Paul Celan was born on this day in 1920. I thank Ramage for the reminder and for this poem:

Strahlenwind deiner Sprache
das bunte Gerede des An-
erlebten — das hundert-
züngige Mein-
gedicht, das Genicht.

der Weg durch den menschen-
gestaltigen Schnee,
den Büßerschnee, zu
den gastlichen
Gletscherstuben und -tischen.

in der Zeitenschrunde,
wartet, ein Atemkristall,
dein unumstößliches

And the translation by John Felstiner:

Etched away by the
radiant wind of your speech,
the motley gossip of pseudo-
experience — the hundred-
tongued My-
poem, the Lie-noem.

a path through human-
shaped snow,
through penitent cowl-ice, to
the glacier’s
welcoming chambers and tables.

in the time crevasse,
there waits, a Breathcrystal,
your unannullable


  1. I recognise German, of course, but what language is the translation in?

  2. What des said — what is a lie-nœm?

  3. Celan uses a highly distorted form of German which the translator is trying to give an equivalent of. For instance, “lie-noem” is rendering Genicht, which combines Gedicht ‘poem’ and nicht ‘not,’ with a touch of gedacht ‘imaginary, thought-up’ — and probably other stuff I’m not getting. Think of it as a poetic equivalent of Finnegans Wake, only gloomier.

  4. By strange coincidence, I was just reading the Michael Hamburger translation of the poem, which goes a whole lot like this:
    Etched away from
    the ray-shot wind of your language
    the garish talk of rubbed-
    off experience – the hundred-
    tongued pseudo-
    poem, the noem.
    Whirled clear,
    your way through the human-
    shaped snow,
    the penitents’ snow, to
    the hospitable
    glacier rooms and tables.
    in Time’s crevasse
    the alveolate ice
    waits, a crystal of breath,
    your irreversible
    Both translations offer considerable pleasures, if you consider Celan pleasurable. What do you like better – “alveolate ice” or “honeycomb-ice”? Ice like lungs or ice like a hive? “Ray-shot” or “radiant” wind? Do you prefer your wind penetrated by light or suffused by it (or maybe even emitting it)? Overall, even though Felstiner’s translation is a little friendlier (I think), I like Hamburger’s translation better – it’s colder, nastier, with the confrontation at the end somehow more final, and the word “witness” invested with a greater stillness. That’s a great poem. Thanks for putting it on your site.

  5. C. Bloggerfeller says

    From Hamburger’s introduction to his translations: “”Mein-gedicht” could mean “my-poem” but it could also mean “false poem” or “pseudo-poem” by analogy with the German word “Meineid”, a false oath. Probably Celan had both in mind when he coined the word. In this case translation had to resolve the ambiguity, and after much pondering I decided in favour of “pseudo-poem”, although “Meineid” is the only modern German word that retains this sense of “mein”. Paul Celan was a learned poet with an outstandingly rich vocabulary derived more from reading than practice of the vernacular – inevitably, considering how little time he spent in German-speaking countries. The retention of that root in a single modern word is the kind of thing that would have struck and intrigued him no less than the ambiguity of “my” and “false” in that syllable.”

  6. Thanks for the second translation — that one seems better to me — though it could be I would like better whichever one I read second…

  7. Thanks to palinode (great moniker) for the Hamburger translation, and to C. Bloggerfeller for the apposite quote from the translator; I too think I prefer the Hamburger:
    the ray-shot wind of your language
    the garish talk of rubbed-
    off experience

    seems to me more precise and… faceted? Anyway, truer to the rhythm and sound of the German. And I like his taking into account the remnant root in Meineid; it does seem right up Celan’s alley.

  8. “No poet cracks open the possibilities for translation more than Paul Celan. With Celan, translation is not a supplemental activity but a hermeneutic necessity”.
    Charles Bernstein
    Hamburger’s excellent translation of Todesfugue is here:

  9. Pleased to see much discussion on this. I think I actually prefer Hamburger’s translation to Feltstiner’s – but Felstiner’s was the one most readily to hand. His biography of Celan is superb, and required reading, by the way.

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