Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What is dead put its arm round you also

Awakened in the middle of the night with a series of questions whispered into my ear:

And you? Do you still burn for this thing?
Are you still working on it all?
Can you still carve the meat from the bone?

It has been a while since...

I've heard that voice so close.

And there is no reason to sleep anymore tonight.

I turn to Celan:

Count the almonds,
count what was bitter and kept you awake,
count me in:

I looked for your eye when you opened it, no one was looking at you,
I spun that secret thread
on which the dew you were thinking
slid down to the jugs
guarded by words that to no one's heart found their way.

Only there did you wholly enter the name that is yours,
sure-footed stepped into yourself,
freely the hammers swung in the bell-frame of your silence,
the listened-for reached you,
what is dead put its arm round you also
and the three of you walked through the evening.

Make me bitter.
Count me among the almonds.

This is the Michael Hamburger rendering, Poems of Paul Celan - can also be found in the interesting essay by James Graham here.

I am deep in debt to John Felstiner, but find his rendering below - mused v. thinking, tended v. guarded, too v. also (seemingly such a triviality) - to have slightly, just slightly, too much weight - a loss of tone for solemnity. (I come up against Felstiner in just in this one instance - his Todesfuge is sublime.) I must add that Felstiner's render v. make and number v. count are right on the beam. These are minor issues however, undoubtedly rooted in the bone-deficient soil of my sorrowful idiolect.

From Felstiner's Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew:

Celan's triple imperative on zählen ("count") also rings of the Zählappell, a head count in Nazi camps. And it's possible, though only just, to think here of the smell of almonds given off by Zyklon B, the gas the SS used. Against such an atrocity, we hear now of attempts - the poet's, his mother's - at connecting, at naming, and "you" sounds twelve times in as many lines: "There you first fully entered that name that is yours." The word Namen ("name") resounds throughout Celan's writing, restoring identity to those despoiled of it. Finally, when this poem ends on two more imperatives, Mache and Zähle, I want more ceremonial verbs than "make" and "count" -

Render me bitter.
Number me among the almonds.

- to seal his kinship.

Count up the almonds,
count what was bitter and kept you waking,
count me in too:

I sought your eye when you looked out and no one saw you,
I spun that secret thread
where the dew you mused on
slid down to pitchers
tended by a word that reached no one's heart.

There you first fully entered the name that is yours,
you stepped toward yourself on steady feet,
the hammers swung free in the belfry of your silence,
things overheard thrust through to you,
what's dead put its arm around you too,
and the three of you walked through the evening.

Render me bitter.
Number me among the almonds.

Zähle die Mandeln,
zähle, was bitter war und dich wachhielt,
zähl mich dazu:

Ich suchte dein Aug, als du’s aufschlugst und niemand dich ansah,
ich spann jenen heimlichen Faden,
an dem der Tau, den du dachtest,
hinunterglitt zu den Krügen,
die ein Spruch, der zu niemandes Herz fand, behütet.

Dort erst tratest du ganz in den Namen, der dein ist,
schrittest du sicheren Fußes zu dir,
schwangen die Hämmer frei im Glockenstuhl deines Schweigens,
stieß das Erlauschte zu dir,
legte das Tote den Arm auch um dich,
und ihr ginget selbdritt durch den Abend.

Mache mich bitter.
Zähle mich zu den Mandeln.

Anselm Kiefer, Shulamith, 1990.
Book made from soldered lead, with female hair and ashes, 64 pages

No comments: