Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem concerns the difficulty of loving for people who do not want love to be an illusion or an escape from everything else they know must be acknowledged as fact. It is also for those who deeply distrust a world that cheapens life by separating its contents in separate, sealed categories, so that Sundays are separate from other days, and love, dream, and memory are separated from the rest of reality, which must suffer from the separation. The memory of the Holocaust and the ironic temperament of the postwar years, seen by the need for vigilance and engagement to prevent the return of disaster, would make such an escapist form of love seem both an emotional cheat and an intellectual dishonesty as well as a moral failure.

Thus memory, irony, and business, invoked in small, suggestive, and surreal images, nearly eclipse the possibility of love. Yet what shines around and through the images of the poem, surfacing clearly in the emphatic rhythmic and rhetorical structures of the last lines, is the need to find and to give love in a true and honest way. Around the difficulty, the prematurity of love in the autumn of Europe, shines this corona of hope and of possibility.

The title “Corona” may be taken as the first and last of Celan’s compressed symbols. The corona that is made visible around the outline of these lovers embracing in a window affirms the possibility of love. This ring of light crowns their relationship and is seen as a source of sincere hope of moving beyond the difficult but honest impasse the poem describes. Celan’s poem also transcends his particular time and place. Love is confronted with the same dangers, in various manifestations and degrees, in any time. “Corona” reflects every lover’s hope that love can be more than peripheral, delusory, and invisible; it is in such a world that we may then truly begin to live.