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Paul Celan

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

Death Fugue


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

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003
Edited: Saturday, August 31, 2013

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  • Rookie - 42 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 - 150 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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