As autumn sets in, I read some seasonal poems. Paul Celan's Corona does it for me, though I can't help thinking about the one element in Celan's poetry that—where message is concerned—always comes across unambiguously: where art is concerned we all participate in the same ideal. According to some literary critics, it is precisely this position of sharing the absolute that is most problematic for Celan.

Formally speaking there is no problem. Morally speaking there is a problem. For Celan—who lost most of his family in the concentration camps—as a writer there was no difference in what he was doing and what the Nazis were doing, namely participating in the creation of art. No one can argue that what drove the Nazis to their atrocities was essentially an aesthetic project. They had an idea of getting blond people to populate the earth—supposedly because the earth would look more beautiful if it just stuck with one kind of color, so they pursued this almost by the book, the aesthetic book, that is. And one can trace the formation of art according to the definition of art in the Nazi project almost to the point of no deviance.

A serious fellow artist cannot disregard the similarity. So, Celan's question here, and one which can also be traced in all of his poems is this one: insofar as poetry is the result of an aesthetic project which relies on the reduction of many ideas to one, how can one then allow oneself to accuse others, who think the same, for the 'wrong' kind of thinking? It is quite clear here that what bothered Celan was the fear that ultimately it is not imagination that has the potential to drive people mad, but logic. Poets don't go mad, they merely kill themselves. Rationalists, au contraire... God have mercy on their souls...

What Celan has achieved in his grappling with the problem of symmetry that guides certain aesthetic projects is his honest suggestion that where art is concerned, it needs to be true to itself and not to its presupposed responsibility. This is a tough message to put across. Celan's honesty, in this sense, can be said to be a high form of generosity, as it consists in equal measure of both, what is possible and what is impossible to represent. As often with art, however, there are the fewest who are ready for ultimate acts of giving, especially if they consist of disturbing and painful elements. A crisis arises when the even fewer who may actually get it, for whatever reason, may at the same time also fail to recognize the act fully. What remains, then, if you want to stay intact in your integrity as an artist, are only two contradictory strategies that you can embody: either going the rational way or the emotional way. Celan died like a Romantic poet. The Nazis turned mad. We obviously need more logics for the excluded middle.

Meanwhile, here's Corona for an early autumn day, and for the middle way,

Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.

From the nuts we shell time and we teach it to walk:

then time returns to the shell.

In the mirror it's Sunday,

in dream there is room for sleeping,

our mouths speak the truth.

My eye moves down to the sex of my loved one:

we look at each other,

we exchange dark words,

we love each other like poppy and recollection,

we sleep like wine in the conches,

like the sea in the moon's blood ray.

We stand by the window embracing, and people

look up from the street:

it is time they knew!

It is time the stone made an effort to flower,

time unrest had a beating heart.

It is time it were time.

It is time.


looking forward to teaching this poem in November, note the way it erases God from Rilke's "Autumn Day" ("Lord: It is time. …") - another great seasonal poem, along with "Autumn". I really like this translation: "time unrest had a beating heart." (who wrote this?). The Norwegian translations (even Øivind Berg) fake it by making the blood ray of the moon into the blood shine of the moon - WHAT are they afraid of?! You make me aware of the possibilities of reading this poem as a poem ABOUT aesthetics: stones flowering.
Camelia said…
Johan, excellent point about the Rilke connection. And the image of stones flowering made me think of Tromsø in April - the cruelest month... Not all stones are good at flowering in spring, as they have more potential in Autumn. Wonderful idea, to have the hard blooming carried into another season. -- This is Hamburger's translation, and yes, this is a poem about aesthetics. Or at least that's what I've always thought myself.

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