Tag Archives: erblinde

The Allegory by the Pool.

John Kay started his piece in this morning’s FT by telling us he’d been having a break on a beach in a warmer clime and how this period of inactivity had caused him to try and work out why hotter countries tend to be poorer countries. I too have been away to a warmer place and intended to sip cocktails by the pool whilst spending much time with S Jarvis’ Night Office. This plan lasted until Day 2 when I had to concede that the contrast between the work and where I was lying was just too great. I did however have extensive backup on the variety of gizmos that accompanied us so all was not entirely lost.

Flicking through one of these I came across The Cambridge Companion to Allegory edited by Rita Copeland. Now, normally I hate the entire range of Companion / Handbook tomes that seem to proliferate these days but this one was in chronological order and I felt that an overview might be beneficial. In the past I’ve skirted around what Spenser called this ‘darke conceit’ because it appeared to be one of those lit crit terms that I try to avoid and because an initial bit of reading and reflection had led me to believe that things might be very complicated indeed.

So, I started off with the Greeks and discover that initial pre-Socratic readings were concerned with symbol, under-meaning and enigma. These come together to produce what Copeland describes as “the encoded expression of a mystical or philosophical truth, a manifestation of transcendental meaning that is at once immediate and remote” at which point several bits in my head came together at once. I’ve long ranted against the view held by some that poetry is in a privileged relationship with truth, I’ve poked fun at Heidegger and others who hold this position and have been generally derisive, the term ‘errant nonsense’ has been used.

I would have been more sympathetic to this notion of privilege had I been aware of the background, that poetry preceded philosophy as a means of doing philosophy and that this quest for under-meanings was a search for some kind of inner truth. I read further and it transpires that Origen and Plotinus had more than a little to do with this vein of thought which is odd because I’m a fan of both and hadn’t put either of them together with under-reading and truth.

As an aside, my interests in these two have been to do with philosophy / theology rather than poetry. As with the Church of England 1590-1635, it’s an attraction that I can’t explain.

Moving on, the Jarvis Project of demonstrating that poetry is an appropriate and fitting way to do philosophy suddenly (in my head) becomes much less wide of the mark and my previous criticisms of the Faerie Queene as a failed allegory now seem a bit silly. It therefore seemed sensible to have a think (by the pool, Green Hawaii in hand) about how this might inform my reading.

This new insight doesn’t mean that I’m any clearer in understanding this conceit but it does give it a framework by which to think about the very many complexities. If I start with that which is closest to hand, having Night Office as a title more than hints that the room in which the poem’s protagonist sits might represent this aspect of monastic observance as well. I’d understood that fairly obvious conceit on hearing of the poem’s title and I’d also worked out the train / stations of the cross trope but my reading thus far had missed the references to fragments of light as being moments of revelation that might occur when reading allegorical work. With all of this in mind, I’m going to have to start the work again. Sigh.

On further reflection, I’ve discovered that I like allegory in that most poems that speak directly to me have an element of the allegorical. The Wedding reception scene in Keston Sutherland’s Stress Position is a very clear allegorical description of acute mental distress, his Under the Mattress is an equally brilliant representation of the current dismality that masquerades as politics in the UK.

Up until the pool moment, I hadn’t thought of David Jones’ The Anathemata as standing for anything other than an exploration of Jones’ personal cultural clutter but it now occurs to me that the voyage recounted in Middle-Sea and Lear-Sea might have more to do with the projection of faith, the cenacle and art into the world rather than a straightforward journey through time and space.

In order to get my brain around the Neo-Platonic aspects of this I’ve started to read E R Dodds’ edition of Proclus’ The Elements of Theology. In his introduction Dodds draws a directish line from Proclus’ thought to Nature’s rebuttal of Mutability in Spenser’s Two Cantos of Mutabitie at the end of the Faerie Queene;

I well consider all that ye have said,
And find that all things stedfastnesse do hate
And changed be: yet, being rightly wayd,
They are not changed from their first estate;
But by their change their being do dilate,
And turning to themselves at length againe,
Do work their owne perfection so by fate.

This isn’t glossed by the usually reliable Hamilton to either Proclus or the more recent Neo-Platonics and the allegorical element resides in the names of the characters more than in the narrative but it does provide further thought especially as others are of the view that there is a strong NP thread running through the work. The notion of things turning to themselves and thus acheiving perfection apparently comes from Proclus.

As a further aside, Proclus makes the claim that explaining a thing involves simply describing how came about, a proposal which seems reasonable until you try to apply it in the ‘real’ world.

Returning to the conceit, I’ve stated quite glibly that the allegorical aspect of the first book of the FQ doesn’t work in that Redcrosse (holiness) isn’t holy and his journey to this stage is not by degrees of learning and improvement, as we might expect, but by stupid mistake followed by even more stupid mistake which eventually leads to scourging and contemplative enlightenment. I’d now like to qualify this by saying that Book I is an incredibly and defiantly complex way of saying many things at once and that I obviously need to be more attentive to these potential under-readings before rushing to judgement. I’ve read the whole poem more than a few times and with a fair degree of attention but I’ve missed completely the less obvious, more hidden, aspects of the relationship between Redcrosse and Una, the damsel who guides and supports his mission.

Paul Celan also calls for a more careful reading, if only to reject the view that all his work is allegorical. It still isn’t but it does do remarkable things with language, Todtnauberg is an account of a meeting between Heidegger and Celan that did take place but within it there are all kinds of metaphors and allusions that critics continue to argue about but it isn’t allegorical in there isn’t a set of equivalent conceits at work.Erblinde is a more likely candidate but, again, I can’t work out how the various images fit together so as to ‘stand’ for anything else than the words on the page.

I’m going to end as I started with Night Office and, on this occasion the role of the poet:

I will not say that I am a device.
The semicircle where my heavy lyre
gives up its hard notes: looks out over ice;
tall poplars to the right; one may admire
how in the distance that dome can entice
from its squat cupola to the entire
warehouse of print on which the state has fed
its house of authorships, its empty head.

Which is why I need to start from the beginning – again.


Getting poetry

Here in the UK it was said of our last prime minister that he didn’t ‘get’ it which is one of the main reasons that he was thrown out. In the popular press our current leaders a portayed as ‘arrogant posh boys’ who don’t ‘get’ it either. In both cases this relates to a failure to understand / identify with the experiences of the ordinary citizen.

I’ve given this some thought with regard to poetry and the sad fact that most people don’t feel that they ‘get’ it in that they don’t see the point of it or how it might relate to them. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is only a very small amount of verse that I can see the point of and a very small proportion of that is poetry that I feel might relate / speak to me.

For me ‘getting’ a poem is not the same as understanding it, I can work out what poems ‘mean’ but this does not mean that I can see the point of them nor does it mean that I can relate personally to them.

I’ll proceed by example, I don’t see the point of Auden, Hopkins, Rilke, Dryden and many others because they don’t seem to be saying anything either useful or different. I’ll readily admit that I might need to spend more time with these but an initial period of attention has failed to impress.

I can see the point of a lot of religious verse in that some of it is both useful and sufficiently different to hold my attention but I can’t relate to it, it says little to me about how I live my life even though I understand and appreciate the way that it says what it has to say. I’m thinking primarily of George Herbert and RS Thomas.

There are very few bodies of work that I can relate to in their entirety- only Andrew Marvell and Elizabeth Bishop spring to mind as poets whose work seems consistently ‘pointful’ and relates to my life in the clattering now. By ‘relate’ I think I mean those poems that I don’t have to think about, those that reflect / embody ways that I have thought and felt so that I know instinctively what’s going on. Writing this I realise that I could and should go on for a very long time about how I know (absolutely) the mind and the impulse that made “The Moose” the poem that it is.

Then there are those poems that I can see the point of but only bits of them speak to me. Some of these bits speak of my experiences and some of the way that I think and feel. The wedding reception scene in Keston Sutherland’s ‘Stress Position’ speaks to both my experience of mental illness and to the way that I think about it and does so in a deeply humane, unselfish kind of way. I can relate to and see the point of the strangeness of the human condition as set out in Books 3 and 5 of ‘The Faerie Queene’ even though my view of Book 5 is far away from the current consensus. I can, of course, see the point of the rest and iy is all magnificent but it doesn’t have the same complexity / nuance / strangeness of 3 and 5. I absolutely ‘get’ Milton’s discussion of evil in ‘Paradise Lost’ and this does speak to my experiences of working with people who do Bad (terrible) Things, I’m also of the view that this particular poem is the best thing ever produced anywhere but the description of Eden (whilst technically a tour de force) is quite boring (to me). ‘Maximus’ is nearly the perfect poem in that it contains so many things that tell me what it’s like to be alive, about place, process and the archive, but the material relating to myth just doesn’t reach me.

Understanding isn’t a prerequisite of getting a poem, in fact it can sometimes get in the way. Some of the work of Paul Celan and J H Prynne I can see the point of and it seems to embody how it is for me but I don’t claim to have a complete grasp of what’s being said. With Celan, obvious examples are ‘Aschenglorie’ and ‘Erblinde’, with Prynne, there are moments of absolute clarity in ‘Streak~~Willing~~Entourage~~Artesian’ and a whole range of ideas going on in ‘Kazoo Dreamboats’ that do seem to speak of the now.

Here’s a bit of a confession, Geoffrey Hill’s ‘The Mercian Hymns’ and ‘The Triumph of Love’ are stuffed with point and are two of the finest poems that we have (there is no argument with this as it is obviously a fact) but it is the short poems about landscape that I relate to most because (as with Olson) they put into words (embody) what it is like for me to be in a place. I’m incredibly grateful for this because it (social work term) validates and oddly anticipates the feelings that I have.

There is another dimension to getting poetry and this relates to tactics, There are some poets that write poetry that moves things forward and there are those poets that maintain a / the status quo. It is usually reasonably straightforward to identify these poets. Between 1960 and his suicide in 1970, Paul Celan wrote tactically important poems, J H Prynne has spent the last forty years making tactical / strategic interventions, ‘Howl’ is tactically crucial to an understanding of Where We are Now. I don’t agree with asingle word that Kenneth Goldsmith has ever uttered but ‘Traffic’ is something that I ‘get’ and something that is likely to be seen as quite pivotal.

We now come to to poems that I get as poems and that make tactical sense. These are very few in number because I’m a particularly opinionated individual and (I like to think) my standards are high. There is Vanessa Place whose work mirrors ‘how it is’ for me and who rattles many cages whilst pointing out how what we call poetry can begin to reclaim some degree of relevance in these provisional and vague times. There is also the work of Sarah Kelly that speaks to me but also makes a voice that must be heard above and against the prevailing din. Both of these two set up a kind of imperative (must be read / cannot be ignored) and yet they are utterly different, the only link being what they do to the inside of my head.

terms or the many different ways of writing Prynne 1 (probably) of 2

Michael Wolf - Tokyo Compression image no 50

This is one of those awful poems ‘about’ poetry that was constructed by a machine this afternoon so I cannot vouch for its accuracy.

There is a poem within this poem and I have no idea why it should be there. I have many questions for this poem but I’m not getting an answer.

bebrowed 504
importance of poetry 200
keston sutherland 171
bebrowed blog 154
obscure poems 125
jh prynne 107
jeremy prynne 104
j h prynne 102
the importance of poetry 88
j.h. prynne 73
derrida shibboleth 70
erica baum 65
simon jarvis 64
oraclau/oracles 60
keston sutherland stress position 58
shibboleth derrida 57
bebrowed’s blog 57
difficult poetry 55
simon jarvis dionysus crucified 52
upon appleton house analysis 49
j. h. prynne 46
“cambridge literary review” 44
neil pattison 44
zizek foucault 43
upon appleton house 42
zizek on foucault 32
bebroweds blog 32
prynne huts 28
tl61p 27
geoffrey hill 26
erica baum photography 26
“geoffrey hill” 24
adorno lyric poetry and society 24
aschenglorie 24
stress position keston sutherland 23
jh prynne huts 23
paul celan shibboleth 23
wendy brown walls 21
simon jarvis poetry 21
luke roberts poetry 20
jocund day 20
shibboleth for paul celan 20
geoffrey hill clavics 20
jonty tiplady 20
prynne -hester 20
vanessa place 20
prynne mental ears 19
obscure poem 19
j h prynne huts 19
poems about secrecy 19
“keston sutherland” 19
shibboleth celan 18
prynne poems 18
“j.h. prynne” 18
jh prynne sub songs 18
prynne refuse collection 17
shibboleth paul celan 17
j.h. prynne huts 16
sub songs 16
celan derrida 16
prynne sub songs 16
“simon jarvis” 16
upon appleton house summary 16
stress position 16
keston sutherland sonnets 16
jh prynne 2011 15
“jeremy prynne” 15
poems about having a good time 15
simon jarvis the unconditional 15
obscure poetry 15
j.h. prynne 2011 15
john wilkinson poet 14
odes to tl61p 14
sub songs prynne 14
clever poetry 14
mental ears 14
jh prynne streak willing entourage artesian 14
poetics and politics of witnessing 14
derrida celan 13
foucault zizek 13
derrida witnessing 13
celan aschenglorie 13
prynne china 12
poetry and its importance 12
daniel poppick 12
ubuweb 12
no one bears witness for the witness 12
streak willing entourage artesian 12
aschenglorie celan 12
mental ears and poetic work 12
simon jarvis dionysus 12
to pollen prynne 11
neil pattison cambridge 11
derrida witness 11
keston sutherland odes 11
making of mere brightness the air to tremble 11
criticism the solitary reaper 11
“claudius app” 11
“geoffrey hill 11
sarah kelly poetry 10
arduity 10
celan shibboleth 10
kevin nolan poet 10
“neil pattison” 10
j. h. prynne sub songs 10
prynne celan 10
what is the importance of poetry 10
adorno on lyric poetry and society 10
“robert archambeau” 10
geoffrey hill gillian rose 9
timothy thornton jocund day 9
secrecy poems 9
adorno lyric poetry 9
olson prynne 9
jeremy prynne poems 9
prynne poetic thought 9
j h prynne poems 9
j. h. prynne huts 9
j.h.prynne 9
neil pattison poetry 9
keston sutherland sonnet 9
jacques derrida shibboleth 9
“erica baum” 9
erica baum photographer 9
derrida poetics and politics of witnessing 9
charles olson 8
shibboleth jacques derrida 8
lachlan mackinnon geoffrey hill 8
clavics 8
anathemata 8
prynne 8
derrida bearing witness 8
prynne olson 8
recession poem 8
thomas day geoffrey hill 8
“kenneth goldsmith” 8
barque press 8
cultural criticism blog 8
geoffrey hill annunciations 8
prynne “powre to hurt” 8
francesca lisette 8
prynne wordsworth 8
on lyric poetry and society 8
prynne sutherland 8
“on lyric poetry and society” 7
prynne “poetic thought” 7
metamodernism 7
geoffrey hill oraclau oracles 7
maximus poems 7
hot white andy 7
obsession poems 7
poetic thought prynne 7
andrew marvell upon appleton house analysis 7
simon jarvis and pope 7
neil pattison poet 7
“the claudius app” 7
jh prynne to pollen 7
aschenglorie paul celan 7
difficult poems 7
ashbery 7
poetics and politics of witnessing derrida 7
prynne heidegger 7
geoffrey hill 2011 7
jh prynne poems 7
prynne paris 7
unanswering rational shore 7
adorno poetry 7
geoffrey hill celan 7
j h prynne sub songs 7
obsessed poems 7
paul celan derrida 7
prynne “mental ears” -hester 7
geoffrey hill dawkins 7
keston sutherland wrong poetry 7
prynne resistance and difficulty 7
prynne “mental ears” 6
adorno blog 6
kenneth goldsmith 6
simon jarvis poems 6
“j h prynne” 6
foucault everyday 6
j h prynne interview 6
olson postmodern 6
simon jarvis tls 6
andrew marvell upon appleton house 6
j h prynne george herbert 6
simon jarvis 2011 6
j h prynne mental ears 6
derrida shibboleth for paul celan 6
dionysus crucified 6
prynne “sub songs” 6
obsure poems 6
paul celan ashenglorie 6
simon jarvis bebrowed 6
jh prynne “refuse collection” 6
geoffrey hill clavics review 6
geoffrey hill blog 6
keston sutherland hot white andy 6
zizek and foucault 6
“a crossroads where the dead come to meet” 6
geoffrey hill welshness 6
foucault life 6
jeremy prynne interview 6
charles olson postmodern 6
j.h.prynne 2010 6
paul celan 6
prynne solitary reaper 6
jh prynne prose 6
jonny liron 6
keston sutherland stress positions 6
neil pattison prynne 6
j h prynne geoffrey hill 6
prynne j.h. mp3 6
timothy thornton poetry 5
prynne poetry -hester -amazon -barque -bloodaxe -kerridge -kinsella 5
stress position sutherland 5
derrida 5
luke roberts poet 5
j h prynne charles olson 5
simon jarvis poem 5
foucault everyday life 5
refuse collection prynne 5
importance of word choice in poetry 5
simon jarvis prosody 5
andrew marvell upon appleton house summary 5
celan nobody bears witness for the witness 5
“neil pattison” cambridge 5
laurence crane 5
sean bonney poems 5
streak willing entourage 5
shibboleth: for paul celan 5
keston sutherland wrongness 5
paul celan essay 5
cultural criticism poetry 5
chris goode blog 5
prynne not-you 5
sutherland stress position 5
paul celan quotes 5
“better than language” 5
sub songs j. h. prynne 5
j.h. prynne poems 5
prynne in paris 5
solve paul celan 5
“chris goode” 5
“no one bears witness for the witness” 5
“for the sake of an encounter” celan 5
paul celan blog 5
prynne jh 5
simon jarvis music 5
poem on recession 5
mercian hymns 5
jeremy prynne wordsworth 5
joe luna poetry 5
postmodernism blog 5
“john wilkinson” poet 5
emily dorman 5
no one bears witness for the witness celan 5
lyric poetry and society adorno 5
heidegger prynne 5
lucas manyane fritzl 5
j.h. prynne 2010 5
secrecy poem 5
clavics geoffrey hill 5
glossator prynne 5
oracles geoffrey hill 5
sean bonney 5
explanation of “… and no kind of” poem paul celan 5
harold brodkey 5
example of philosophic poetry 5
keston sutherland blog 5
michael thomas taren 5
short obscure poems 4
adorno lyric poetry and society summary 4
jhprynne 4
william cobbett poems 4
timothy thornton twitter 4
simon jarvis cognition 4
celan heidegger 4
adorno “lyric poetry and society” 4
go blind paul celan 4
on lyric poetry and society adorno 4
j h prynne to pollen 4
bevis of hampton 4
f subscript zero 4
“michael thomas taren” 4
geoffrey hill blgo 4
adorno on lyric and society- summary 4
“jonty tiplady” 4
importance+of+poetry 4
prynne triodes 4
derrida shiboleth 4
nobody bears witness for the witness 4
cartography poetry 4
timothy thornton 4
george herbert love prynne 4
solitary reaper prynne 4
simon jarvis unconditional 4
simon jarvis erlkonig 4
j h prynne 2011 4
pyrnne prose 4
marvell upon appleton house 4
j. h. prynne poems 4
cartography poem 4
poetry about obsession 4
celan prynne 4
derrida shibbolet 4
lucas fritzl 4
“mental ears and poetic work” 4
ubuweb photography 4
simon jarvis philosophy of verse 4
shiboleth derrida 4
oraclau 4
simon jarvis wallace stevens 4
paul celan boat poem 4
“making of mere brightness the air to tremble” 4
poetry and philosophy 4
“mental ears” 4
wordsworth solitary reaper 4
poems with obscure meanings 4
adorno on poetry 4
poetry about the recession 4
simon lygo poet 4
solitary reaper literary criticism 4
queer praxis 4
john wilkinson, poet 4
claudius app 4
derrida on witnessing 4
celan witness 4
erlkonig simon jarvis 4
jh prynne refuse collection 4
charles olson postmodernism 4
jh prynne china 4
adorno lyric and society 4
keston sutherland “stress position” 4
celan no one bears witness for the witness 4
neil pattison prynne oval window 4
red d gypsum 4
geoffrey hill and comedy 4
dawkins heidegger 4
geoffrey hill oraclau 4
geoffrey hill j h prynne 4
bebrowed clavics 4
prynne “refuse collection” 4
the pentecost castle 4
ashenglorie 4
review simon jarvis the unconditional 4
a a a domine deus david jones 4
keston sutherland wordsworth 4
the stats on infinity 4
lyric poetry and society 4
“lyric poetry and society” adorno 4
lumen de lumine 4
“harold brodkey” 4
acrylic tips j.h. prynne 4
kevin nolan poetry 4
jocund day timothy thornton 4
keston sutherland the stats on infinity 4
bebrowed’s blog 4
prynne poetry 4
simon jarvis wordsworth’s philosophic song review 3
robert potts tls 3
appleton house analysis 3
who is bebrowed? 3
breathturn joris 3
geoffrey hill oracles 3
poem having a good time 3
bear witness for the witness celan 3
word order, jh prynne 3
j h prynne refuse collection 3
simon jarvis pope 3
dawkins geoffrey hill 3
go blind now, today; eternity also is full of eyes- in them drowns what helped images down the way they came, in them fades what took you out of language, lifted you out with a gesture which you allowed to happen like the dance of words made of autumn and silk and nothingness. 3
to the white lake blot claudius app 3
“cambridge literary review 3
“erica baum” “dog ear” 3
anathemata david jones 3
justin katko 3
poetry importance 3
keston sutherland sonnets cleaves 3
celan shibboleth poem 3
only the brave j h prynne 3
appleton house marvell 3
atemwende 3
milton comus comedy 3
badiou 3
derrida celan reader 3
http://www.grace.benefitsnow.com 3
“laurence crane” 3
edmund spenser romance 3
derrida blog 3
keston sutherland beckett 3
poems about getting distracted 3
prynne hut 3
“grinning cake” hill 3
lumen de lumine meaning 3
deconstruction blog derrida 3
geoffrey hill red tory 3
stress position black beauty 3
wood s lot blog 3
clavics “geoffrey hill” 3
celan “no one bears witness” 3
prynne to pollen 3
sub songs j.h. prynne 3
who bears witness for the witness paul celan 3
“keston sutherland” poem 3
“crossroads where the dead come to meet” 3
“cambridge literary review” + torrent 3
“wendy brown” walls 3
simon jarvis unconditional bebrowed otl 3
word order, poem, jh prynne 3
the solitary reaper criticism 3
prynne prelude olsen 3
gillian rose geoffrey hill 3
prynne “kent johnson” 3
j h prynne streak willing artesian 3
nigel smith wayside shrines 3
aodrno “lyric poetry and society” 3
clavics extract geoffrey hill 3
the solitary reaper execution scene 3
paul celan english translation 3
john kinsella 3
prynne merleau-ponty 3
keston sutherland’s odes to tl61p 3
simon jarvis criticism 3
solitary reaper criticism 3
wendy brown blog 3
“paul celan” shibboleth 3
keston sutherland poems 3
cultural criticism in poetry 3
“to pollen” prynne 3
“divya victor” 2011 3
criticism of solitary reaper 3
upon appleton house country house poem 3
keston sutherland reindeer 3
j.h. prynne. 3
jeremy prynne the prelude 3
simon jarvis cambridge 3
the maximus poems 3
jh prynne, 2010 3
paul celan go blind 3
vanessa place poem 3
having a good time poem 3
wendy brown hamburg 3
geoffrey hill prynne 3
keston sutherland prose 3
what’s new j.h. prynne 3
nigel smith marvell 3
“simon jarvis” erlkonig 3
annunciations hill 3
letter to raleigh 3
adorno prynne 3
geoffrey hill tls 3
geoffrey hill depression 3
geoffrey hill jh prynne 3
jh prynne geoffrey hill 3
adorno on lyric poetry and society summary 3
geoffrey hill overrated 3
nat raha blog 3
dying to belong song list 3
paul celan go blind now 3
celan huttenfenster 3
“stress position” sutherland review 3
j. h. prynne on wordsworth 3
aschenglorie hinter 3
scope of philosophy 3
clean no one bears witness for the winess 3
adorno poetry and society 3
review on mercian hymns mental illness 3
tomas weber poet 3
quotations on poetry and philosophy 3
prynne glossator -hester 3
simon jarvis prosody as cognition 3
“simon jarvis” rhyme 3
prynne’s mental ears 3
on lyric poetry and society adorno summary 3
obscure poetry sites 3
a poem title the awkward age 3
john james in romsey town 3
keston sutherland criticism 3
philosophy 3
oraclau oracles 3
“refuse collection” prynne 3
prynne resistance difficulty 3
philosophy and poetry blog 3
i’ve spent 2 weeks studying 1 poem by prynne 3
clavics review 3
dionysus crucified simon jarvis 3
“jocund day” 3
ashenglorie celan 3
derrida shibboleth celan 3
“simon jarvis” “vanishingly trivial” 3
word order jh prynne 3
‘simon jarvis’ unconditional 3
foucault exquisite corpse 3
postmodern poetry can be described as 3
edmund spenser blog 3
berlin “sergey larenkov” 3
“jh prynne” 3

Paul Celan in translation

As I’ve said before, Paul Celan’s work has been an important part of my life since adolescence. His later poems have buried their way deep under my skin and have enriched my life. I don’t care what his detractors may have to say, everything after ‘Atemwende’ is both important and inspiring to me.

Given the nature of Celan’s work, for those of us that don’t have any German, translation is crucial. I recognise that each translation produces a new poem and can accept this with most of Celan’s work (even when those ‘new’ poems aren’t very good).

There is one poem from ‘Atemwende’ that is particularly close to my heart. I first read ‘Erblinde’ at the age of 14 or 15 in Michael Hamburger’s translation for the Penguin Modern European Poets series and it has remained with me ever since as an indication of the possibilities of what a poem can do. I don’t intend to offer a detailed interpretation – what I want to do is set out the problems that can be caused when a new poem comes along.

The new poem in question is the one produced by Pierre Joris, an excellent translator, critic and poet whose judgement I trust.  I set out below both versions of the poem and then try and explain my dilemma.

Hamburger’s version reads:

Go blind now today:

eternity is also full of eyes –

in them

drowns what helped images down

the way they came,

in them

fades what took you out of language,

lifted you out with a gesture

which you allowed to happen like

the dance of words made of

autumn and silk and nothingness.

The Joris version is –

Go blind today already:

eternity too is full of eyes-


drowns, what helped the images

over the path they came,


expires, who took you out of

language with a gesture

that you let happen like

the dance of two words of just

autumn and silk and nothingness.

This isn’t a new poem, it’s radically different poem that walks all over the poem that I’ve lived with for the past forty years. If this was a Felstiner version then I wouldn’t really care because I don’t trust his work generally. Joris, on the other hand, has clearly thought long and hard about his engagement with Celan and has also produced some of the clearest prose on the poet that I’ve read. So, I clearly can’t (won’t) give up on Hamburger but I am forced to consider that my version may be flawed and this is disconcerting to say the least. It isn’t just the words but also the placing of the commas which transforms the poem into something else- something much less lyrical and poetic. I’ve done the dictionary thing and I’ve looked at the original punctuation and it does seem to me that the Joris version is more faithful to the original- but I’m not sure that I want a ‘faithful’ poem. I want my poem back.