Three poems by Paul Celan from 'Snowpart'

Translated & annotated by Pierre Joris

EIN BLATT, baumlos,
für Bertolt Brecht:

Was sind das für Zeiten,

wo ein Gespräch
beinah ein Verbrechen ist,
weil es soviel Gesagtes
mit einschließt?

A LEAF, treeless,
for Bertold Brecht:

What times are these
when a conversation
is nearly a crime,
because it includes
so much being spoken.

PLAYTIME: die Fenster, auch sie,
lesen dir alles Geheime
heraus aus den Wirbeln 
und spiegelns 
ins gallertäugige Drüben,
auch hier, 
wo du die Farbe verfehlst, schert ein Mensch aus, entstummt, 
wo die Zahl dich zu äffen versucht, 
ballt sich Atem, dir zu,

hält die Stunde inne bei dir, 
du sprichst, 
du stehst, 
den vergleichnisten Boten 
aufs härteste über 
an Stimme 
an Stoff.

PLAYTIME: the windows, they too,
read you all that secrecy
from your whirls
and mirror it 
in the jelly-eyed beyond,

here too,
where you miss the color, a human sheers off, unmuted,
where the number tries to ape you,
breath clots, toward you,

the hour stops next to you,
you speak,
you stand,
most firm above
the parabelized messengers 
by voice
by matter.


Vokal, wirksam, 
mit dem einen 

Mitlautstöße, gefiltert
von weithin 

Reizschutz: Bewußtsein,


ich und auch du,
das augen-, das 
gedächtnisgierige rollende 

der Schläfenlappen intakt,
wie der Sehstamm.

OPEN GLOTTIS, airstream

vowel, effective,
with the one

consonant-thrusts, filtered
by clarity clear
from afar,

protection shield: consciousness

I and you too,

the eye-
the memory-greedy rolling

the temporal lobe intact,
like the visionstem.


          EIN BLATT | A LEAF
          Celan’s response to Bertold Brecht’s poem “An die Nachgeborenen,” the second
stanza of which asks:
What kind of times are these when
To talk about trees is nearly a crime,
Because it avoids speaking of all that’s evil!
(my translation)

          Playtime | Playtime
          Allusion to “Playtime,” a 1967 film by Jacques Tati, in which American tourists
visit a futuristic Paris. Many scenes are shot through windows and mirrors.
          verses 2 to 5: Barbara Wiedemann [BW 849] suggests a possible connection to Shakespeare, Hamlet, I.2, where Horatio recalls the ghostly apparition: “ a figure like your father … Thrice he walked / by their oppress’d and fear-surprised eyes, / Within his truncheon’s length; while they, distill’d / Almost to jelly with the act of fear, / stand dumb and speak not to him. This to me / in dreadful secrecy impart they did.”
          du stehst | you stand: see the importance of this stance as detailed throughout Celan’s work.
          vergleichnisten | parabelized : Celanian neologism incorporating “vergleichen,” to compare, and “Gleichnis,” parable or allegory.

          Offene Glottis | Open Glottis
          Composed on July 19 1968, one of 10 poems written that day. For all of those poems, as for the one above, his reading of Walter Benjamin imports. The first draft sheet has Benjamin quotes, and Benjamin quoting Freud on it. This poem can be read as a poetological statement, or as his French translator Jean-Pierre Lefebvre puts it, “a brief manifesto of Celan’s philosophy of language… [using] the linguistic terminology of the 50s and 60s, strongly influenced by [Ferdinand de] Saussure and [Emile] Benveniste.” [Part de neige, p. 140]
          Offene Glottis, airstream | Open glottis, airstream: Reading trace in Reichel/ Bleichert: “The narrowing (of the by quiet breathing open) glottis to a slit rests on the collaboration of the muscles of the larynx, that bring the arytenoid cartilage closer together… and tauten the vocal cords.” 9 p. 215)
          formant | formant: any of several bands of frequency that determine the phonetic quality of a vowel. The spectral peaks of the sound spectrum |P(f)|’ of the voice [Gunnar Fant]. It also refers to the acoustic resonance of the human vocal tract, often measured as an amplitude peak if the frequency spectrum of a sound. [New Oxford American Dictionary]
          Mitlautstöße | consonant-thrusts: In “Mitlaut” one probably hears the “mit” with and “laut” sound/ing better than in “consonant,” though of course our latinate term has the “con,” with, and “sonare,” to sound, and thus the same two meaning syllables. Reading trace in Reichel / Bleichert: “The very variable character of the consonants rest without exception on a typical form of the supraglottic air passages in mouth and nose, through which the air is blown spasmodically or more continuously.”
          Reizschutz | protection shield: A term from Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where Celan underlined it, usually translated as “protection against stimulation [or stimuli].” 
          As Rainer Nagele, whose term “protection shield” I am using, writes: “Like his name, Freud’s vocabulary gives us no license to translate the poems into psychoanalytic theory. Yet we cannot discard the signals set by this vocabulary. We have to take the poem on its own terms, which includes the recognition that its ‘own terms’ are not entirely its own. We have to recognize the poem as a translation, not a translation of Freud’s text, but a translation like Freud’s text.” [Reading After Freud: Essays on Goethe, Hölderlin, Habermas, Nietzsche …, p. 157]

[AN ADDITIONAL COMMENT. Joris, who is our great translator of Paul Celan, here adds notes & comments to what will be his translation of the collected later poems, scheduled for publication by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in early 2014. The foregoing affords a small taste of that and a sense, as needed, of the multiple sources behind the poems. (J.R.)]