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Paul Celan

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Paul Celan
BornPaul Antschel
(1920-11-23)23 November 1920
Cernăuți, Kingdom of Romania
(now Chernivtsi, Ukraine)
Died20 April 1970(1970-04-20) (aged 49)
Paris, France
NationalityRomanian, French
GenrePoetry, translation
Notable works"Todesfuge"
SpouseGisèle Lestrange
PartnerIngeborg Bachmann

Paul Celan (/ˈsɛlæn/;[1] German: [ˈtseːlaːn]), born Paul Antschel, (23 November 1920 – c. 20 April 1970) was a Romanian-born French poet, Holocaust survivor, and literary translator. Due to his many radical poetic and linguistic innovations, Celan regarded as one of the most important figures in German-language literature of the post-World War II era and a poet whose verse has an immortal place in the literary pantheon. His poetry is characterized by a complicated and cryptic style that deviates from poetic conventions.



Early life


Celan was born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Cernăuți, Bukovina, a region then part of Romania and earlier part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (when his birthplace was known as Czernowitz). His first home was in the Wassilkogasse in Cernăuți. His father, Leo Antschel, was a Zionist who advocated his son's education in Hebrew at the Jewish school Safah Ivriah (meaning the Hebrew language). Celan's mother, Fritzi, was an avid reader of German literature who insisted Austrian German be the language of the household. In his teens, Celan became active in Jewish Socialist organizations and fostered support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. His earliest known poem is titled Mother's Day 1938.[2]

Paul attended the Liceul Ortodox de Băieți No. 1 (Boys' Orthodox Secondary School No. 1) from 1930 until 1935, Liceul de Băieți No. 2 în Cernăuți (Boys' Secondary School No. 2 in Cernăuți) from 1935 to 1936,[3] followed by the Liceul Marele Voievod Mihai (Great Prince Mihai Preparatory School, now Chernivtsi School No. 5), where he studied from 1936 until graduating in 1938. At this time Celan secretly began to write poetry.[4]

In 1938, Celan traveled to Tours, France, to study medicine;[5] the Anschluss precluded his study in Vienna, and Romanian schools were harder to get into due to the newly imposed Jewish quota. 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 murdered at Birkenau. Celan returned to Cernăuți in 1939 to study literature and Romance languages.[2]

Life during World War II


Following the Soviet occupation of Bukovina in June 1940, deportations to Siberia started. A year later, following the reconquest by Romania, Nazi Germany and the then-fascist Romanian regime brought ghettos, internment, and forced labour (see Romania in World War II).

On arrival in Cernăuți in 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 Shakespeare's sonnets and continued to write his own poetry. 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.[2]

The local mayor, Traian Popovici, 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 hoped to convince his parents to leave the country so as to escape certain persecution. While Celan was away from home, on 21 June 1942, his parents were taken from their home and sent by train to an internment camp in Transnistria Governorate, where two-thirds of the deportees eventually perished. Celan's father likely perished of typhus and his mother was shot after being exhausted by forced labour. Later that year, after being taken to a labour camp in Romania, Celan received reports of his parents' deaths.[2]

Celan remained imprisoned in a work camp until February 1944, when the Red Army's advance forced the Romanians to abandon the camps, whereupon he returned to Cernăuți shortly before the Soviets returned. There, he worked briefly as a nurse in the mental hospital. 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 deaths.

Life after the war


Considering emigration to Palestine, Celan left Cernăuți 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, such as Gellu Naum, Ilarie Voronca, Gherasim Luca, Paul Păun, and Dolfi Trost. It was in this period that Celan developed pseudonyms both for himself and his friends, including the one he took as his pen name. He also met with the poets Rose Ausländer and Immanuel Weissglas [de], elements of whose works he reused in his poem "Todesfuge", which first appeared as "Tangoul Morții" ("Death Tango") in a Romanian translation of May 1947.[2]

Emigration and Paris years


Upon the emergence 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. Celan, however, found only a ruined city divided between Allied powers and which bore little resemblance to the literary, musical, and cultural mecca it had been as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Furthermore, the urbane, cultured, and sophisticated Viennese Jewish community described by Stefan Zweig in The World of Yesterday had been largely annihilated by the Holocaust in Austria. This is why, like the poet Heinrich Heine before him, Celan emigrated 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 Cernăuți, Petre Solomon. It was also during this time that he exchanged many letters with Diet Kloos, a young singer and anti-Nazi Dutch Resistance veteran who had witnessed her husband of just a few months being tortured to death. She visited Celan twice in Paris between 1949 and 1951.[2]

In 1952, Celan's writing began to gain recognition when he read his poetry on his first reading trip to West Germany[6] where he was invited to read at the semiannual meetings of the hugely influential Group 47 literary group.[7] At their May meeting he read his poem Todesfuge ("Death Fugue"), a depiction of concentration camp life. When Ingeborg Bachmann, with whom Celan had an affair, won the group's prize instead for her poetry 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".[This quote needs a citation] He did not attend any other meeting of the group.[2]

The grave of Paul Celan at the Cimetière de Thiais near Paris

In November 1951, he met the graphic artist Gisèle Lestrange, in Paris. He sent her many love letters, influenced by Franz Kafka's correspondence with Milena Jesenská and Felice Bauer.[8] They married on 21 December 1952, despite the opposition of her aristocratic family. During the following 18 years they wrote over 700 letters; Celan's active correspondents also included Hermann Lenz and his wife Hanne.[9] 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.[2]

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, unjustly accused him of having plagiarised her husband's work.[10] Celan was awarded the Bremen Literature Prize in 1958 and the Georg Büchner Prize in 1960.[11][12][2]

Celan drowned himself in the river Seine in Paris around 20 April 1970.[13]

Poetic style


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. Meanwhile, Celan's own poetry became progressively more cryptic, fractured and monosyllabic, often deviating from conventional poetic meter and verse structures. He created and used German neologisms, especially in his later works Fadensonnen ("Threadsuns") and Lichtzwang. Celan has been seen as attempting either to destroy or remake the German language in his poetry, using it to convey dense imagery and subjective experiences; he described this stance in a letter to his wife Gisèle Lestrange as feeling as though "the German I talk is not the same as the language the German people are talking here".

The death of his parents and the trauma of the Holocaust are regarded by scholars as being 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.[14]

Celan also said: "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."[15]

"Todesfuge" may have drawn some key motifs from the poem "ER" by Immanuel Weissglas [de], another Czernovitz poet.[16] The characters of Margarete and Sulamith, with their respectively golden and ashen hair, can be interpreted as a reflection of Celan's Jewish-German culture,[16] while the blue-eyed "Master from Germany" embodies German Nazism.





Philosophers including Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida and Hans-Georg Gadamer devoted at least one of their books to the poetics of Celan's work.[17] He has been regarded, alongside Goethe, Hölderlin and Rilke, as one of the most significant German poets, and a radical innovator of German-language literature.[18] Despite the difficulty of his work, his poetry is thoroughly researched, with the total number of scholarly papers numbering in the thousands.

In film


The Dreamed Ones (Die Geträumten; 2016), is a feature film based on the almost 20-year correspondence between Celan and poet Ingeborg Bachmann.[19] It was directed by Ruth Beckermann, and won several awards.[20]

Celan is featured as an inspiration for the work of Anselm Kiefer, who reads Celan's poem Todesfuge, in Wim Wenders' 2023 3D movie Anselm.[21][22]



In German



Poem ("Nachmittag mit Zirkus und Zitadelle") by Paul Celan on a wall in Leiden

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. Susan H. Gillespie and Ian Fairley have released English translations.

Joris has also translated Celan's German poems into French:

  • "Speech-Grille" and Selected Poems, translated by Joachim Neugroschel (1971)
  • Nineteen Poems by Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger (1972)
  • Paul Celan, 65 Poems, translated by Brian Lynch and Peter Jankowsky (1985)
  • Last Poems, translated by Katharine Washburn and Margret Guillemin (1986)
  • Collected Prose, edited by Rosmarie Waldrop (1986) ISBN 978-0-935296-92-1
  • Atemwende/Breathturn, translated by Pierre Joris (1995)
  • Paul Celan, Nelly Sachs: Correspondence, translated by Christopher Clark, edited with an introduction by John Felstiner (1998)
  • Glottal Stop: 101 Poems, translated by Nikolai B. Popov and Heather McHugh (2000) (winner of the 2001 International Griffin Poetry Prize)
  • Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, edited and translated by John Felstiner (2000) (winner of the PEN, MLA, and American Translators Association prizes)
  • Poems of Paul Celan: A Bilingual German/English Edition, Revised Edition, translated by Michael Hamburger (2001)
  • Fathomsuns/Fadensonnen and Benighted/Eingedunkelt, translated by Ian Fairley (2001)
  • Romanian Poems, translated by Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi (2003)
  • Paul Celan: Selections, edited and with an introduction by Pierre Joris (2005)
  • Lichtzwang/Lightduress, translated and with an introduction by Pierre Joris, a bilingual edition (Green Integer, 2005)
  • Snow Part, translated by Ian Fairley (2007)
  • From Threshold to Threshold, translated by David Young (2010)
  • Paul Celan, Ingeborg Bachmann: Correspondence, translated by Wieland Hoban (2010)
  • The Correspondence of Paul Celan and Ilana Shmueli, translated by Susan H. Gillespie with a preface by John Felstiner (2011)
  • The Meridian: Final Version – Drafts – Materials, edited by Bernhard Böschenstein and Heino Schmull, translated by Pierre Joris (2011)
  • Corona: Selected Poems of Paul Celan, translated by Susan H. Gillespie (Station Hill of Barrytown, 2013)
  • Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry: A Bilingual Edition, translated by Pierre Joris (2015)
  • Something is still present and isn't, of what's gone. A bilingual anthology of avant-garde and avant-garde inspired Rumanian poetry, (translated by Victor Pambuccian), Aracne editrice, Rome, 2018.
  • Microliths They Are, Little Stones: Posthumous Prose, translated by Pierre Joris (2020)
  • Memory Rose Into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry, A Bilingual Edition, translated by Pierre Joris (2020)

In Romanian

  • Paul Celan și "meridianul" său. Repere vechi și noi pe un atlas central-European, Andrei Corbea Hoișie


  • Paul Celan. Biographie et interpretation/Biographie und Interpretation, editor Andrei Corbea Hoișie
  • Schneepart / Snøpart. Translated 2012 to Norwegian by Anders Bærheim and Cornelia Simon

Writers translated by Celan


About translations


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."[23]


  • 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 University Press, 1995)

Selected criticism

  • Word Traces, Aris Fioretos (ed.), includes contributions by Jacques Derrida, Werner Hamacher, and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe (1994)
  • Gadamer on Celan: 'Who Am I and Who Are You?' and Other Essays, Hans-Georg Gadamer (trans.) and Richard Heinemann and Bruce Krajewski (eds.) (1997)
  • Poetry as Experience Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Andrea Tarnowski (trans.) (1999)
  • Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan, Carson, Anne. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1999)
  • Zur Poetik Paul Celans: Gedicht und Mensch - die Arbeit am Sinn, Marko Pajević. Universitätsverlag C. Winter, Heidelberg (2000).
  • Poésie contre poésie. Celan et la littérature, Jean Bollack. PUF (2001)
  • Celan Studies Péter Szondi; Susan Bernofsky and Harvey Mendelsohn (trans.) (2003)
  • L'écrit : une poétique dans l'oeuvre de Celan, Jean Bollack. PUF (2003)
  • Paul Celan et Martin Heidegger: le sens d'un dialogue, Hadrien France-Lanord (2004)
  • Words from Abroad: Trauma and Displacement in Postwar German Jewish Writers, Katja Garloff (2005)
  • Sovereignties in Question: the Poetics of Paul Celan, Jacques Derrida (trans.), Thomas Dutoit and Outi Pasanen (eds.), 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)
  • Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation, 1951–1970, James K. Lyon (2006)
  • Anselm Kiefer /Paul Celan. Myth, Mourning and Memory, Andréa Lauterwein. With 157 illustrations, 140 in colour. Thames & Hudson, London. ISBN 978-0-500-23836-3 (2007)
  • Sites of the Uncanny: Paul Celan, Specularity and the Visual Arts, Eric Kligerman. Berlin and New York (Interdisciplinary German Cultural Studies, 3) (2007)
  • Vor Morgen. Bachmann und Celan. Die Minne im Angesicht der Morde. Arnau Pons in Kultur & Genspenster. Heft Nr. 10. (2010)
  • Das Gesicht des Gerechten. Paul Celan besucht Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Werner Wögerbauer in Kultur & Genspenster. Heft Nr. 10. ISBN 978-3-938801-73-4 (2010)
  • Poetry as Individuality: The Discourse of Observation in Paul Celan, Derek Hillard. Bucknell University Press. (2010)
  • Vor Morgen. Bachmann und Celan. Die Minne im Angesicht der Morde, Arnau Pons in Kultur & Genspenster. Heft Nr. 10. (2010)
  • Still Songs: Music In and Around the Poetry of Paul Celan, Axel Englund. Farnham: Ashgate. (2012) ISBN 9781409422624
  • Shakespeare and Celan: A very brief comparative Study, Pinaki Roy in Yearly Shakespeare (ISSN 0976-9536) (xviii): 118-24. (2020)




  • 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)
  • Pulse Shadows by Harrison Birtwistle; nine settings of poems by Celan, interleaved with nine pieces for string quartet (one of which is an instrumental setting of "Todesfuge").[24]


  • Dove, Richard (1981), Mindus Inversus, review of Selected Poems translated by Michael Humburger. in Murray, Glen (ed.), Cencrastus No. 7, Winter 1981-82, p. 48, ISSN 0264-0856

Further reading

  • John Felstiner "Writing Zion" Paul Celan and Yehuda Amichai: An Exchange between Two Great Poets, The New Republic, 5 June 2006
  • John Felstiner, "Paul Celan and Yehuda Amichai: An Exchange between Two Great Poets", Midstream, vol. 53, no. 1 (Jan.–Feb. 2007)
  • Daive, Jean. Under The Dome: Walks with Paul Celan (tr. Rosmarie Waldrop), Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck, 2009.
  • Mario Kopić: "Amfiteater v Freiburgu, julija 1967", Arendt, Heidegger, Celan, Apokalipsa, 153–154, 2011 (Slovenian)
  • Hana Amichai: "The leap between the yet and the not any more", Yehuda Amichai and Paul Celan, Haaretz, 6 April 2012 (Hebrew)
  • Aquilina, Mario, The Event of Style in Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
  • Daive, Jean. Albiach / Celan (author, tr. Donald Wellman), Anne-Marie Albiach (author), (tr. Julian Kabza), Ann Arbor, Michigan: Annex Press, 2017.

Selected Celan exhibits, sites, homepages on the web

Selected poetry, poems, poetics on the web (English translations of Celan)

Selected multimedia presentations


  1. ^ "Celan". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i [1] Celan, Paul. Paul Celan:Selections. University of California Press, 2005, pp 7-16.
  3. ^ Celan, Paul, and Axel Gellhaus. Paul Antschel/Paul Celan in Czernowitz, Deutsche Schillergesellschafy 2001 ISBN 978-3-933679-40-6
  4. ^ "The Schools of Czernowitz Graduating Class of 1938". Antschel, P., 2nd row from top. MuseumOfFamilyHistory.com. Retrieved 19 November 2009.
  5. ^ Davenport, Arlice (January 4, 2015). "Collected later poetry of Paul Celan showcases his struggle to make words say what they cannot". The Wichita Eagle. Retrieved May 16, 2024.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ Paul Celan By Paul Celan, Pierre Joris[full citation needed]
  7. ^ Lyon, James K. (2006). Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation, 1951–1970. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 22. ISBN 9780801883026.
  8. ^ Lehmann, Jürgen (2008). Celan-Handbuch Leben - Werk - Wirkung. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler. pp. 304–5. ISBN 9783476050168.
  9. ^ See: Paul Celan, Hanne und Hermann Lenz: Briefwechsel, ed. von Barbara Wiedemann (and others). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 2001.
  10. ^ Hamburger p. xxiii.[incomplete short citation] For detail on this traumatic event, see Felstiner, Paul Celan,[incomplete short citation] op. cit. pp. 72, 154–155, a literary biography from which much in this entry's pages is derived.
  11. ^ "Paul Celan". Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung. Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  12. ^ Collected prose / By Paul Celan, Rosemarie Waldrop
  13. ^ Anderson, Mark A. (31 December 2000). "A Poet at War With His Language". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 August 2009.
  14. ^ Paul Celan, "Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen", p. 34, 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 2000, p. 395
  15. ^ Felstiner, op. cit., p. 56.[incomplete short citation]
  16. ^ a b 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 978-2-204-05562-8), in French.
  17. ^ Celan, Paul (2 December 2014). Breathturn into timestead : the collected later poetry : a bilingual edition. Joris, Pierre (first ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-374-12598-1. OCLC 869263618.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  18. ^ May, Markus; Goßens, Peter; Lehmann, Jürgen, eds. (2012). Celan Handbuch. doi:10.1007/978-3-476-05331-2. ISBN 978-3-476-02441-1.
  19. ^ Oltermann, Philip (17 November 2016). "Poets' unlikely love letters are turned into critically acclaimed film". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  20. ^ The Dreamed Ones at IMDb
  21. ^ Wilkinson, Alissa (2023-12-07). "'Anselm' Review: An Artist Contemplates the Cosmos, in 3-D". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2024-02-04.
  22. ^ Powers, John (December 7, 2023). "'Anselm' documentary is a thrilling portrait of an artist at work". NPR.org. Retrieved February 4, 2023.
  23. ^ The Correspondence of Paul Celan & Ilana Shmueli, The Sheep Meadow Press, New York, Letter 99, pp. 103–104
  24. ^ Christopher Thomas (June 2002). "Birtwistle: Pulse Shadows". Classical CD Reviews. MusicWeb (UK). Retrieved 19 October 2021.