Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“With All My Thoughts” becomes most accessible if one thinks of it, first of all, as a love poem. Certainly, nothing within the poem contradicts this interpretation. Celan’s strange mixing of the inner world of the soul and the outer world seems perfectly understandable, for example, if one thinks of how the external world mysteriously and wonderfully seems transformed when one falls in love.
Stanzas 2 and 3, for example, seem to establish a connection between the sun and the eyes of the lovers. One of the most common and traditional associations made in love poems, it occurs frequently in the poetry of the English Renaissance (Celan translated some of William Shakespeare’s sonnets into German). For example, the metaphysical poetry of John Donne commonly draws a connection between the inner moods of lovers and the movement of vast cosmic forces.
Yet to read “With All My Thoughts” solely as a love poem in the conventional sense would be to limit it unnecessarily. Further reflection might lead one, for example, to consider how themes of language and love are intertwined in the poem and how both language and love are related to silence. The poem’s nonrepresentational language tends to “leave the world” much as the poet claims to have done in the first stanza. In the final stanza, the relationship between language and love seems most explicitly developed, when the breath of the lovers rises to “that which made clouds.” One might consider, for example, that the word “spirit” is derived from the Latin spiritus (“breath”) and that language, too, is a product of the breath.
Language, the breath, the spirit, and clouds are similar in that each seems to exist on some border between being and nonbeing, between substance and emptiness. “With All My Thoughts” is at least in part a poem that attempts to walk that border where language attempts to become real. One thinks of King Claudius in Hamlet (c. 1600-1601) who, praying, states “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below./ Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” Celan’s poem similarly might be considered a kind of prayer, though he is too fastidious as a poet, too aware of the power of words, to declare his intentions blatantly. There is no way of knowing if his word-thoughts arrive; it is enough for that to remain suspended in possibility.