Reading: Flower by Paul Celan

Paul Celan (1920-1970) is of course the best German poet who has ever lived. I don’t read the canonical ‘Todesfuge’ here, you can find excellent analysis on the Internet. I have read a poem about an axe that flowered, but here I stick with a modest poem called “Flower” in translation, that still has all the Celanian characteristics:

Flower
The stone.
The stone in the air, which I followed.
Your eye, as blind as the stone.

We were
hands,
we baled the darkness empty, we found
the word that ascended summer:
flower.

Flower – a blind man’s word.
Your eye and mine:
they see
to water.

Growth.
Heart wall upon heart wall
adds petals to it.

One more word like this word, and the hammers
will swing over open ground.

Here you can read an academic analysis. As usual, I deliberately ignore the secondary literature and simply jot down my impressions which I hope might be of some use to my dear readers. So, the first verse sounds heavy, Germanic. The air is not the Deathfugue’s famous clouds where one has plenty of space, but a place with a stone. I see bombardments of German cities and towns. Everybody is in utter disorientation, blind as the stone. We were / newline / hands, is alive and breathing language. Being and grasping (to bale is a wonderful translation here); existentialist being-in-the-world that cannot overcome the gesture of be-greifen, grasping things, even in the darkness. These two lovers in the darkest hour of history have accomplished the almost superhuman task: they discovered a word for flower, a word for hope.

And the flower grows in the imagination of the two. The eyes ‘sorgen’ for water hints at the Heideggerian ‘Sorge’ for the ‘Dasein’. The English translation ‘see to’ is superb. To hell with Heidegger.

The flower keeps growing as do the hearts of the two. I am in trouble here with the final two lines. Can you help me out? What are these hammers? Wrecking balls that have torn down entire cities and hence swing over open ground after the cleansing work of the imagination is completed? Add another word like Blume and – what? Even the free space is threatened by the hammers or the stones in the air? Or the hammers won’t have anything to nail down, if we overdo it with the words. Festina lente, with the Wiederaufbau, or the fragile flowers of your imagination will cause your heart flutter and derive your tools of traction.

The German original:

Blume
Der Stein.
Der Stein in der Luft, dem ich folgte.
Dein Aug, so blind wie der Stein.

Wir waren
Hände,
wir schöpften die Finsternis leer, wir fanden
das Wort, das den Sommer heraufkam:
Blume.

Blume – ein Blindenwort.
Dein Aug und mein Aug:
sie sorgen für Wasser.

Wachstum.
Herzwand um Herzwand
blättert hinzu.

Ein Wort noch, wie dies, und die Hämmer
schwingen im Freien.

Reading: Flower by Paul Celan was originally published on Meandering home

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Kamiel Choi

Dutch philosopher and poet, sometimes sharing thoughts on the internet.

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