by Paul Antschel

Start Free Trial

The Poem

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

“Corona” is a short lyric poem about the difficulty of loving, honestly and truly, for two people who have experienced the catastrophes of World War II and the Holocaust. The memory of disaster and the busy pressure of the time period immediately after the war affect the private life of the two lovers and shape the tone of this love poem.

A corona is a halo or a ring of bright light around the object that obscures or blocks a source of light in an event such as an eclipse. In this poem, love is in eclipse, but the corona of light remaining for the lovers is a source of hope in an eerie darkness. An eclipse provides a chance to learn about the sun and the body that obscures it, and “Corona” provides an opportunity to reconsider the nature of love and to learn much about the couple and their dark world. A corona is also a crown, and the poet offers this poem, with its bright ring of light, as a crown to his beloved in praise of their love.

The poem’s eighteen lines fall into three groups of six lines. The opening, arranged in two three-line stanzas, establishes that it is autumn, a season in which one is reminded of mortality, and a Sunday, when the lovers are able to sleep longer and to spend time together. The next six lines form the center of the poem. The couple speak “dark words” while together during an intimate time that they have freed for love.

The final six lines step back from the intimacy of the central section and attempt to reconcile this tender intimacy with the harsher, public world. People on the street notice the two lovers embracing by a window, and the poet reacts to the fact that they have been seen, taking a kind of public position on the matter.

The poem frames the tender and intimate central section with an opening and a closing that place that moment in the context of a hostile era. The hidden question of the poem is whether or not love has a place and can survive between people in a time such as the postwar years when forgetting the recent tragedies is not possible or desirable. Perhaps if the couple could forget, they could love—or if they could love, they might forget for a time. In either case, love would be reduced to an evasion, a flight from the truth, a mere temporary escape. Add to this the difficulty of finding time for love in a busy world, and love becomes difficult indeed.

The poem tries to move beyond this impasse by suggesting that a new time might be beginning in which one could love without fleeing reality. In the last lines, Paul Celan writes: “It is time the stone made an effort to flower,/ Time unrest had a beating heart./ It is time it were time.” The stone and the unrest, emblematic of postwar disillusionment, do not cease to exist but rather begin to flower, to love with the heart, to move to a new phase and a new beginning.

Forms and Devices

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Probably the most difficult feature of Celan’s style is his use of concise, surrealistic images. Presented in very few words, these dreamlike images are seductive and disturbing, and seem to halt our reading and call for more attention. In “Corona,” things that are suggested by such images, but never directly stated, have a way of turning out to be central. Critics are fond of saying that Celan’s poems lie in the silences after such compressed...

(This entire section contains 693 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

images are presented, or in the spaces between the lines where interconnections between images might be traced.

In the first six lines, for example, the temporal setting is presented in dreamlike images in which the usual course of events is transformed, animated and often reversed. Autumn becomes an animal tamely eating its leaf from the poet’s hand, and its return is a familiar domestic ritual. The kernel shelled from nuts in the fall is, oddly, “time,” and it must be nurtured like a child and taught how to walk. In a strange reversal, time decides it is not yet prepared for the world and returns to its protective shell. These concise, surreal images set up an important tension. Autumn returns for its food and life shortens, but the time we need, which lovers might attentively nurture for the sake of love, fatefully and constantly retreats to its hardened shell. Time is running out, but the times remain at odds with love.

The Sunday of late sleep and dream, a time freed for love, is first seen in a mirror whose depths reverse the logic of waking reality. Usually one says that one dreams in sleep, but here sleep occurs within the dream; in that sleep, rather than in waking, the mouth speaks the truth. For Celan, the inner mirror-world and the weekday world it supposedly reflects and reverses are like halves of one reality. The truth of both sides must be captured in speech that includes dream, as in the condensed, surreal images of the opening six lines.

In the central section of the poem, surreal images are used in several very compressed, striking similes to describe the relationship between the two lovers. They are said, for example, to love one another “like poppy and memory.” Memory, an important theme in Celan’s work, is often a responsibility and a burden. Celan lost both parents and suffered himself for many years in concentration camps in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Memory needs poppy, a flower and the source of opiates, to soften the horrible burdens of memory and to make the responsibility of remembering more bearable. Poppy relies on memory, invoking and even reveling in memory. Like poppy and memory, the lovers depend on each other, each meeting the other’s anxieties, providing the other’s release, and shaping the other’s dreams.

They also sleep like “the sea in the blood ray of the moon,” an image that invokes restlessness. The moon, which pulls the ocean in its ceaseless tides, bathes it also in red light, compared here to blood. As passionate and beautiful as this image is, it is not an escapist image for their sleep together. The problem of the memory of the Holocaust and the difficult restlessness of the postwar years penetrate deeply into their private mirror-world, coloring the qualities of their dreams and of their love for one another. The blood-red moon coloring a restless sea, though a dream image, epitomizes the true reality in which the couple live. For them, true love is not an escapist illusion. The image reflects their restless struggle to remember, to dream, to love, and to live in a hard time.

Celan felt the true reality he wished to capture or present; but this reality is not easily conveyed in the words of a language meant to serve as a puppet to other purposes. For Celan, the German language in particular was suspect because it had so often been abused for the sake of propaganda and commercialism. Language had to be strained—broken apart and reassembled in compressed images—in order to free itself of false values and do its work in Celan’s poetry.