Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry: A Bilingual Edition (German Edition)
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2015 National Translation Award Winner in Poetry
Paul Celan, one of the greatest German-language poets of the twentieth century, created an oeuvre that stands as testimony to the horrors of his times and as an attempt to chart a topography for a new, uncontaminated language and world. Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry gathers the five final volumes of his life's work in a bilingual edition, translated and with commentary by the award-winning poet and translator Pierre Joris.
This collection displays a mature writer at the height of his talents, following what Celan himself called the "turn" (Wende) of his work away from the lush, surreal metaphors of his earlier verse. Given "the sinister events in its memory," Celan believed that the language of poetry had to become "more sober, more factual . . . ‘grayer.'" Abandoning the more sumptuous music of the first books, he pared down his compositions to increase the accuracy of the language that now "does not transfigure or render ‘poetical'; it names, it posits, it tries to measure the area of the given and the possible." In his need for an inhabitable post-Holocaust world, Celan saw that "reality is not simply there; it must be searched for and won."
Breathturn into Timestead reveals a poet undergoing a profound artistic reinvention. The work is that of a witness and a visionary.
Feldmaus” | “With the voice of the fieldmouse” January 20, 1968, Paris, rue d’Ulm. Possibly Celan had in mind Franz Kafka’s last short story, “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk.” “In Echsen-” | “In lizard-” January 20, 1968, Paris, rue d’Ulm. See the poem “Haut Mal,” which also speaks of epilepsy (p. 212). “Schneepart” | “Snowpart” January 22, 1968, Paris, rue d’Ulm. The poem that gives its title to the volume. See notes on the title above (p. 576). II “Die nachzustotternde Welt” |
to speed and noise) here refers to the process of crystal formation in crystallography. Lefebvre refers the reader to Celan’s earlier poem “Engführung” | “Stretto” (PCS, p. 67) in the volume Sprachgitter | Speechgrille, adding: “The points and the edges of the crystal are in a way structured by a network of punctuations” (RDS, p. 247). “Wo?” | “Where?” December 30, 1964, Paris. Lockermassen | friable matter: A geological term Celan located in his geology books. I use “matter” rather than
Atemwende | Breathturn—an unusual title in the general economy of the naming of his books, at least until this period. Contrary to the titles of the previous volumes, it is neither a phrase, such as Mohn und Gedächtnis | Poppy and Memory, nor a compound word extracted from a poem and set above the whole collection as title, such as Sprachgitter | Speechgrille. Unable to link the title directly to a specific poem in the collection, one finds it difficult to determine or control its meaning by
Tumbagebete” | “Neighed tombprayers” January 4, 1967, Paris. The poem draws on a FAZ article of January 4, 1967, reporting on the funeral for the Austrian writer Heimito von Doderer, someone early on much compromised by adherence to Nazi ideology. Celan owned his novel Die Strudelhofstiege oder Melzer und die Tiefe der Jahre, inscribed to him with the dedication: “For Paul Celan, cordially, Heimito von Doderer, Munich, December 1954.” In a letter to Gisèle of January 4, 1967, he notes: “I have
angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged,” and other places in the Bible (BW, p. 784). Hirnsichel | brainsickle: In anatomy, falx cerebri, also called cerebral falx, named because of its sicklelike form, is a strong, arched fold of dura mater descending vertically in the longitudinal fissure between the cerebral hemispheres. I am translating the German word literally so as to keep the sickle image, which Celan foregrounds, to create his double image of