Paul Celan (1920-1970) is a major German-language poet of the post World War II era. He was a Romanian who lived most his life in France teaching German literature and translating French and English poets into German. His style is characterised by unconventional imagery and unique metaphor and this is where his originality lies. His human constitution was gravely affected by the events of the Holocaust. From a Jewish family himself, both his parents perished in concentration camps. He survived and lived with an anguish which spills into his poems every now and then. Here is a short poem from his collection Mohn und Gedächtnis (1952)
Translated from German by Michael Hamburger.
Aspen tree, your leaves glance white into the dark.
My mother’s hair was never white.
Dandelion, so green is the Ukraine.
My yellow-haired mother did not come home.
Rain cloud, above the well do you hover?
My quiet mother weeps for everyone.
Round star, you wind the golden loop.
My mother’s heart was ripped by lead.
Oaken door, who lifted you off your hinges?
My gentle mother cannot return.