Paul Celan

(23 November 1920 - 20 April 1970 / (Cernăuţi, Bukovin) Chernivtsi, Ukraine)

Death Fugue - Poem by Paul Celan

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden
hair Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are
flashing he whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a
grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at
sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair
Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith we dig a grave in the breezes
there one lies unconfined

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you
others sing now and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his
eyes are blue
jab deper you lot with your spades you others play
on for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at at noon in the morning we drink you
at sundown
we drink and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith he plays with the serpents
He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master
from Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then
as smoke you will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one
lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink
and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in
the air
He plays with the serpents and daydreams death is
a master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith


Translated by Michael Hamburger


Comments about Death Fugue by Paul Celan

  • Gold Star - 20,714 Points Fabrizio Frosini (5/20/2015 6:45:00 AM)

    Deathfugue

    '' Hamburger’s translation of ''man'' into ''one'' provides an uncomfortable answer to this question. By differentiating the ''one'' from the ''you'' early in the poem, Hamburger makes it even more clear in the latter parts of the poem that there is a distinction between what could happen to anyone versus what is happening to the we, the speakers, the labor camp prisoners.

    ''Then a grave you will have in the clouds'' Hamburger translates, the ''you'' spoken to the Jews by the camp guard, ''there one lies unconfined''. A crucial placement of ''one'' Hamburger creates a distance between the grave that ''you'' are digging and the instruction that anyone can lie in it, unconfined. This leaves room in the sky not only for the Jewish prisoners who are digging the grave —their grave— but for the guard, for his serpents, for Margarete, for Shulamith, for Celan, for his readers. Because the grave has been dug by the Jews, with day after day of forced labor, then it should belong to the Jews, and they should find the comfort of lying there no longer chained, imprisoned, or confined.
    However, the discomfort rooted so deeply in this ''one'' little word is that Hamburger suggests they might inevitably share this grave, this death, with those experiencing the Holocaust opposing them, whether through action or through written word.
    Uncomfortably, unconventionally, Hamburger lets ''der Mann'' lie beside ''seine Juden'' even in the afterlife. ''
    [Goodrich, J., Rhyme or Reason? : Successfully Translating the Poetry of Paul Celan,2008] (Report) Reply

    23 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Gold Star - 20,714 Points Fabrizio Frosini (5/20/2015 6:33:00 AM)

    Deathfugue
    In Celan’s ''Todesfuge'', Celan presents his readers in his opening two lines with four different times of the day. A reader understands that this 'black milk' is forcefully constant yet darkly discomforting, and its repetition scores the image of black milk into nearly every stanza.

    Though they might come across as merely subtle differences, the translations of these pairs —''evening'' and ''midday''; ''sundown'' and ''noon''— structure the time and place around which the poem centers.
    Felstiner’s translations suggest general times. Evening and midday blend ranges of hours together, without specificity.
    Oppositely, Hamburger’s translations are more definite. His ''sundown'' and ''noon'' provide exact times in the day in which ''we'' drink the black milk, almost like clockwork. Rather than the hours that pass through the evening, Hamburger’s ''we'' drinks the black milk at precisely sundown; rather than the hours surrounding midday, Hamburger’s ''we'' drinks the black milk at precisely noon. The rigidity, the exactness, of Hamburger’s word choices hint at the structure present in the camp system —the wake up call, the evening roll call, and the slim rationings of food at specific times during the day— and therefore offer the reader a more uncomfortable, somewhat tangible sense of the activities of the camp and of the Jewish experiences there.
    [Goodrich, J., Rhyme or Reason? : Successfully Translating the Poetry of Paul Celan,2008] (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 20,714 Points Fabrizio Frosini (5/20/2015 5:25:00 AM)

    ''Todesfuge'' is an 'expression born of the poet’s experience of the crisis of language, the imminence of silence, and the magic of the word' (Weimar 94) (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 20,714 Points Fabrizio Frosini (5/18/2015 7:57:00 AM)

    I've written a poem, 'ASHEN HAIR', which is sort of humble tribute to Paul Celan's masterpiece, TODESFUGE..

    hoping that readers can catch a glimpse of that ''your ashen hair Sulamith'' that reverberates in my verse..

    Fabrizio Frosini (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 20,714 Points Fabrizio Frosini (4/21/2015 5:26:00 AM)

    I prefer the original German text - of course! :) - and the one in English translated by John Felstiner:

    TODESFUGE


    Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken sie abends
    wir trinken sie mittags und morgens wir trinken sic nachts
    wir trinken und trinken
    wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften da liegt man nicht eng
    Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt
    der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar
    Margarete
    er schreibt es und tritt vor das Haus und es blitzen die Sterne er pfeift
    seine Rüden herbei
    er pfeift seine Juden hervor lässt schaufeln ein Grab in der Erde
    er befiehlt uns spielt auf nun zum Tanz

    Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
    wir trinken dich morgens und mittags wir trinken dich abends
    wir trinken und trinken
    Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt
    der schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar
    Margarete
    Dein aschenes Haar Sulamith wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften
    da liegt man nicht eng

    Er ruft stecht tiefer ins Erdreich ihr einen ihr andern singet und spielt
    er greift nach dem Eisen im Gurt er schwingts seine Augen sind blau
    stecht tiefer die Spaten ihr einen ihr andern spielt weiter zum Tanz auf

    Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
    wir trinken dich mittags und morgens wir trinken dich abends
    wir trinken und trinken
    ein Mann wohnt im Haus dein goldenes Haar Margarete
    dein aschenes Haar Sulamith er spielt mit den Schlangen


    * * *


    Er ruft spielt süsser den Tod der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
    er ruft streicht dunkler die Geigen dann steigt ihr als Rauch in die Luft
    dann habt ihr ein Grab in den Wolken da liegt man nicht eng

    Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken dich nachts
    wir trinken dich mittags der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland
    wir trinken dich abends und morgens wir trinken und trinken
    der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland sein Auge ist blau
    er trifft dich mit bleierner Kugel er trifft dich genau
    ein Mann wohnt im Haus dein goldenes Haar Margarete
    er hetzt seine Rüden auf uns er schenkt uns ein Grab in der Luft
    er spielt mit den Schlangen und träumet der Tod ist ein Meister aus
    Deutschland

    dein goldenes Haar Margarete
    dein aschenes Haar Sulamith


    DEATHFUGUE


    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 Sulamith (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 46 Points Miroslava Odalovic (12/9/2011 1:47:00 PM)

    Yes, Patti, you are absolutely right. The Death Fugue is one the utmost expressions of what is known as an 'organic form' in poetry. There are very few cases so far 'An Ode to the West Wind' a classical but this one not so well known example. The poem has the fugue structure, with the repetitive lines 'imitating' fugue accords. He did it marvelously which is no wonder because the not so appreciated poet led the language possibilites to their extremes. He opened the language like no one else before him and (?) no one else after. It's a real pity there is not more of his poetry here on poemhunter. You touched my heart again Patti, I am so happy I am not the only one who was 'bitten' by Celan. A real masterpiece. 'A terrible refrain' is a haunting one, you're right. Because Celan unfortunately was not geboren zu leben. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 431 Points Patti Masterman (12/3/2011 9:59:00 PM)

    This is pure incredible-ness. I read it once and it was caught in my brain, repeating itself endlessly, like a terrible refrain. (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: hair, house, dance, death, night, rose, star



Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

Poem Edited: Saturday, August 31, 2013


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