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A Note on the Death of Paul Celan While living in Sherman Oaks, California, in the spring of 1970,1had the following dream: a man that I recognized as Paul Celan walked to the bank of the Seine in Paris and stepped up onto a stone which I also recognized as the "Vallejo stone." Celan stood there for a momentthen leapt into the river. When I mentioned my dream to someone aweek or solater, I wasinformed that the poet had just drowned in the Seine, an apparent suicide. The "Vallejo stone" refers to a poem that Cesar Vallejo wrote while living in Paris in the mid-i93os. Like many of the poems that Vallejo wrote during these years, "Parade en una piedra" records his acute sensitivity to human suffering. This particular poem strikes me as a stay against suicide. In the early 19305, Vallejo still believed that a Communist-inspired world revolution would occur, but this beliefwas beginning to founder, overwhelmed by the suffering he found everywhere daily. Vallejo's untitled poem opens with the following two stanzas: Idle on a stone, unemployed, scroungy, horrifying, at the bank of the Seine, it comes and goes. Conscience then sprouts from the river, with petiole and outlines of the greedy tree; from the river the city rises and falls, made of embraced wolves. The idle one sees it coming and going, monumental, carrying his fasts in his concave head, A slightly different version of this note appeared in Studies in zoth Century Literature, Volume Eight, Number One, fall 1983.A French translationby Jean-Baptiste Para appeared in rehauts 7, Spring 2001, Paris. 2 0 4 C O M P A N I O N S P I D E R on his chest his purest lice and below his little sound, that of his pelvis, silent between two big decisions, and below, further down, a paperscrap, a nail, a match ... Bottom thoughts. The generational body, out of work, ends in the trash in the Seine's slime. I think of this "Vallejo stone" as a locus of exile where lamentation is tested. It brings to mind a passage from Rilke's loth Duino Elegy that evokes the crisis of lamentation for the twentieth century. A young woman, identified as a Lament, responds to a young man's questions, saying: We were a great clan, once, we Laments. Our fathers worked the mines in that mountain range. Sometimes you'll find a polished lump of ancient sorrow among men, or petrified rage from the slag of some old volcano. Yes, that came from there. We used to be rich. Attempting to read my dream in the penumbra of Vallejo's and Celan's lives and poetries, I see that Vallejo, still weighted with some of the riches of lamentation, could addressthe misery of humankind from his stone, and then walk awayfrom the Seine to write other poems. For Celan, both of whose parents were murdered in Nazi death camps, lamentation was not entirely empty but was so distorted by the absurdity of praising anything that its so-called riches had been undermined . I suspect that at a certain point he could no longer even feel sorry for himself. From Sprachgitter (1959) onward, the movements of words and lines in Celan's poetry have a strong, twisting, downward propulsion, like strands of a rope that is, at the same time, tightening with increasing weight and self-destructing through torsion into cast free strands. Asif the direction is vertically commanded by a central suck, a whirlpool. Language as spars, rapidly milling. For example (in Cid Gorman's translation from "The Syllable Ache," a poem in Die Niemandrose, 1964): Forgotten grabbed at To-be-forgotten, earthparts, heartparts swam, A Note on the Death of Paul Celan 205 sank and swam.Columbus, the timeless in eye,the motherflower , murdered mastsand sails. All fares forth, free, discovering, the compass-flower fades, point by leafpoint to height and to day, in blacklight of wildrudderstreaks. In coffins, in urns, canopic jars awoke the littlechildren Jasper, Agate, Amethyst—peoples, stock and kin, a blind Let therebe is knotted in the serpentheaded freeropes —: By modifying "Let there be" with "blind," freedom and license twist into each other, and for a moment Aleister Crowley's "Do What Thou Wilt" shows its lust-deformed face. Byputting it that way I attempt to indicate to what an extent Celan's poetry contains a pronouncement of creation emptied of meaning. When "Do What Thou Wilt" becomes...


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