“EARTHWAKE” AND ITS SOURCES
After such knowledge
– T.S. Eliot
Of all the shorter poems I have written, “Earthwake” is the one I am most anxious to have understood. It was written during a personal crisis which coincided with a crisis in the life of my generation, and in responding to the crisis I was also responding to other poems that represented responses to the same great crisis at earlier stages. Thus “Earthwake” is written in a certain tradition and needs to be seen against its background. Hence I shall try in this essay to play the role of the poem’s implied interpreter. <![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]>
I have a feeling that in the life of every poet there is, or archetypally ought to be, a poem of this kind, which would be to one’s poetic career what the dissertation now is to the academic career: a poem in which the journeyman poet takes a look at the tradition in which he or she is writing and places herself or himself in relation to that tradition. Whatever else the poet writes would then be read with this poem as background. It goes without saying that with the entry of each new poet the tradition itself received a slightly different form, as in Borges’ remark that every writer creates his own predecessors.
In retrospect, one thing that strikes me as curious about “Earthwake,” is that while eulogizing a poet who wrote in German (though he was a polyglot listener), this poem is determined to situate itself within the English-American tradition. Its overall plan is modeled on Eliot’s The Waste Land and Auden’s “In Memory of W.B. Yeats,” each a composite of poems written in different forms.
The Waste Land was written shortly after World War I and has as subject the death of a culture. The poem has several speakers, all of them lost souls. The poem is not a play or dialogue because the voices are mostly unaware of one another, as befits the members of a decaying social body. Only the Tiresias-like consciousness of the poet identifies with all of them in their separate plights. It is the poet, then, who emerges as the central figure. At the end he speaks of his own inability to love, which becomes a metaphor for the sickness of his world. He finds a precedent for this metaphor in the legend, associated with the Arthurian cycle, about the “Fisher-King” whose land is waste because of a wound that renders him impotent and causes him ceaseless suffering. The poem ends with a prayer for rain and for the ability to love, and in an effort – which strikes this reader as desperate – to imagine an answer.
“In Memory of W.B. Yeats” was written nearly twenty years after Eliot’s poem, on the eve of World War II. Its subject is the death of a great poet at a moment when the world is moving toward chaos. The voice of the poem – it remains a rather impersonal voice -- takes the reader through different stages of mourning (reflected in the progressively tighter verse forms of the successive parts): the reaction to the first report of Yeats’ death, the attempt to imagine it from the dying man’s point of view, a summary of Yeats’ career including his futile attempts to play a civic role, finally a reaffirmation of poetry’s vital importance. It is assumed that the tradition will continue, despite the deaths of individuals, despite historical catastrophes, despite poetry’s powerlessness (“poetry makes nothing happen”). Auden’s poem is, I think, related to The Waste Land, has it in the background: “In the deserts of the heart,/ Let the healing fountain start.” But compared with Eliot’s desperate prayer, these lines have a jingly almost-complacency that doesn’t encourage a breakthrough to happen. For me Auden’s elegy served as an irritant, made it necessary to write “Earthwake” if only to say that no, we cannot count on the tradition continuing unless poetry can once again find a way to make things happen.
The kind of holding-back I felt in Auden seemed to me rooted in Yeats’ “Lapis Lazuli,” which begins: “I have heard that hysterical women say/ They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow,/ Of poets who are always gay,/ For everyone knows or else should know/ That if nothing drastic is done...” In a letter to an editor in March 1970 I had quoted the words of the mad Orsina in Lessing’s tragedy Emilia Galotti: “Those who do not lose their reason over certain things have none to lose.” I found the quotation again in Victor Frankl’s memoir of Auschwitz, Man’s Search for Meaning, which someone lent to me a few months afterward.
After the catastrophe which indeed supervened because nothing drastic was done in time, the most important continuer of the tradition in which Yeats and Auden wrote was an interim survivor whose “journeyman poem,” the “Death Fugue” written in 1945, laments that catastrophe in an incantation that sets the Song of Songs against Goethe’s Faust. Though it may seem paradoxical, in view of the anti-Semitism that mars Eliot’s work and Auden’s admirable liberalism (but everything connected with these matters is always paradoxical), Celan is closer to Eliot than to Auden. It is first of all a matter of tone; but tone is a matter of one’s relation to the world’s destiny. In the presence of the “Death Fugue” and its subject matter, a phrase like “Sing of human unsuccess/ In a rapture of distress” grates on the ear and on the heart. On the other hand, the connection between Celan’s oeuvre and The Waste Land is uncanny. “The Wasteland” begins “April is the cruelest month,” and the central figure is told to “Fear death by water.” And it was death by water that Celan apparently chose for himself in 1970. Such coincidences – one meets with many, in following the trails on which Celan’s work sets one – are not chance; they point to a profound coherency of events, which perhaps only those can sense who approach the world’s destiny without reserve. It is the shaman’s job, after all, to let oneself be torn apart.
It is at this point, then, that I come on the scene, as a reader and apprentice poet seeking a way of going on after a death that seemed to implicate everything, to mean indeed the end of the world.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> I had been writing poetry since childhood, never prolifically or with much confidence, but with a sense akin to Celan’s of seeking “orientation,” of being “solitary and on the way.” Celan had been introduced to me as a dissertation subject; but I could not write a sentence of academic prose about him that did not seem a betrayal. I had begun teaching in the fall of 1969; that winter a lecture on “the death of literature” was given in the department, and heard with apparent equanimity; in the fall of 1970 one colleague greeted me with an ill-timed bit of academic humor. I felt suspended between the academic world and the “counterculture,” in which I had participated while studying in Berkeley, despite intellectual and spiritual misgivings. In March 1970 I had taken part in a faculty sit-in, even though the immediate occasion for the action seemed to me trivial and questionable. With similar mixed feelings, as friends of his later told me, Celan marched with the student protesters in 1968. The shootings at Kent State, which sounded the knell of the counterculture, occurred perhaps two weeks after Celan’s suicide; the phrase “that cancelled equinox,” in the first part of “Earthwake,” was also intended as a reference to this event. Caught up in the court proceedings that followed the sit-in, and in my own inner turmoil, I took little notice of the first Earth Day which likewise occurred within a few days of Celan’s suicide, but this too entered into the poem’s constellation.
This first part of “Earthwake,” like the beginning of Eliot’s The Waste Land, takes the reader through the seasons. In “All winter the scholars/ kept their houses” one can hear an echo of “Winter kept us warm, covering/ Earth in forgetful snow...” and also of Auden’s “He went away in the death of winter.” The poet’s death really occurs in winter, with the scholars’ lack of community, their readiness to accept “the death of literature.” The “stone-eating sky” echoes the stone imagery that has such a prominent place in Celan’s poetry and also refers to the literally polluted air of the city where I was teaching; the death of literature, of the word, is correlated with that of the planet, which is more than seasonal.
The second stanza denies, contra Auden and Yeats, that life and poetry go on. The word “yeasty” came to me without my knowing what it was doing there, but I had a strong feeling that it had to be there; as every poet knows, words that come in that way often turn out to be unconsciously, even uncannily appropriate. First of all, the word is a parody on the name “Yeats,” whose poetic stance, and even more that of his elegist, I was criticizing<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>; but it also connotes the leaven – often interpreted as a symbol of vanity and worldliness – that is removed at Passover. I knew about the equinoctial feast of unleavened bread; I did not yet know that Celan’s Hebrew name was Pesach, and that his final act took place during the Passover holiday.
The phrase “a tongue torn out like a telephone cord” struck me when I wrote it as derivative; I knew it must have come either from Sylvia Plath or from one of her imitators, and regarded it as a weakness in the poem. Later I realized that it does indeed come from Plath – from her poem “Daddy”: “The black telephone’s off at the root,/ The voices just can’t worm through.” I suppose that in an elegy for Celan, Sylvia Plath, whose affinity with him I had sensed from the beginning, has a right to be present. As in Plath’s poems, there is a strong Oedipal element in “Earthwake”: Celan is the “father” both of this poem and also of the identity I was on the verge of assuming, and the word “pegmatites” that opens the second part alludes to my biological father, who used to study that kind of rock. Like Plath, I identified with my father’s object of study – bees in Plath’s case, in my case the earth. But in “Daddy” Plath is trying to exorcise the Oedipal influence, and so her lines have a tone of angry triumph; whereas “Earthwake” deliberately invokes the Oedipal influence, or the “animus” to speak in Jungian terms, and so this line is spoken in sorrow: the tongue was torn out like a telephone cord by forces beyond the speaker’s control, interrupting communication and preventing help from being summoned. Because the appeal for help did not get through, the “metronomes” – the rhythm of poetry as Art<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> – must end. What gets through at the cancelled equinox is not Art but the desperate and unadorned (unleavened) appeal itself. The torn-out tongue refers also to an imagery of mutilation which is pervasive in Celan’s work; it serves to convey both the horror of the Shoah and the poet’s subsequent frustration at the impotence of the word (see especially “Shibboleth”); though he never refers specifically to the Fisher king, one feels this myth in the background of his work. I had had one interview with Celan, and had compared myself even at the time to Parzival in the presence of Anfortas, unable to think of the right question.
The third stanza (“matter itself gone grey/ and blank with pain/ like the face of a clubbed peasant/ telephotoed from Asia”) expresses a feeling I had in Seattle in July, 1970, and which returned the following April, namely that not only human beings and nature but the very matter of the universe had been violated by human presumption. In those two moments I felt Celan’s death as – sacrifice isn’t quite the word for it – an attempt to restore spirit to matter by becoming one with the inanimate. This theme returns at the end of the poem. The image of the clubbed peasant came from a photo in the New York Times. Along with the identification with matter, with earth, comes an identification with the suffering of humans on the other side of the globe, a global consciousness like that which Celan expresses in “The Meridian.” The theme of Asia is taken up “meridianically” in the title of the second part, through the verbal coincidence of “Corea,” which is or was a fishing village in Maine; the billboards announcing “development” were already up when I visited there, along with the friend who had told me of Celan’s death, in early summer 1970. The wild coastal landscape there reminded me of one of Celan’s poems that had haunted me the most, “Matière de Bretagne,” evidently written on the facing coast of Brittany. It begins “Gorselight, yellow, the slopes/ suppurate to heaven, the thorn/ woos the wound, a ringing/ in there, it is evening, the Nothing/ rolls its oceans to worship,/ the blood-sail holds course toward you.”
The title “Matière de Bretagne” also relates to this sense of a fusion of matter and spirit which I attempted to speak of in the foregoing paragraph. The phrase is a scholarly term for the corpus of medieval Celtic legend which includes the Arthurian cycle (of which the Parzival story is a part), as well as as the story of Tristan and Isolde. “Matière” is also “matter” in the sense of pus – the slopes “suppurate to heaven,” and the speaker of the poem seems to identify with Tristan who at the end of his story suffers from a wound only Isolde can cure. He sends a ship to bring her to him, instructing the messenger to hoist a white sail if she is on board and a black sail if she is not; the messenger brings her back but hoists a black sail by mistake (or else Tristan is falsely told that the sail is black), and in despair he tears off his bandages and dies before she can reach him. So it is another story of failed communication. Note that the first part of The Waste Land also alludes to the Tristan legend by quoting from Wagner’s opera. It occurs to me in writing about this that the “suppurating” slopes describe not a morbid phenomenon but the normal flowering of the yellow gorse, or broom; I read somewhere, too, that the image of the thorn wooing the wound is is derived from a botanical description of the flower. There is the feeling in Celan’s poetry of something wrong with the natural eros itself, since it cannot seem to bring about real communication between the sexes. A later poem on this subject begins “Dioecious you are, O Eternal, un-/inhabitable.” From internal evidence in “Matière de Bretagne” and its relation to other poems, it appears that the poem was partly occasioned by marital difficulties, as The Waste Land is said to have been. Celan’s innovation is his use of the second person singular, which tends to make the reader the ultimate partner. (It is a scandal which I have often wished other commentators would allow to break out. “In the deserts of the heart/ Let the healing fountain start”: the recommendation is good, after all.) This is not made as specific in “Matière de Bretagne” as in some other poems, but it can be felt.
“Shore Rocks at Corea,” then, is a response to this particular poem of Celan’s. Whereas the first part of the elegy is in a style more or less standardized by Eliot and Auden, this part echoes Celan’s personal voice and breaks off when that voice comes through in a direct quotation. The words “kanntet ihr mich (did you know me)” are ostensibly addressed by the speaker to his hands, but I think they were really meant for his readers, and it is in this sense that the words come through; thus this part culminates in an act of understanding.
The first two parts of “Earthwake” began as separate poems in the summer of 1970 and were finished and fitted together in the spring of 1971, when the remaining parts were written. The third part reverts to sonnet form. This reversion meant for me the breaking of a tabu imposed by literary modernism, a protest against the tendency toward formlessness, “against time.” (Besides “Earthwake,” the spring of 1971 brought on a series of archaic and archetypal sonnets, the “Nouvelles Chimeres.”) After the free-verse beginning, the entry of the sonnet form felt like a kind of quantum leap to a higher energy level, made possible by the communication that occurred at the end of the second part.
The sonnet is introduced by some cryptic letters that derive from a story I had read somewhere about another episode of uncanny communication: a “seance” that was allegedly held in one of the concentration camps. I believed, in fact, that the story came from Frankl, until just now, when I paged through Man’s Search for Meaning and did not find it there – a discouraging reminder of how deceptive memory can be, even or precisely about the most important things. (How accurately do I remember that interview with Celan? The only truth of it now is the direction in which it moved me. At least the words of the poems remain.) At any rate, according to some report by a concentration camp survivor which I seem to have read before the spring of 1971, there was an Ouija board session in which the letters “VAE V” were spelled out. The person using the Ouija board claimed not to know Latin, but the teller of the story, whoever he was, thought he might have somewhere encountered the phrase “Vae victis” – woe to the vanquished. Wherever they came from, the letters sounded to me like an uncanny echo of a phrase which I remembered as “In hoc signo vinces,” in this sign shalt thou conquer – the words of Constantine’s vision, heralding the birth of the Church Militant. These “cyphers,” as the last line of this section is meant to express, made clear to me the depth and imperiousness of the challenge that the Holocaust represents for Christian consciousness, a realization which has also inspired Rolf Hochhuth (The Deputy), Franklin Littell (The Crucifixion of the Jews), and others. But these lines are also a response to Yeats’ “Lapis Lazuli,” which represents the dramas of Hamlet and Lear as “tragedy wrought to is uttermost”: “Though [...] all the drop-scenes drop at once/ Upon a hundred thousand stages,/ It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.” The view of “Earthwake” (and I think it was also the view of an earlier poem by Yeats, “The Second Coming”) is that tragedy in the twentieth century grew by considerably more than an inch or an ounce. Moreover, the actors on the stage of history (as in Celan’s “Meridian”) are not tragic heroes but “poor slaves,” the spectacle of whose unsuccess is no longer elevating. What I hoped for in this poem was that Celan’s – all right, self-sacrifice, by which I mean not only, nor mainly, that last terrible act, but the total commitment with which he wrote – could bring about a liberating clarification of the human predicament, a recasting of human hope. It would entail the re-engagement of the poet in the struggle for a humane religion (to take up another hint dropped in “The Meridian”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>). It must seem strange that this sonnet, with all that it says to and of the poet Paul Celan, departs completely from his poetic style (at least his later style; perhaps it is not too far from the earliest, most lyrical poems in his first collection). But the sonnet form signals, I think, a return from the extreme poetic individualism of the late work – which has the character of a “reductio ad absurdum,” another phrase from “The Meridian” – to a more communal, commonly understandable way of writing (“my new, my/ everyman’s-hands,” as he wrote in another poem.). The speaker of “VAE V–“ is an individual, but one who understands herself as the representative of a community.
The third through sixth parts of the elegy were, I think I can recall, written in succession over a period of a few days around the first anniversary of Celan’s death. The quotation “Beyond humankind” (from Breath-turn) confirms the position reached at the end of the sonnet. The mythification of the poet’s existence, which began in the sonnet, continues as the hero is translated among the stars, this time as a new Orion wielding the pen rather than the sword. (This takes up an image in “And With the Book from Tarussa.”) The image of a miniature earth is connected with a quasi-hallucinatory feeling of being in another space which I had that spring. It is a feeling which Celan’s work, especially The No-Man’s Rose and “The Meridian,” still conveys to me, and I also had felt it in the Montale poem, “Life, Which Had Seemed So Vast”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> which is referred to here. Montale contemplates the objects on his desk – a seashell on which “a painted volcano gaily smokes” and a lava paperweight – and concludes that “Life, which seemed so vast,/ Is a tinier thing than your handkerchief.” Seeing the earth in miniature means on the one hand that everything is finished, as the last lines of this section seem to express. But at the same time it is a sensation of being at the Archimedean point from which the earth can be moved. That is why those first photographs of the earth seen from space were so inspiring (my long poem on the ecological crisis, The Consciousness of Earth, also begins with this image), and why the fifth section of “Earthwake” again expresses hope.
This fourth section also alludes to Dante, a poet who haunted Celan as well as Eliot. Celan’s central collection, The No-Man’s Rose, is full of Dantean allusions, beginning with its title. The allusion to the Inferno here is a very distant one; the automatic association with fire, which actually does not figure in most scenes of the Inferno, could, I am afraid, lead an uncharitable reader to suspect that I had never read that work. I had, but only superficially; Dante’s influence on me had been mostly indirect. He is, I think, ultimately responsible for the “miniature earth” imagery: in the twenty-second canto of the Paradiso, which I had not yet read, Dante looks back on the earth, “this little threshing-floor that makes us so fierce,” and “smiles at its mean appearance.” Montale and Celan certainly knew this passage, although their visions of the miniature earth<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> are free from Dante’s affectation of scorn for earthly things.
The fifth section is I think fairly self-explanatory. The relation between mourning and praise is gleaned from Rilke’s “Sonnets to Orpheus,” though Rilke stops short of taking the step from praise to restoration. It is the poet who can teach us what we have lost and help us to seek for it or recreate it. There is a Talmudic saying that to save or destroy one human life is equivalent to saving or destroying the world. I felt that Celan, who had managed to absorb into himself the destiny of the world, allowed us to feel that destiny as a personal event, and I hoped that this could be the basis for a resurrection of human community, for covenant on behalf of the earth. The phrase “works and days” does not reflect much classical erudition; I had read it in Tennyson’s poem “To Virgil” (“Landscape-lover, lord of language, more than he that sang the ‘Works and Days’”) and could not have told you to whom Tennyson was referring. Yet the title of Hesiod’s poem spoke to me of a poetry rooted in daily life, a regular part of the functioning of society, and this has remained an aim.
The final quatrain is a reprise. It again evokes the waste land, the prayer for rain – yet in a negative form. The casting of the dice – a topos that is found in Celan, perhaps taken over from Mallarmé (“A Thrown of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance”) – appears to be a metaphor for poetic creation. Yet here too the imperative is in the negative. Listening again to this second line – a line that has often seemed to me awkward, that has often tempted me to change it – I think that whatever dictated it wanted the reader to feel the échec, the utter impasse from which this poem attempts to descry an exit. It is good if one can weep, if one can write more poems, but what is wanted is something more even than these: a realization. “Carve clearer runes upon the gates of hell.” In “Before a Candle,” perhaps the most audacious poem in an oeuvre where emotional and spiritual courage is a matter of course, Celan had written:
In the name of the Three
who battle each other until
the sky plunges down into the grave of the feelings,
These lines occur to me now in connection with this conclusion; at the time of writing I had in mind the line from the Inferno (Canto XII) in which Virgil describes the earthquake that followed the Crucifixion: “Methought the universe felt love.” Hence, also, the title, which came last: the multifaceted pun on “earthquake,” “Earth, wake,” a wake of or for the earth in the sense of obsequies or of a vigil (cf. “Earth Watch”). I should mention Shelley here too; the title also recalls the ending of his “Ode to the West Wind” (“Be through my lips to unawakened earth/ The trumpet of a prophecy...”) The last lines are intended not only as an epitaph but also as the promise of a better relation to the Earth.
Throughout this analysis I’ve been working along the edge of a sense of making things too explicit, of dragging things out that ought to remain implicit, enfolded in the understanding of those who understand one another at half a word. Celan said in the name of Malebranche, “Attnetion is the natural prayer of the soul.” In the space of this attention, poetry becomes a “sacrament”: it uses symbols to allow people to experience in one another’s actual or imagined presence what can no longer be conveyed by words directly. This common experience is the basis of community.
But common experiences seem to be possible only on the basis of a culture that has already taken shape, is already present. Just before the onset of the period of semi-delirium during which “Earthwake” was completed, I had read the Bible from cover to cover in the space of about a week. For the first time I experienced the Bible, with all its diversity of expression, as a single narrative, the story of the relation between Israel and its God. Against this background individual acts achieved their significance. In his book The Bible as Narrative, which is informed by a similar perception, Northrup Frye points out that even or especially Jesus, whose actions seem at first spontaneous and unfettered by tradition, appears on closer reading to have been acting at every minute out of an awareness of the Scriptures, a sense of them as precedents. And it was against this background that his contemporaries understood him.
In a brief speech given in Tel Aviv in the fall of 1969 Celan speaks of the quality of great poetry as “a onceonliness open to the world.” Certainly, “Earthwake” is a tribute to a unique individual; but it is also a learning of the lesson that it is possible to read secular literature too – let us say starting from the Greek myths, certainly that of Orpheus whose presence here goes without saying – as a single story. Or in Shelley’s words “That great poem, which all poets, like the co-operating thoughts of one great mind, have built up since the beginning of the world.” The “plot” of Western literature, in this reading, is the attempt to found human community on something other than the use of force, namely on the poetic word itself and the sense of relations inherent in it. Despite the single term” logos,” this poetic word is not – as Shelley pointed out <![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> – the same as that reason whose mature expression is natural science and technology, although, as I hope has been seen here, it has its own exactitude. It has its connections and affinities and differences with the Jewish and Christian traditions (in “Before a Candle” Celan hurls his poetic word into the gulf between these two). “These fragments have I shored against my ruins,” Eliot wrote. Perhaps as poets become more conscious of themselves as actors in one story, they will begin to reorder and rebuild.
For me the writing of “Earthwake” was the conclusion of one phase of existence, and the beginning of another. The “journeyman” piece is also, inevitably, the assumption of a destiny; for to the extent that words are things, in Byron’s phrase,<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> to assume a place in the order of words is also to assume a place in the order of things. Since “Earthwake” I have written many poems, though none of them has come with the same sense of breakthrough into a landscape that was prepared for and yet still unexpected. I have tried in both poetry and prose to develop the vision of poetic community that is suggested here, to imagine its form and its function and what such a community would have to say to the various fields of human endeavor. But everything I have tried to say is rooted in the moment of truth that the writing of “Earthwake” was for me; and an understanding of that effort, too, would probably have to be rooted in that moment. And so it has seemed worthwhile to lay out the associations of the poem, in the hope that readers will return to the poem with these things in the background of their minds. I know that Celan’s voice has called forth many other echoes, and look forward to the time when those echoes will be woven into one great song.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> For poets to interpret their own works is not usual, yet it is not altogether unprecedented (cf. Dante’s Vita Nuova, Eliot’s notes to “the Waste Land.”). The poet best knows what he or she was talking about; and the prose interpretation does not make the poem superfluous; on the contrary, once the implied ideas have been pointed out the poem can serve as a kind of mnemonic for them.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> It did not even cross my mind at that time to blame Celan for this act, questionable though it is according to all religious traditions, and despite its painful consequences for me and others. An Indian spiritual teacher whom I consulted in the summer of 1971 said to me with unforgettable emphasis: “No! No! He made a very great blunder!” But suicide had become an acceptable artistic gesture; and if any poet ever succeeded in creating “the illusion of a Greek necessity” (Plath) around that act, it was Paul Celan. It is well known that suicide is often bound up with magical thinking and the hope of getting people to finally listen – a hope which is generally vain, because the anger of the living at the suicide tends to block out the message. But however the ultimate Judge may view the case, for me at least Celan’s message resonated too strongly with the surrounding world to be blocked out.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Yeats, with his archetypal awareness, is actually often close to Celan poetically, whatever his political alliances may have been.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Celan’s “Meridian” speech begins with an allusion to a speech in Buechner’s Danton’s Death ridiculing Art as a puppet “whose joints creak in five-footed iambics.”
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> In the ironically-Utopian conclusion of Leonce und Lena, the jester Valerio speaks of praying for “an accommodating [kommode] religion.” Buechner’s first editor, Karl Emil Franzos, misoke the word “kommode” for “kommende (coming), and at the end of “The Meridian” Celan says that he “has to watch out” so as not to commit the same misreading.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]>Translated by Maurice English, in Eugenio Montale, Selected poems, New Directions, 1965.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]>See my essay "The Distant Earth: Celan's Planetary Vision," SULPHUR IV/2 (fall 1984), pp. 61-70.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> This essay was first written in 1988 or 1989. In revising it now, I am surprised at how much of my reading of Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry” (“Shelley’s ‘Defence Today,’” in THE ANTIGONISH REVIEW 122) is anticipated here.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> “Words that are things” (Childe Harold).There is a Hebrew word, davar, which can mean both “word” and “thing”; in one of Celan’s late poems one finds the lines: “A word, a thing, and the sole name of both.”