23 November 1920|
Cernauti, Kingdom of Romania
|Died||20 April 1970
Paul Celan (23 November 1920 – c. 20 April 1970) was a Romanian poet and translator. He was born as Paul Antschel into a Jewish family in the former Kingdom of Romania (now Ukraine), and changed his name to "Paul Celan" (where Celan in Romanian would be pronounced Chelan, and was derived from Ancel, pronounced Antshel), becoming one of the major German-language poets of the post-World War II era.
Early life 
Celan was born in 1920 into a German-speaking Jewish family in Cernăuţi, Northern Bukovina, a region then part of Romania and earlier part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, among others (now part of Ukraine). His father, Leo Antschel, was a Zionist who advocated his son's education in Hebrew at Safah Ivriah, an institution previously convinced of the wisdom of assimilation into Austrian culture, and one which favourably received Chaim Weizmann of the World Zionist Organization in 1927. His first home was in the Wassilkogasse in Czernowitz.
His mother, Fritzi, was an avid reader of German literature who insisted German be the language of the house. After his Bar Mitzvah in 1933, Celan abandoned Zionism (at least to some extent) and finished his formal Hebrew education, instead becoming active in Jewish Socialist organizations and fostering support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. His earliest known poem, titled Mother's Day 1938 was an earnest, if sentimental, profession of love. In 1934, fourteen-year old Paul wrote a letter to his aunt Minna in Palestine, in which there is the eloquent phrase: "With regard to anti-Semitism in our school, I could write you a 300-page book."
Paul chose the "Lyceum Mihai great governor" (now Chernivtsi school No. 5 before school No. 23), where he studied from 1934 until 1938; the students there had ample opportunity to develop their language and literary skills. At this time Celan began to secretly write poetry. Celan graduated from the gymnasium/preparatory school called Liceul Marele Voivod Mihai (Great Voivode Mihai Prep School) in 1938.
In 1938 Celan traveled to Tours, France, to study medicine. The Anschluss precluded Vienna, and Romanian schools were harder to get into due to the newly-imposed Jewish quota. He returned to Cernăuţi in 1939 to study literature and Romance languages. His journey to France took him through Berlin as the events of Kristallnacht unfolded, and also introduced him to his uncle, Bruno Schrager, who was later among the French detainees who died at Birkenau.
Life during World War II 
The Soviet occupation of Bukovina in June 1940 deprived Celan of any lingering illusions about Stalinism and Soviet Communism stemming from his earlier socialist engagements; the Soviets quickly imposed bureaucratic reforms on the university where he was studying Romance philology and deportations to Siberia started. Nazi Germany and Romania brought ghettos, internment, and forced labour a year later (see Romania during World War II).
On arrival in Cernăuţi July 1941 the German SS Einsatzkommando and their Romanian allies set the city's Great Synagogue on fire. In October, the Romanians deported a large number of Jews after forcing them into a ghetto, where Celan translated William Shakespeare's Sonnets and continued to write his own poetry, all the while being exposed to traditional Yiddish songs and culture. Before the ghetto was dissolved in the fall of that year, Celan was pressed into labor, first clearing the debris of a demolished post office, and then gathering and destroying Russian books.
The local mayor strove to mitigate the harsh circumstances until the governor of Bukovina had the Jews rounded up and deported, starting on a Saturday night in June 1942. Celan tried to convince his parents that they leave the country to escape sure prosection, however they wanted to stay in their home. After an argument about this topic, Celan was so angry with them that he spent the night at a family friend's house. It was this night, June 21, that his parents were taken from their home and sent by train to an internment camp in Transnistria, where two-thirds of the deportees perished. Celan's parents were sent to a labour camp in the Ukraine, where his father likely perished of typhus and his mother was shot dead after being exhausted by forced labour. Later that year, after having himself been taken to a labour camp in the Romanian Old Kingdom, Celan would receive reports of his parents' deaths.
Celan remained imprisoned until February 1944, when the Red Army's advance forced the Romanians to abandon the camps, whereupon he returned to Cernăuţi shortly before the Soviets returned to reassert their control. There, he worked briefly as a nurse in the mental hospital. Early versions of "Todesfuge" ("Death Fugue") were circulated at this time, a poem that clearly relied on accounts coming from the now-liberated camps in Poland. Friends from this period recall Celan expressing immense guilt over his separation from his parents, whom he had tried to convince to go into hiding prior to the deportations, shortly before their death.
Life after the war 
Considering emigration to Palestine and wary of widespread Soviet antisemitism, Celan left the USSR in 1945 for Bucharest, where he remained until 1947. He was active in the Jewish literary community as both a translator of Russian literature into Romanian, and as a poet, publishing his work under a variety of pseudonyms. The literary scene of the time was richly populated with surrealists – Gellu Naum, Ilarie Voronca, Gherasim Luca, Paul Păun, and Dolfi Trost – and it was in this period that Celan developed pseudonyms both for himself and his friends, including the one he took as his pen name.
A version of "Todesfuge" appeared as "Tangoul Morţii" ("Death Tango") in a Romanian translation of May 1947. The surrealist ferment of the time was such that additional remarks had to be published explaining that the dancing and musical performances of the poem were realities of the extermination camp life. Night and Fog, the earliest documentary on Auschwitz (Alain Resnais, 1955), includes a description of the Auschwitz Orchestra, an institution organized by the SS to assemble and play selections of German dances and popular songs. (The SS man interviewed by Claude Lanzmann for his film Shoah, who rehearsed the songs prisoners were made to sing in the death camp, remarked that no Jews who had taught the songs survived.)
Exodus and Paris years 
Due to the emerging of the communist regime in Romania, Celan fled Romania for Vienna, Austria. It was there that he befriended Ingeborg Bachmann, who had just completed a dissertation on Martin Heidegger. Facing a city divided between occupying powers and with little resemblance to the mythic city it once was, which had harboured the then-shattered Austro-Hungarian Jewish community, he moved to Paris in 1948. In that year his first poetry collection, Der Sand aus den Urnen ("Sand from the Urns"), was published in Vienna by A. Sexl. His first few years in Paris were marked by intense feelings of loneliness and isolation, as expressed in letters to his colleagues, including his longtime friend from Cernăuţi, Petre Solomon. It was also during this time that he exchanged many letters with Diet Kloos, a young Dutch singer and anti-Nazi resister who saw her husband of a few months tortured to death. She visited him twice in Paris between 1949 and 1951.
In 1952, Celan's writing began to gain recognition when he read his poetry on his first reading trip to Germany where he was invited to read at the semiannual meetings of Group 47. At their May meeting he read his poem "Todesfuge" ("Death Fugue"), a depiction of concentration camp life. His reading style, which was maybe based on the way a prayer is given in a synagogue and Hungarian folk poems, was off-putting to some of the German audience. His poetry received a mixed reaction. When Ingeborg Bachmann, with whom Celan had an affair, won the group's prize for her collection Die gestundete Zeit (The Extended Hours), Celan (whose work had received only six votes) said "After the meeting, only six people remembered my name". He did not attend any other meeting of the group.
In November 1951, he met the graphic artist Gisèle de Lestrange, in Paris. He sent her many love letters, influenced by Franz Kafka's correspondence with Milena Jesenska and Felice Bauer. They married on December 21, 1952, despite the opposition of her aristocratic family, and during the following 18 years they wrote over 700 letters, including a very active exchange with Hermann Lenz and his wife, Hanne. He made his living as a translator and lecturer in German at the École Normale Supérieure. He was a close friend of Nelly Sachs, who later won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Celan became a French citizen in 1955 and lived in Paris. Celan's sense of persecution increased after the widow of a friend, the French-German poet Yvan Goll, accused him of having plagiarised her husband's work. Celan was awarded the Bremen Literature Prize in 1958 and the Georg Büchner Prize in 1960.
Celan: poetry and poetics 
Poetry after Auschwitz 
The death of his parents and the experience of the Shoah (The Holocaust) are defining forces in Celan's poetry and his use of language. In his Bremen Prize speech, Celan said of language after Auschwitz that:
Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, 'enriched' by it all.
It has been written, inaccurately perhaps, that German is the only language that allows (us?) to penetrate the horror of Auschwitz, to describe death from within.
His most famous poem, the early "Todesfuge", commemorating the death camps, is a work of great complexity and extraordinary power, and may have drawn some key motives from the poem "Er" by Immanuel Weissglas, another Czernovitz poet. The dual character of Margarete-Sulamith, with her golden-ashen hair, appears as a reflection of Celan's Jewish-German culture, while the blue-eyed "Master from Germany" embodies German Nazism.
In later years his poetry became progressively more cryptic, fractured and monosyllabic, bearing comparison to the music of Anton Webern. He also increased his use of German neologisms, especially in his later works Fadensonnen ("Threadsuns") and Eingedunkelt ("Benighted"). In the eyes of some, Celan attempted in his poetry either to destroy or remake the German language. For others, he retained a sense for the lyricism of the German language which was rare in writers of that time. As he writes in a letter to his wife Gisèle Lestrange on one of his trips to Germany: "The German I talk is not the same as the language the German people are talking here". Writing in German was a way for him to think back and remember his parents, particularly his mother, from whom he had learned the language. This is underlined in "Wolfsbohne" (Wolf's bean), a poem in which Paul Celan addresses his mother. The urgency and power of Celan's work stem from his attempt to find words "after", to bear (impossible) witness in a language that gives back no words "for that which happened".
In addition to writing poetry (in German and, earlier, in Romanian), he was an extremely active translator and polyglot, translating literature from Romanian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Hebrew and English into German.
Germany and German guilt 
(translated by Pierre Joris)
|Used by permission
of the translator
Recent commentaries on Celan's relationship to Germany (its "irreparable offense", its "guilt" and – for many others – "silence" on the exterminations after 1945) often point to Celan's poem "Todtnauberg". This poem was engendered by Celan's meeting and single encounter with the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Celan had read Heidegger beginning in 1951, and exclamation marks in his margin notes testify to an awareness that Heidegger had allowed his remarks on the "greatness" of National Socialism in the 1953 edition of Introduction to Metaphysics to stand without further comment.
Celan visited West Germany periodically, including trips arranged by Hanne Lenz, who worked in a publishing house in Stuttgart. Celan and his wife Gisèle often visited Stuttgart and the area on stopovers during their many vacations to Austria. On one of his trips, Celan gave a lecture at the University of Freiburg (on July 24, 1967) which was attended by Heidegger, who gave Celan a copy of Was heißt Denken? (What does thinking mean?) and invited him to visit his work retreat "die Hütte" (the hut) at Todtnauberg the following day and walk in the Black Forest. Although he may not have been willing to be photographed with Heidegger after the Freiburg lecture (or to contribute to Festschriften honoring Heidegger's work) Celan accepted the invitation and even signed Heidegger's guest book at the famous "hut".
The two walked in the woods. Celan impressed Heidegger with his knowledge of botany and Heidegger is thought to have spoken about elements of his press interview "Only a God can save us now", which he had just given to Der Spiegel on condition of posthumous publication. That would seem to be the extent of the meeting. "Todtnauberg" was written shortly thereafter and sent to Heidegger as the first copy of a limited bibliophile edition. Heidegger responded with no more than a letter of perfunctory thanks.
|“||There is nothing in the world for which a poet will give up writing, not even when he is a Jew and the language of his poems is German.||”|
In German 
- Der Sand aus den Urnen (The Sand from the Urns, 1948)
- Mohn und Gedächtnis (Poppy and Memory, 1952)
- Von Schwelle zu Schwelle (From Threshold to Threshold, 1955)
- Sprachgitter (Speechwicket / Speech Grille, 1959)
- Die Niemandsrose (The No-One's-Rose, 1963)
- Atemwende (Breathturn, 1967)
- Fadensonnen (Threadsuns / Twinesuns / Fathomsuns, 1968)
- Lichtzwang (Lightduress, 1970)
- Schneepart (Snow Part [posthumous], 1971)
- Zeitgehöft (Timestead / Homestead of Time [posthumous], 1976)
Celan's poetry has been translated into English, with many of the volumes being bilingual. The most comprehensive collections are from John Felstiner, Pierre Joris, and Michael Hamburger, who revised his translations of Celan over a period of two decades. Recently Ian Fairley released his English translations.
Joris has also translated Celan's German poems into French.
- (Note: this incomplete list is chronological from the year of publication of the translation, the most recent listed first)
- The Meridian: Final Version – Drafts – Materials, edited by Bernhard Böschenstein and Heino Schmull, translated by Pierre Joris (2011)
- The Correspondence of Paul Celan and Ilana Shmueli, translated by Susan H. Gillespie with a Preface by John Felstiner (2011)
- Paul Celan, Ingeborg Bachmann: Correspondence, translated by Wieland Hoban (2010)
- From Threshold to Threshold, translated by David Young (2010)
- Snow Part, translated by Ian Fairley (2007)
- Paul Celan: Selections, edited and with an introduction by Pierre Joris (2005)
- Fathomsuns/Fadensonnen and Benighted/Eingedunkelt, translated by Ian Fairley (2001)
- Poems of Paul Celan: A Bilingual German/English Edition, Revised Edition, translated by Michael Hamburger (2001)
- Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, edited and translated by John Felstiner (2000)(winner of the PEN, MLA, and American Translators Association prizes)
- Glottal Stop: 101 Poems, translated by Nikolai B. Popov and Heather McHugh (2000) (winner of the 2001 International Griffin Poetry Prize)
- Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs: Correspondence, translated by Christopher Clark, edited with an introduction by John Felstiner (1998)
- Atemwende/Breathturn, translated by Pierre Joris (1995)
- Collected Prose, edited by Rosmarie Waldrop (1986) ISBN 0-935296-92-1
- Last Poems, translated by Katharine Washburn and Margret Guillemin (1986)
- Paul Celan, 65 Poems, translated by Brian Lynch and Peter Jankowsky (1985)
- Nineteen Poems by Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger (1972)
- "Speech-Grille" and Selected Poems, translated by Joachim Neugroschel (1971)
In Romanian 
- Paul Celan şi "meridianul" său. Repere vechi şi noi pe un atlas central-European, Andrei Corbea Hoisie
- Paul Celan. Biographie et interpretation/Biographie und Interpretation, editor Andrei Corbea Hoisie
Writers translated by Celan 
About translating David Rokeah from Hebrew ' Celan wrote: "David Rokeah was here for two days, I have translated two poems for him, mediocre stuff, and given him comments on other German translation, suggested improvements..I was glad, probably in the wrong place, to be able to decipher and translate a Hebrew text"
- Paul Celan: A Biography of His Youth Israel Chalfen, intro. John Felstiner, trans. Maximilian Bleyleben (New York: Persea Books, 1991)
- Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew, John Felstiner (Yale Univ. Press, 1995)
Further reading 
- Daive, Jean. Under The Dome: Walks with Paul Celan (tr. Rosmarie Waldrop), Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 2009.
- John Felstiner, “Paul Celan and Yehuda Amichai: An Exchange between Two Great Poets,” Midstream 53, no. 1 (Jan.–Feb. 2007)
- john Felstiner "Writing Zion" Paul Celan and Yehuda Amichai: An Exchange between Two Great Poets, The New Republic, 5 June 2006
- Hana Amichai: "The leap between the yet and the not any more" Yehuda Amichai and Paul Celan, Haaretz,April 6, 2012 (Hebrew)
Selected criticism 
- Englund, Axel. Still Songs: Music In and Around the Poetry of Paul Celan. Farnham: Ashgate, 2012.
- Hillard, Derek. Poetry as Individuality: The Discourse of Observation in Paul Celan. Bucknell University Press, 2010.
- Celan Studies Peter Szondi, translated by Susan Bernofsky and Harvey Mendelsohn (2003)
- Word Traces Aris Fioretos (ed.), includes contributions by Jacques Derrida, Werner Hamacher, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1994)
- Poetry as Experience Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, translated by Andrea Tarnowski (1999)
- Gadamer on Celan: ‘Who Am I and Who Are You?’ and Other Essays, Hans-Georg Gadamer, trans. and ed. by Richard Heinemann and Bruce Krajewski (1997)
- Sovereignties in Question: the Poetics of Paul Celan Jacques Derrida, trans. and ed. by Thomas Dutoit, Outi Pasanen, a collection of mostly late works, including "Rams," which is also a memorial essay on Gadamer and his "Who Am I and Who Are You?", and a new translation of Schibboleth (2005)
- Poésie contre poésie. Celan et la littérature Jean Bollack. PUF (2001)
- L'écrit : une poétique dans l'oeuvre de Celan Jean Bollack. PUF (2003)
- Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation, 1951–1970 James K. Lyon (2006)
- Paul Celan et Martin Heidegger: le sens d'un dialogue Hadrien France-Lenord (2004)
- Words from Abroad: Trauma and Displacement in Postwar German Jewish Writers, Katja Garloff (2005)
- Carson, Anne. Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan, Princeton: Princeton University Press (1999)
- Kligerman, Eric. Sites of the Uncanny: Paul Celan, Specularity and the Visual Arts. Berlin and New York, 2007 (Interdisciplinary German Cultural Studies, 3).
- Andréa Lauterwein: Anselm Kiefer /Paul Celan. Myth, Mourning and Memory. With 157 illustrations, 140 in colour. Thames & Hudson, London 2007. ISBN 978-0-500-23836-3
- Arnau Pons, "Vor Morgen. Bachmann und Celan. Die Minne im Angesicht der Morde". Kultur & Genspenster. Heft Nr. 10, 2010.
- Werner Wögerbauer, "Das Gesicht des Gerechten. Paul Celan besucht Friedrich Dürrenmatt", 'Kultur & Genspenster. Heft Nr. 10, 2010. ISBN 978-3-938801-73-4
- Ich hörte sagen, readings of his original compositions
- Gedichte, readings of his translations of Osip Mandelstam and Sergei Yesenin
- Six Celan Songs, texts of his poems "Chanson einer Dame im Schatten", "Es war Erde in ihnen", "Psalm", "Corona", "Nächtlich geschürzt", "Blume", sung by Ute Lemper, set to music by Michael Nyman
- Tenebrae (Nah sind wir, Herr) from Drei Gedichte von Paul Celan (1998) of Marcus Ludwig, sung by the ensemble amarcord
- "Einmal" (from Atemwende), "Zähle die Mandeln" (from Mohn und Gedächtnis), "Psalm" (from Die Niemandsrose), set to music by Giya Kancheli as parts II–IV of Exil, sung by Maacha Deubner, ECM (1995)
Notes and resources 
- Celan is an anagram of the Romanian spelling of his surname, Ancel. Some have speculated (among them Rachel Blau DuPlessis in her Statement for Pores) that when Celan changed his name from Antschel, the German variant, he cast out the following letters: H for Adolf Hitler and ST for Joseph Stalin
- "The Schools of Czernowitz Graduating Class of 1938". Antschel, P., 2nd row from top. MuseumOfFamilyHistory.com. Retrieved November 19, 2009.
- Paul Celan By Paul Celan, Pierre Joris
- Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: an unresolved conversation, 1951–1970, page 22
- Hamburger p. xxiii. For detail on this traumatic event, see Felstiner, Paul Celan, op. cit. pp. 72, 154–55, a literary biography from which much in this entry's pages is derived.
- Collected prose / By Paul Celan, Rosemarie Waldrop
- Anderson, Mark A. (December 31, 2000). "A Poet at War With His Language". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2009.
- from "Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen", p. 34, in Celan's Collected Prose, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop, Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, The Sheep Meadow Press, 1986. Cf.: "Reachable, near and not lost, there remained in the midst of the losses this one thing: language. It, the language, remained, not lost, yes in spite of everything. But it had to pass through its own answerlessness, pass through frightful muting, pass through the thousand darknesses of deathbringing speech. It passed through and gave back no words for that which happened; yet it passed through this happening. Passed through and could come to light again, 'enriched' by all this." from Felstiner, Selected Poems and Prose, p. 395.
- G. Steiner "La longue vie de la métaphore" Éctrits du temps, 14–15, p. 16 (1987)
- Enzo Rostagno "Paul Celan et la poésie de la destruction" in "L'Histoire déchirée. Essai sur Auschwitz et les intellectuels" , Les Éditions du Cerf 1997 (ISBN 2-204-05562-X), in French.
- "Celan's 'Todesfuge' and 'Er'" by Immanuel Weissglas, in German.
- Note: this version is included in Lightduress [Green Integer 113] (Copenhagen & Los Angeles: Green Integer Editions, 2005) and on Pierre Joris's blog (entry for November 29, 2006). See also Felstiner, Selected Poems, op. cit. pp. 314–15
- for more information on the translation of this poem see Joris' essay "Translation at the Mountain of Death"
- Felstiner, op. cit., p. 56.
- The Correspondence of Paul Celan & Ilana Shmueli,The Sheep Meadow Press,New York, Letter 99', PP103-104
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Paul Celan|
Selected Celan exhibits, sites, homepages on the web
- Pegasos overview
- Biography of Celan at the George Mason University site
- Overview at Littlebluelight.com
- Limited-edition of Paul Celan's reading before the German literary club, Group 47, from The Shackman Press
- Spike Magazine's analysis on the writing of Celan
- Against Time: Essays on Paul Celan on Point and Circumference
Selected poetry, poems, poetics on the web (English translations of Celan)
- Recent Celan essays by John Felstiner: 1) "Paul Celan Meets Samuel Beckett", American Poetry Review, July/August 2004 & poetrydaily.org, 6 July 2004; 2) "Writing Zion: An Exchange between Celan and Amichai", New Republic, 12 June 2006 & "Paul Celan and Yehuda Amichai: An Exchange on Nation and Exile", wordswithoutborders.org; 3) "The One and Only Circle: Paul Celan's Letters to Gisèle", Fiction 54, 2008 and (expanded) Mantis, 2009
- "Die Zweite Bibliographie", Jerry Glenn (copious bibliography, through 1995, in German
- Celan on Mandelstam: extracts from the variorum edition of the Meridian speech featured on Pierre Joris's blog, this is a page of notes, fragments, sketches for sentences,etc., Celan took when preparing a radio-essay on Osip Mandelstam. However, as Joris points out: "some of the thinking reappears, transformed, in the Meridian".
- "Four New Translations of Paul Celan", by Ian Fairley in Guernica Magazine
- "Fugue of Death" (English translation of "Todesfuge")
- "Death Fugue" (Another English translation of "Todesfuge")
- InstaPLANET Cultural Universe: three poems from Die Gedichte aus dem Nachlass in the original German with a translation into English by Ana Elsner
- "Dissertation on the French Reception of Celan"
- Ring-Narrowing Day Under, one of seven poems translated from the German by Heather McHugh and Nikolai Popov, originally published in Jubilat
- Extract from Lightduress (Cycle 6), translated by Pierre Joris; originally published by Samizdat
- Dan Kaufman & Barbez music recorded an album based upon the life and poems of Paul Celan, published on the Tzadik label in the series of Radical Jewish Culture.
- translations from ATEMWENDE/ Breathturn Cal Kinnear translates Paul Celan
Selected multimedia presentations
- Recordings of Celan reading a selection of his poems, including "Todesfuge", with translations by John Felstiner
- Griffin Poetry Prize reading by Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh from Glottal Stop: 101 Poems by Paul Celan, including video clip