, and has survived many rereadings over the last four years.
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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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.7 out of 5 stars 12 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Collection 7 May 2007
By Steiner - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This excellent edition of Paul Celan's major poetry (translated excellently by Michael Hamburger) provides the full scope of Celan's considerable genius. Included is the famous 'Death Fugue,' perhaps the most darkly beautiful and profound works of art about the Holocaust yet created. One is left with Celan's transitions; he began immersed in the syle of early 20th century German poets suck as Rilke, and later progressed in Breathturn and Threadsuns to reveal his capacity for highly creative and original linguistic play. The final poems are characterized by a deep morbidity and anguish; they are patently indicative of the poet's distrught spirits. He would later kill himself by drowning.

Celan is now written about intensively by the philosophers Derrida and Lyotard, he is probably as important to them as Holderlin was to Heidegger. The editor has included a poem that Celan did not intend for publication; but you can understand why it was included, as it is a magnificent triumph of expressive sorrow over the loss of his parents during the war. Celan was a very great poet, readers are still trying to catch up with his complexity and deep artistic insight.
57 of 64 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
Format: Paperback
...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...
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful 29 July 2012
By Guy - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I cannot imagine anyone who like words and don't like Celan.
This great Edition, bilingual, allows us to compare the original with what we can read in English - letting us enjoy also the sounds of the original.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making sense and making sense 26 Feb. 2014
By Dirk van Nouhuys - Published on
Format: Paperback
One of the things Noam Chomsky did to revolutionize linguistics was to point out that you could make sentences that were grammatically correct but did not make sense. His observation freed linguists to devote their attention to grammar without worrying about meaning, as they had tended to do. An example he used is this sentence: “Colorless ideas sleep furiously.”
It seems to me that when Chomsky asserts this he is using ‘make’ in a narrow sense. The phrase “make sense” for him means something like ‘to harmonize rationally with the speaker’s notion of the world.’ But ‘make’ can also mean create, and ‘make sense’ can mean create meaning.
I once had a teacher, Yousel Rogat, who suggested that any metaphor, as opposed to a simile, behind the scenes evokes a universe in which the metaphor is literally true. If you say, “life is like a nightmare,” you point to certain resemblances that you might be able to list. “If you say, “life is a nightmare”, you evoke a universe of darkness and suffering where sordid details struggle for realization.
So it is with Chomsky’s own sentence. If you speak it from the narrow, Chomskian perspective, then you say nothing about ideas or about sleep or about fury. But if you take ‘make’ in the sense of create, you have a resonant image of ideas, some reified (because they might have color), but without color and at once somnambulant and raging. And it does seem relevant to me that Chomsky is himself a furious wielder of abstract ideas intended to rouse others from complacency time after time.
And so it is with Paul Clean. His poems for the most part do not make sense in the narrow Chomskian definition.

Here's pelt sky. Even now
a clear wing writes

I, too, remember,
colored one, arrived
as a crane
But they make a great deal of sense by creating meaning. Of course I’m reading in translation, but I doubt knowing German would make any difference. In fact I think the German inclination to create new words by joining old ones freely lends it self to this sort of sense making. You can put two words together in a way that does not harmonize rationally with the world, as you know it, but does create a new sense, a new batch of meaning.
This generation of meaning is one thing that makes Celan so exhilarating to read, and, in his context so moving. You are constantly involved in making sense. Reading this book is a long struggle in which you time after time are forced to make (create) sense based on the chimeric materials Celan provides you. Nourishing your mind in the background as you work is Celan’s tortured history, his upbringing as a German-speaking Jew in what had been part of Austria, was then Romania and is currently the Ukraine; the death of his mother in a concentration camp; his tormented attempts to recreate his nationality and his identity; his deep involvement with the German language though he was a Jew suffering horrors enacted by Germans; his eventual suicide. It is the history of a chimeric identity and the poems are chimeric. That the evocation is mostly of tragedy and suffering does not make it less wonderful, because it shows the capacity of the human mind to work with such dark material, and come out richer in meaning.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy this book immediately! 5 Aug. 2014
By J. Wagner - Published on
Format: Paperback
I love this book, horrific though its subject matter. I can do no better than to quote the noted critic George Steiner, in a review obviously written before the existence of

"Go at once 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 available in some measure in English, let him enter your life. At risk. Knowing that he will change it." The New Yorker, August 28, 1989, p. 93.

How can we go on in the face of such devastation as the Holocaust? How can poets continue to write poems? But from the depths of sorrow, they must.

I read this book often and believe it has changed my life, if only to believe we must try to understand and articulate our deepest beliefs.
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