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paul-celanI’m not at all a qualified translator, but trying to translate helps me understand a poem, helps me get into it more completely. I also like going back to languages I’ve studied. In this case, it’s German, which I learned as a child in school when living there, and later in American high school and college. Here’s a poem by Paul Celan. He used language in a true poet’s way, breaking it up, making it completely serve the soul of the poem and you, the reader.

Erinnerung an Frankreich
   by Paul Celan

Du denk mit mir: der Himmel von Paris, die große
Wir kauften Herzen bei den Blumenmädchen:
sie waren blau and blühten auf im Wasser.
Es fing zu regnen an in unserer Stube,
und unser Nachbar kam, Monsieur Le Songe, ein hager
Wir spielten Karten, ich verlor die Augensterne;
du liehst dein Haar mir, ich verlors, er schlug uns nieder.
Er trat zur Tür hinaus, der Regen folgt’ ihm.
Wir waren tot und konnten atment.

Reminiscence of France

You think with me: the sky of Paris, the big
   autumn crocus…
We bought hearts at the flowergirl’s:
they were blue and bloomed in water.
It started to rain in our room,
and our neighbor came, Monsieur Le Songe, a haggard
   little man.
We played cards, I lost the apple of my eye;
you loaned your hair to me, I lost, he slugged us down.
He stepped out the door, the rain followed him.
We were dead and could breath.

Another translation of a German poem: “Song of Being a Child,” by Peter Handke, here


    • Jean Huets

      Thanks, Dreama – I don’t know about the autumn crocuses in Paris exactly, but they are cultivated in Europe. Funny, I struggled with that word. Autumn crocus reads a bit flat to me, but that really is the name of the flower (though it’s not in the crocus family) and Herbstzeit means autumnal in German, so using the name meadow saffron wouldn’t have worked.

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