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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Reading: Enigma with Flower by Pablo Neruda

The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973, born as Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto) deserves a place in our anthology as well. I browsed his poetry and found this item, ‘Enigma with Flower’ suitable for today’s short reading.

Victory. It has come late, I had not learnt
how to arrive, like the lily, at will,
the white figure, that pierces
the motionless eternity of earth,
pushing at clear, faint, form,
till the hour strikes: that clay,
with a white ray, or a spur of milk.
Shedding of clothing, the thick darkness of soil,
on whose cliff the fair flower advances,
till the flag of its whiteness
defeats the contemptible deep of night,
and, from the motion of light,
spills itself in astonished seed.

The poem is set in the boldest key of lyricism, rendered in Keatsean English. The original Spanish begins like this:

Una victoria. Es tarde, no sabías.
Llegó como azucena a mi albedrío
el blanco talle que traspasa
la eternidad inmóvil de la tierra,

 

Victory and the whiteness of the lily. The protagonist seems shy, he doesn’t dare to break the silence of earth, to push through the clay ‘with a white ray, or a spur of milk (‘espolón de leche’)’. That’s the fragile lily flower surfacing. The flower, emerging from its bulb, is fighting the darkness of the soil and the ‘contemptible deep of night’ (‘el fondo indigno de la noche’). This description sounds very classicist indeed. The lily sheds the dark soil like clothing and appears innocent, like a virgin.

But its whiteness is just a flag, a symbol. It stands for a power it doesn’t possess, but represents. The metaphysics in the closing phrase is worth considering. The Spanish reads “y de la claridad en movimiento / se derraman atónitas semillas.” It sheds astonished/flabbergasted seeds from the clarity in motion, or something like that. This is the real flower power! The flower defeated darkness, only to be disseminated immediately, just by the motion of light. And its seed is astounded. They will become new bulbs and the process will be repeated. The little flowers put their tiny heads above the dark soil and grow into proud lilies that are caught off guard by the motion of light.

This whole procedure gains some purpose because we are there, and we can interpret it als ‘victory’.

Reading: Enigma with Flower by Pablo Neruda was originally published on Meandering home