Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Celan in Eric's Siddur

Norman Finkelstein

Despite my doubts about the project--Eric and I have had on an on-again, off-again debate about the uses of modern poetry in liturgy--I would say that given the hybrid nature of this strange beast, Paul Celan's work would be a must. One thinks immediately of his "Psalm" ("Praised be your name / no one"), from which comes the title of his volume Die Niemandrose (1963). But perhaps just as powerful and appropriate to the occasion is this untitled poem, also from that volume:

Being beyond in the night.
With words I fetched you back, there you are,
all is true and a waiting
for truth.

In front of our window
the bean-plant climbs: think
who is growing beside us and
watches it.

God, so we read, is
a part and a second, a scattered one:
in the death
of all those mown down
he grows himself whole.

our looking leads us,
with this
we keep up relations.

This is the Michael Hamburger translation; the one by John Felstiner also has its virtues. The first stanza in particular has always struck me as a perfect expression of the modern Jewish religious sensibility.


E. M. Selinger said...

Thanks, Norman! I like it, and will add it to the mix. Where can I find the Felsteiner translation? I'm a decade out of date on Celania--

Norman Finkelstein said...

The two most complete Celan editions in English are:

Selected Poems & Prose of Paul Celan, trans. John Felstiner (Norton, 2001); and Poems of Paul Celan, trans. Michael Hamburger (Persea, 1988).