Poem: There Was Earth – Paul Celan

Paul Celan

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 Die Niemandsrose (1963)

There was Earth

There was earth inside them, and
they dug.

They dug and they dug, so their day
went by for them, their night. And they did not praise
God

who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, knew all this.

They dug and heard nothing more;
they did not grow wise, invented no song,
thought up for themselves no language,
They dug.

There came a stillness, and there came a storm,
and all the oceans came.
I dig, you dig, and the worm digs too,
and that singing out there says: They dig.

O one, o none, o no one, o you:
Where did the way lead when it led nowhere?
O you dig and I dig, and I dig towards you,
and on our finger the ring awakes.

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