KЛИHOM


Two Holocaust poems by myamphigory
January 26, 2009, 12:09 am
Filed under: literature

Todesfuge
by Paul Celan
translated by Dr. John Felstiner

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air where you won’t lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland
your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling
he whistles his hounds to stay close he whistles his Jews into rows
has them shovel a grave in the ground
he commands us play up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at morning and midday we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland
your golden hair Margareta
Your ashen hair Shulamith
we shovel a grave in the air where you won’t lie too cramped

He shouts dig this earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are so blue
stick your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margareta
your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays with his vipers

He shouts play death more sweetly this Death is a master from Deutschland
he shouts scrape your strings darker you’ll rise up as smoke to the sky
you’ll then have a grave in the clouds where you won’t lie too cramped

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink
this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams
der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith

(listen to it read by Celan here.)

The Consumptive, Belsen 1945
by Mervyn Peake

If seeing her an hour before her last
Weak cough into all blackness I could yet
Be held by chalk-white walls, and by the great
Ash coloured bed,
And the pillows hardly creased
By the tapping of her little cough-jerked head-
If such can be a painter’s ecstasy,
(Her limbs like pipes, her head a china skull)
Then where is mercy?

Paul Celan (1920-1970), poet and translator, was born Paul Antschel in Romania. During WWII he and his parents were sent to the labor camps, where his parents perished. Celan survived long enough to be liberated by the Red Army’s entrance into Romania, but, owing to Romania’s post-WWII political instability, he fled to Vienna, then Paris, where he began to publish his poetry. His fame rests on “Todesfuge” (above), which was published in his second collection, Poppy and Memories (1952). He also translated the works of a number of writers, including Osip Mandelstam and Emily Dickinson. In the mid-1950s, Celan suffered a nervous breakdown after being accused of plagiarizing the French poet Yvan Goll (whose work he had translated). His remaining years were marked by paranoia and depression, and he drowned himself in the Seine at the age of 49.

Mervyn Peake, (1911-1968), poet, novelist, and artist, was born in China to missionary parents. He is chiefly famous for his Gormenghast series of novels (Titus Groan, Gormenghast*, and Titus Alone) and somewhat less famous for his illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark. While on a magazine assignment with Tom Pocock in 1945, he visited the newly-liberated concentration camps at Belsen, a horrifying experience that inspired his poem “The Consumptive, Belsen 1945” (above). Mervyn Peake died of Parkinson’s disease.
*There apparently exists a miniseries version of the first two novels featuring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Christopher Lee.

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

On the first poem- am I right to suspect a pun on the hebrew word for “mount”(har)?

Comment by dg61

I don’t think so, but I suppose anything’s possible.

Comment by myamphigory

Now that I look at it again, I think that “Haar shulamith” could be a play on grey hair and a gray hill of ashes.

Comment by dg61




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