Let your Eyes…

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Zwiegestalt 2006
Aloys Rump’s series of art works on Paul Celan

The blog post with the pictures of:

Synagogues of Khust, Shargorod, Bolekhiv, Palace of Tsadik Friedman of Ruzhyn in Sadhora (Czernowitz), Cemeteries of Bila Cerkva, Czernowitz, Medzhibozh, Bolekhiv

There it is, in so many places

ended with the citation of Paul Celan’s poem:

Lass dein Aug in der Kammer sein eine Kerze,
den Blick einen Docht,
lass mich blind genug sein,
ihn zu entzünden.

This was translated into English:

Let your eyes become a candle in the chamber,
your glance a canon,
let me become blind enough
to light it.

Some of our friends rightly protested against the use of canon instead wick of the German word Docht. When you take a look at the French version of the whole text including the poem (at the same site)

Il est, en tant de lieux

you will find the usual translation of Docht i.e. wick and not canon. Should one conclude that the translator into English was simply mistaken or that he thought to have a reason to change the word into another so different one? We don’t know from the site who the translator into English was, although the name of the author of the French translation is given. But ignoring the Docht the rest is very well done. So he might, and surely deserves to be given the credit to have had a reasonable purpose in using this poetical freedom in translation. The whole poem has 2 verses:

ZWIEGESTALT (about 1954)

Lass dein Aug in der Kammer sein eine Kerze,
den Blick einen Docht,
lass mich blind genug sein,
ihn zu entzünden.

Nein.
Lass anderes sein.

Tritt vor dein Haus,
schirr deinen scheckigen Traum an,
laß seine Hufe reden
zum Schnee, den du fortbliest
vom First meiner
Seele.

Zwiegestalt is a typical Celan creation of combining German words, zwei (two) and Gestalt, playing on the word Zwielicht which means so much as twilight. Should we translate it as Doubleshape or Twigestalt or Twishape into English?

The two shapes correspond of course to the two parts of the poem interrupted but also joined by the categorical:

No,
Let different be,

I won’t even try to translate the second part into English – no doubt that one reason it was not given here is the difficulty to render into another language the symbolism Celan creates in these lines in German. Another reason for not citing the whole poem is of course the relevance of the first part only of the poem to the pictures, the search for presence of those that are not anymore.

The main idea of the second part is to give an active alternative to the passive behavior of his interlocutor by demanding of him to implement his colorful dreams, have the strength of a horse and wipe away any sad thoughts. (Here I have to admit the guilt of free interpretation and may be some exaggeration). It remains an open question if the poem is about two persons, or at least connected to another addressed person, or is a pure monologue with himself, like a lot of other poetry by Celan and others.

Whatever the contrast between the two different verses of Celan’s poem is meant to represent, its features are of a strict personal intention. A reader may find many oppositions according to his own way of reading. Passive/active or pessimist/optimist or internal/external or subject/object or static/dynamic, there is so much to chose from these few lines that open a vast territory of psychology or even philosophy, that one could say that even for reasonable associations to the text the sky is the limit. But I can’t find any trace of an idea of murder, hate, repent, social injustice or collective indifference to the past. Indeed there is nothing “social” or “general” here in Celan that might connect to the pictures. Except may be blindness.

The first verse is cited because of the blindness of the people now living. If we accept that Celan is cited here not only with the intention to give a nice literary strong finish to an otherwise beautiful and sensitive report, then only the subject of blindness can be responsible for this inclusion. But what sort of blindness of the locals to the past atrocities to a former population of the region is here intended to be shown? Is it at random, contingent, or in principle, a quasi conscious effort to get away from that past so unpleasant or even difficult to live with? Are they just lost in the misery of their daily life that does not give them the time to look back, or are they denying on purpose the past of the region? Accidental or lawful behavior?

The translator votes for the last version and explicates it by the use of the word canon instead wick. True, any reader might associate by himself a wick to be the principal part of a candle without which all the burning and light giving would not take place. The wax being there only for sheltering and shielding it. But canon makes the connection stronger. It is both the guideline of ecclesiastical behavior and the meaning that was used by philosophers like Mills or Kant, of rule or principle of right thinking. It is not a matter of accidental choice, it is “the” choice you make as part of your reasoned behavior. We could say, not a matter of temperament but of character, of some people or of humanity as such. To take Celan out of context:

Has the world become blind enough for a sufficient time in order to light it? Can the question : “Where are you” be answered in any positive way? We know that somehow there must be a candle that might give light enough to see the truth of the canon but for the moment we can only feel it as a gaze that surrounds those lost places of Galicia or Bucovina, a gaze from the past that looks upon the present but can’t be seen.

Berti Glaubach

5 thoughts on “Let your Eyes…

  1. Tamás Sajó

    Thank you, Berti, for your deep-going interpretation of both Celan’s poem and its actuality to the Vanished World, and of my choice of word in its English translation as an emblem in the post of Catherine, with whom we made this journey together. In fact, these verses of Celan are here an emblem both in the Ancient sense of the word (emballō) as an inlaid motif in a new work of art, and in the Renaissance sense, as a metaphor which condenses in itself the essence of the work of art, offers a thread – a canon – to its interpretation, and sheds a new, largely unexpected light on it. This is why I dared to choose the word canon in the translation, not as an exact equivalent of Docht, but as something to be highlighted for the people who, largely consciously, are blind to the past whose remains are presented in the post – exactly as you have sensitively exposed it. In doing so (and, I hope, not far from the spirit of the Celanian Zwiegespalt), I was both inspired by the original sense of the kanun as a measuring thread, and the Hungarian equivalent of Docht/wick, kanóc, coming from the same word.

    And thank you all – and especially to Edgar – to your honoring attention to Poemas del río Wang.

    Reply
  2. Catherine Darley

    Thank you for this fine and interesting analysis and interpretation of Celan’s poem. Thank you too for the nice comment on my own report.
    I’m not exactly sure (or I don’t exactly remember) why I chose this poem — intuition? recognition? the fact that we don’t know if the poem is about two persons, or if it is a monologue with himself? I had read extensively Celan last winter and, in echo to those readings, I thought I’d like to write something in a dialogical way. And to address myself to some indefinite “you” (without capital) — “tu” in french is a singular pronoun, when “you” is more ambiguous —, was a manner to convey what I felt as the ambiguity, the uncertainty of my position as a “tourist” in those synagogues and cemeteries.
    (there I feel the weakness of my english).
    But I never considered the blindness of locals (even if I saw them ” just lost in the misery of their daily life that does not give them the time to look back”). I rather thought that I was blind, that I had been blind for years. And that this journey to Ukraine meant that it was time to alight my eyes (on what, I could not say, it is a very private feeling — being alive, confront with one’s history, with disappearance, with indifference). Or that maybe I had been blind enough to see things through the decayed walls, the dust and the egg shells — and to write about it (eastern Europe is not a favourite issue where I live).
    So, to the question “Where are you?” — if this “you” means “me”, I am lost; if this “you” means “them”, their eyes are closed; if this “you” is “You” or “Him”, the place is forlorn.
    Anyway, depressing as it may appear, the journey was great, one of the most fascinating I ever made, and three weeks after I can still only think, talk, dream about it.

    The title of Celan’s poem, Zwiegestalt, was translated by Valérie Briet as “Forme double” and by Jean-Pierre Lefebvre as “Figure double”. Here is Lefebvre’s beautiful translation of the entire poem :

    FIGURE DOUBLE

    Fais que ton oeil dans la chambre soit une bougie,
    ton regard une mèche,
    fais-moi être assez aveugle
    pour l’allumer.

    Non.
    Fais qu’autre chose soit.

    Avance devant ta maison,
    harnache ton songe pie,
    fais parler son sabot
    à la neige que tu as soufflée
    du faîtage de mon âme.

    Paul Celan, De Seuil en Seuil, traduction Jean-Pierre Lefebvre.

    Reply
    1. Berti Glaubach

      Well Catherine, there are at least 3 personal “tu’s” who I am sure, felt addressed. But except Tamas, Edgar and myself there also must have been many others. It is interesting how among Celan, yourself and other readers of the relevant texts (including myself) the gap between me and other is felt in so many different ways and treated. But felt it is, and everybody copes with it in her way.

      Your journey from the west to the east might have half made the trip from part one to part two of the poem.
      Wish you (but only if you like to):

      Fais qu’autre chose soit, et fais parler ton sabot.

      Reply
  3. Edgar Hauster Post author

    Catherine and Berti, thank you so much for your enlightening comments, you both made my day! Of course I’m very pleased, or rather a bit proud of being one of the “3 personal ‘tu’s’ [French/Romanian]”, even though my contribution was just to “light” this correspondence by my initial posting. As a “reward” for you, I’m going to release soon some previously undisclosed data, no, not on Paul Celan’s “Zwiegestalt – Twishape – Figure double”, but on the genesis of “Todesfuge”.

    Reply

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