Thursday, 27 September 2012

paul celan

what a grand thing it is when a new poetry book thumps thru the door. even better when two of them do this in close succession. course, then there's the problem of which one to read first. if i was to have done this chronologically then it'd be james dickey's selected poems - i can't get the heaven of animals out of my head and have been meaning to read more. flicking thru it tho i feel i'm going to save it for some sort of road trip. it has that feel about it.

given the choice the heart was always going to gravitate to john felstiner's translations of the selected poems and prose of paul celan. i've only ever had michael hamburger's versions and, while up to now they've always been sufficient, the notion of seeing something different was very appealing. and so it's proved. i'm sitting here with both of them in front, flicking back and forth. both mention the problems of translating clean but it's ferstiner's intro that's engaging me. not just because it's newer to me but because it contains things i hadn't seen before.

along with the discussion re translating celan there's a bit about celan's own translation practice. as ferstiner says, it'd be good to have a bunch of celan's translations but until the day i learn german there's no real way i could appreciate it. he has a lovely bit where he looks at emily dickinson

I reason, we could die -
The best Vitality
Cannot excel decay
But, what of that?

which celan translates as -

Ich denk: Sieh zu, man stirbt,
der Saft, der in dir wirkt,
auch ihm gilt dies: Verdirb -
ja und?

which felstiner (kindly, for the german deficient) translates back as -

I think: Look here, we die,
the sap that works in thee,
it too knows this: Decay -
so what?

all of which contains everything i like about translation! there's a wealth of detail in the introduction (meaning, doubtless, that i'll be getting felstiner's biography of celan at some point along the way) and there are some nice images of the pomes along with celan's own handwriting. (i don't know what it is but i really like to see a writer's handwriting!)

my favourite quote so far is this one -

A poem...can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the - not always greatly hopeful - belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps

that'll do for me!


Andrew Shields said...

I first read Celan in John Felstiner's seminar on Literature of the Holocaust at Stanford in the late 80s. I spent the whole next year with the collected poems and a German-English dictionary!

swiss said...

nice! i imagine that year was...challenging!