(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Paul Celan remains perhaps the best-known Holocaust poet. His poems make the Holocaust real for those who came after it and serve as a painful evocation of its horror for those who lived through it. The tortured groping for understanding is also a search for God; these poems are religion-haunted, always asking an unreachable and silent God the question, “Why?” The knotted, difficult late poems are attempts to express the inexpressible cataclysm, as well as to make some kind of sense of it, in language and also beyond language. It is probably easiest for the reader to enter Celan’s world through the more accessible early work, such as the immensely popular “Death Fugue,” which gives some idea of his developing private mythology. However, the later work also rewards study. Celan’s dense last poems contain a compressed energy that gives even the shortest, most cryptic poems fire.