poem index

About this poet

Paul Antschel, who wrote under the pseudonym Paul Celan, was born in Czernovitz, in Romania, on November 23, 1920. The son of German-speaking Jews, Celan grew up speaking several languages, including Romanian, Russian, and French. He also understood Yiddish. He studied medicine in Paris in 1938, but returned to Romania shortly before the outbreak of World War II. His parents were deported and eventually died in Nazi labor camps; Celan himself was interned for eighteen months before escaping to the Red Army.

In 1945, he moved to Bucharest and became friends with many of the leading Romanian writers of the time. He worked as a reader in a publishing house and as a translator. He also began to publish his own poems and translations under a series of pseudonyms. In 1947 he settled on the pseudonym Celan—an anagram of Ancel, the Romanian form of his surname. He lived briefly in Vienna before settling in Paris in 1948 to study German philology and literature. He took his Licence des Lettres in 1950, and in 1952 he married the graphic artist Gisele de Lestrange. They had a son, Eric, in 1955.

Celan's first book was published in 1947; it received very little critical attention. His second book, Mohn und Gedaechtnis (Poppy and Memory), however, garnered tremendous acclaim and helped to establish his reputation. Among his most well-known and often-anthologized poems from this time is "Fugue of Death." The poem opens with the words "Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening / we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night" and it goes on to offer a stark evocation of life in the Nazi death camps.

In 1959, Celan took a job as a reader in German Language and Literature at L'École Normal Superieure of the University of Paris, a position he would hold until his death in 1970. His poems from this period grew shorter, more fragmented and broken in their syntax and perceptions. In 1960 he received a Georg Buchner Prize. During the 1960s he published more than six books of poetry and gained international fame. In addition to his own poems, he remained active as a translator, bringing out works from writers such as Henri Michaux, Osip Mandelstam, Rene Char, Paul Valéry, and Fernando Pessoa. In 1970, Celan committed suicide. He is regarded as one of the most important poets to emerge from post-World War II Europe.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Glottal Stop: 101 poems (2000)
Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan (2000)

Death Fugue

Paul Celan, 1930 - 1970
Black milk of morning we drink you at dusktime
we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at night
we drink and drink
we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta 
he writes it and walks from the house and the stars all start flashing he whistles his
     dogs to draw near
whistles his Jews to appear starts us scooping a grave out of sand
he commands us to play for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at dawntime and noontime we drink you at dusktime
we drink and drink
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
He calls jab it deep in the soil you lot there you other men sing and play
he tugs at the sword in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you men you other men you others play up again for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at dusktime
we drink and drink
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite he cultivates snakes

He calls play that death thing more sweetly Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
he calls scrape that fiddle more darkly then hover like smoke in the air
then scoop out a grave in the clouds where it’s roomy to lie

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
we drink you at dusktime and dawntime we drink and drink
Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland his eye is blue
he shoots you with leaden bullets his aim is true
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
he sets his dogs on our trail he gives us a grave in the sky
he cultivates snakes and he dreams Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland 

your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite

Copyright © 2005 by Paul Celan and Jerome Rothenberg. From Paul Celan: Selections. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Paul Celan

Paul Celan

Paul Antschel, who wrote under the pseudonym Paul Celan, was born in

by this poet

poem
O little root of a dream 
you hold me here 
undermined by blood, 
no longer visible to anyone, 
property of death.

Curve a face
that there may be speech, of earth, 
of ardor, of
things with eyes, even
here, where you read me blind,

even 
here, 
where you 
refute me, 
to the letter.
poem
Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there
A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden
	hair Margarete