Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

All Celan’s poems are about loss, even those rare ones that carry some glimmer of hope, a possible substitution, such as love, for past losses. The deaths of his parents in the concentration camp, as well as those of all other victims of the Holocaust, haunt the poems. His best-known works (“Death Fugue,” for example) are direct treatments of the Holocaust. The colors of all of his poems are gray and somber; his works reflect the experience of one who has survived the ordeal and at the same time not survived it, because so much has been lost that not enough is left to sustain him. Celan committed suicide in 1970, despite having married and having become internationally famous as poet and translator.

The death-in-life theme is present from the onset of “Homecoming.” The title suggests meetings and greetings, but neither is forthcoming. The dense snow, suggesting death, is thickening. The third line is mysterious, but it too suggests death in life: The snow falls “as if even now you were sleeping.” The “you” is addressed nowhere else in the poem and, as usual in Celan’s poems, is indeterminate; but the lines state that the addressee is “as if” sleeping. He (or she, or they) is not sleeping; the suggestion is that he is absent, dead.

The white and gray of the scene extend from the top to the bottom of the field of vision, and everything the speaker sees in the sky or on the earth connotes death. The sky is the “sleigh...

(The entire section is 517 words.)