Paul Celan is one of the great modern German poets, and Michael Hamburger’s translation of much of his work, Poems of Paul Celan, is wonderful.
He can be a complex and profound poet, one of the great writers of the post World War II era.
Here is a sample poem:
Memory of France
Together with me recall: the sky of Paris, that giant autumn crocus…
We went shopping for hearts at the flower girl’s booth:
they were blue and they opened up in the water.
It began to rain in our room,
and our neighbor came in, Monsieur Le Songe, a lean little man.
We played cards, I lost the irises of my eyes;
you lent me your hair, I lost it, he struck us down.
He left by the door, the rain followed him out.
We were dead and were able to live.
As a Jew, he had horrendous experiences in World War II, including suffering through his parents’ death while in a forced labor camp. Somehow he survived, but sadly, committed suicide by drowning in the Seine river in Paris in 1970.
Poems of Paul Celan: A Bilingual German/English Edition, Revised Edition, translated by Michael Hamburger, Persea Books, 2002.