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Paul Celan: Wolfsbohne.

. . . o Ihr Bluten von Deutschland, o mein Herz wird Untrugbarer Kristall, an dem Das Licht sich prufet, wenn Deutschland

- Holderlin, "Vom Abgrund namlich . . ."

. . . wie an den Hausern der Juden (zum Andenken des ruinirten Jerusalem's), immer etwas unvollendet gelassen werden muss . . .

- Jean Paul, "Das Kampaner Thal"

Leg den Riegel vor: Es sind Rosen im Haus. Es sind sieben Rosen im Haus. Es ist der Siebenleuchter im Haus. Unser Kind weiss es und schlaft.

(Weit, in Michailowka, in der Ukraine, wo sie mir Vater und Mutter erschlugen: was bluhte dort, was bluht dort? Welche Blume, Mutter, tat dir dort weh mit ihrem Namen?

Mutter, dir, die du Wolfsbohne sagtest, nicht: Lupine.

Gestern kam einer von ihnen und totete dich zum andern Mal in meinem Gedicht.

Mutter. Mutter, wessen Hand hab ich gedruckt, da ich mit deinen Worten ging nach Deutschland?

In Aussig, sagtest du immer, in Aussig an der Elbe, auf der Flucht. Mutter, es wohnten dort Morder.

Mutter, ich habe Briefe geschrieben. Mutter, es kam keine Antwort. Mutter, es kam eine Antwort. Mutter, ich habe Briefe geschrieben an - Mutter, sie schreiben Gedichte. Mutter, sie schrieben sie nicht, war das Gedicht nicht, das ich geschrieben hab, um deinetwillen, um deines Gottes willen. Gelobt, sprachst du, sei der Ewige und gepriesen, dreimal Amen.

Mutter, sie schweigen. Mutter, sie dulden es, dass die Niedertracht reich verleumdet. Mutter, keiner fallt den Mordern ins Wort.

Mutter, sie schreiben Gedichte. O Mutter, wieviel fremdester Aacker tragt deine Frucht! Tragt sie und nahrt die da toten!

Mutter, ich bin verloren. Mutter, wir sind verloren. Mutter, mein Kind, das dir ahnlich sieht.)

Leg den Riegel vor: Es sind Rosen im Haus. Es sind sieben Rosen im Haus. Es ist der Siebenleuchter im Haus. Unser Kind weiss es und schlaft.

21. Oktober 1959.

Translator's Note

Wolfsbohne" is one of several poems excised by Paul Celan from his collection Die Niemandsrose of 1963. As such it could not be included with my other Celan translations, remaining unpublished even in German. Yet, when a copy of Celan's typescript of 1959 reached me some years ago, I was immediately moved to translate the poem - unlike the drafts and fragments I have also read or the other finished poems left out of the same collection. Because a book of Celan's rejected or withheld poems is now due to be published in Germany, I have been granted permission by his son Eric Celan and his German publisher, Suhrkamp, for a separate bilingual printing of "Wolfsbohne."

What needs to be said here is that in principle I should never have wished to publish any text not released for publication by Celan - or by any poet not prevented by outward circumstances from control over his or her own canon. Over the decades I have been able to translate only a fraction of Celan's canonical work. It was the immediate impact on me of "Wolfsbohne" itself that overruled the principle in this case.

Another consideration is that, far from suppressing or destroying the script of this poem, Celan took care to preserve it, as indeed he preserved less finished, never definitive poems now to be made available to readers in the volume Gedichte aus dem Nachlass. What is more, he returned to "Wolfsbohne" as late as 1965, adding these lines:

Unverlorene, Mutter, mit uns, den Unverlorenen, siegst du. Gerecht und Und mit uns Wahr und Gerade, um der versohnenden Liebe willen.

unlost Mother, with us, the unlost, you prevail. Just and And with us True and Upright for the sake of reconciling love.

Because these lines were not integrated into what might have but did not become a later version of the poem, I have confined my translation to the typescript text originally sent to me, which also omits the additional location "in Gaissin," after "in Michaelovka," of one draft. As late as April 1963, "Wolfsbohne" was included in Celan's contents list for Die Niemandsrose. It was to precede "Zurich, zum Storchen" in section I of the book.

"Wolfsbohne" must have proved unpublishable for and by Celan because, more starkly than any other poem of his maturity, it exposed the wound of his parents' death in internment camps. As long as Celan believed or hoped that this wound could heal - even after the death, soon after the birth of his first son, Francois - the poem remained publishable; and the inserted later lines, which contradicted the "I am lost, we are lost" of the 1959 version, were a last and vain attempt not to improve it as a poem but to direct it towards a healing of the wound.

In almost all the other poems of this period and his later years Celan kept his "yes and no unsplit," resorting to extreme, insoluble polysemy or ambivalence to embody his whole truth. Had a later version of "Wolfsbohne" become as definitive as the 1959 version, the "lost" and "unlost" would most probably have been fused or kept in equipoise throughout the whole text. If, on the other hand, he had been able to bring himself to include the 1959 version in his book, every responsive and responsible critic would have had to think twice before describing Celan as a 'hermetic' poet - as Celan believed I had called him in an anonymous review of the book published in the TLS, despite my repeated assurances that I was not the author of that review. This misunderstanding troubled our relations, explicitly for a time, subliminally right up to the time of Celan's death by suicide. Into my copy of Die Niemandsrose he wrote the words "ganz und gar nicht hermetisch" - "absolutely not hermetic."

I should not mention this personal experience again here but for its relevance to "Wolfsbohne," unknown to me at the time, as to the alacrity with which I translated the text and the exceptional importance for me of a poem that validates Celan's insistence on whatever is the opposite of hermeticism. (The authorship of the TLS review has also been divulged at last to a scholar, far too late to heal the incomparably lesser wound of insuperable mistrust on the one side, exasperation on the other, between mere friends.)

The stark directness of this poem absolves me from the elucidation which in any case I have long ceased to be able to offer to readers of Celan's work. More clearly than any other poem by Celan, earlier or later, "Wolfsbohne" renders the tug between life and death that was the price he had to pay for being a survivor. Here the overshadowing past - the parenthesis that takes up most of the poem - is framed in the spare reiterated evocation of survival's present and future, embodied in the sleeping child-although imagination, of course, tends to move in a space-time in which "past," "present," and "future" may be no more than a lexical currency and convention. A great deal is likely to be written about the biographical, psychological, social, and historical implications of this poem, but not without detracting and distracting from what the poem does by its reductive recourse to minimal words, halting speech rhythms, the bare bones of Celan's art. If my version of it accords with that procedure, it will speak for itself.

Michael Hamburger Suffolk, March 1997
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Title Annotation:translation notes on one of Celan's poems that he removed from the Die Niemandsrose collection
Author:Hamburger, Michael
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Date:Sep 1, 1997
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