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The Transcendental Friend

 

 

 

Five Romanian Poems of Paul Celan
Translated by Julian Semilian & Sanda Agalidi

Cioran, Ionesco, Fondane. Naum, Voronca, Von Rezzori. The sheer number of truly impassioned writers within the Romanian sphere of letters is quite astonishing. And now it turns out that Paul Celan's first published poems were written in Romanian—an extraordinary fact, given that he is perhaps the most celebrated German language poet of the century. Born in the Bukovina, Celan lived in Bucharest between 1945 and 1947; in translating the six poems and seven poems in prose from that period Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi have performed an important literary task. Semilian writes: "His writings in Romanian, dating from his Bucharest years, suggest significant shifts away from his native German language poetry. And it seems that the years spent by Celan in Bucharest were, if not exactly happy years, perhaps the only unmelancholic years of his postwar life. Celan became Celan (the annagram of Antschel, his original name) in Bucharest, and it was in Bucharest that he first appeared in print—with the Romanian translation of his 'Todesfuge' as 'Tangoul Mortii,' in Contemporanul in May 1947. Confirmations concerning the unmelancholic quality of Celan's Bucharest years are found in the poet's correspondence, and extensively in Paul Celan Dimensiunea Romaneasca (1987), authored by Petre Solomon, one of his best friends among the writers and poets in Bucharest."

Celan's Romanian poems will appear in their entirety in Semilian and Agalidi's translation in a forthcoming monograph from Green Integer Press.

—Leonard Schwartz


***



[Finally the instant is here]

Finally the instant is here, that instant when, facing the mirrors masking the facade of the dwelling where you abandoned, forever with outflaring hair, your lover, you hoist, atop the acacia precociously flowering, your black oriflamme. You listen to the razor-edged fanfare of the eyeless platoon, the last one to still worship you, you don the camouflage, you latch the black lace-work to the sleeves of your ashen costume, you scurry up the acacia, the folds of the oriflamme enfold you, now you are in flight. No, none knows how to billow like you about this dwelling. Night fell, you float on your back, the dwelling's mirrors squat to retrieve your shadow, the stars plummet down to lacerate your camouflage, the leak from your eyeballs speeds to your heart where the leaf of the sycamore caught on fire, the stars speed to your heart too, each to the very last, a diminishing bird, death, gravitates around you, while your dreaming tongue spills out your name.




[Once again I suspended the great white parasols]

Once again I suspended the great white parasols in the night's airy regions. I know, the route of a new Columbus won't stray through here, my archipelago will remain undiscovered. The endless ramifications of the aerial roots from which I suspended some hand will seek each other in solitude, the wanderer of heights will never know, the hands will grip one another in amplified convulsions, they will never peel off melancholy's glove. I know all this, just as I know that I can't put my trust into the tides, with foam as though from below, bathing the lace of the shores of these islands I want, islands of the imperious slumber. Under my shoeless feet the sand catches on fire. I lift up on the tips of my toes and hoist myself there. I don't expect hospitality, this I know, but where am I to pause if not there? I am not welcomed. A go-between I don't know greets me in the distance to declare that resting here is prohibited. I offer my fingers bloodied by the floating spines of the nocturnal sky in exchange for a moment's pause, in the hope that from this inferno, from the silken shore of the first parting from me, I might be able to raise a row of sails, round and windfilled, and resume the journey there. I offer my fingers to oversee that the symmetry of this posthumous flora is kept away from any danger. Once again I am refused. All that's left me is to resume the journey, but my strength is nearly gone and I shut my eyes to look for a man with a boat.




[Partisan of the erotical absolute]

Partisan of the erotical absolute, reticent megalomaniac even among the frogmen, harbinger, simultaneously, of the halo Paul Celan, I choose not to summon the petrifying physiognomy of the aerial shipwreck except at intervals of one decade (or more) and will not attempt skating except at the most belated of hours, on a lake patrolled by the gargantuan forest of acephalous members of the Universal Poetic Conspiracy. It's easy to see that around here you can't pervade with the arrows of a visible fire. A vast curtain of amethyst dissimulates, at the outskirts of the forest facing the world, the existence of this anthropomorphic flora, beyond which, I, selenic, will undertake a dance to stun me. I have not yet triumphed and, with eyeballs side-shifted to the temples, I spy myself in profile, awaiting seedtime.




Last night

From the trees planted at twilight in our arsoned rooms
we'll slowly unfasten the pigeons of glass, the foliage incessantly
rustling, they will sprout from our shoulders and arms, and
there'll be no wind,
there will be but a mudhole of shadows, in which you will catch
no root,
a frozen lake, which disputes its crown of drowned scales,
while life is a boat on the shore, abandoned by oars.
A voice will march in from the flames towards us to stain its
silver with blood,
to announce, from its place back in the fire: Not me, but they
alone know the hour!
Then they'll set forth from the desert to spill their sand all about you:
let there be mountains around, we won't forsake the Valley
of Gloom
and you'll slowly unfasten the pigeons of glass, infrequently,
one by one,
and when they burst in the air, you will speak deliriously to me.




[Those were nights]

Those were nights when it appeared to me that your eyes, which I fitted with large orange circles, would enkindle their cinders. Those nights the rain rarely fell. I opened the windows and stepped up naked on the window sill to gaze at the world. The trees of the forest advanced towards me, one by one, prostrate, a vanquished armada advancing to lay down their weapons. I sat motionless and the sky lowered the standard under which it had dispatched its armadas into battle. From a cranny you stared at me, how I stood there, unspeakably entrancing in my bloodstained gymnosophy: I was the single constellation the rain did not extinguish, I was the Great Southern Cross. Yes, those nights it was cumbersome to open up your veins, while the flames engulfed me, the fortress of urns was mine, I filled it with my blood, soon after I discharged the rival armada, rewarding it with cities and harbors, while the silvery panther lacerated the twilight which stalked me. I was Petronius and spilled my blood again among the roses. For each petal I stained you extinguished a torch. Do you recall? I was Petronius and you didn't entrance me.




Translated from the Romanian by Julian Semilian & Sanda Agalidi

   

 

 

 


Issue No. 11 Copyright © 1999 The Transcendental Friend. All rights revert to the authors upon publication.