The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Homecoming” is a free-verse poem of nineteen lines. Its title is somewhat ironic, suggesting a joyous return, a celebration of reunion. The actual “homecoming” that Paul Celan describes in the poem is a bleak return to a landscape of the dead.

The poem comes from a collection that marks the point at which Celan became renowned throughout Europe. The title of this collection, Sprachgitter (speechmesh), illustrates the increasing darkness and obscurity of his work. The title suggests the difficulty of speaking through a mesh or grid, and perhaps implies that speech itself is a mesh or grid, filtering and distorting the feelings it attempts to represent, perhaps causing pain and injury to the one who attempts to speak. The word is Celan’s invented compound, and such inventions abound in his later work.

In the case of many poems, it is important to distinguish the speaker of the poem from the poet. In Celan’s case, however, no such division is necessary. Celan’s life speaks through his poems. They tell of the loss of his parents in the Holocaust and of his attempts to factor this loss into his life and come up with a product other than zero. They also tell of his failure to do this, describing again and again the void left by the Holocaust and the silence of God in response to his anguish.

The poem refers to an unidentified “you,” but the “I” is suppressed. The word “I” is used once, but it is not...

(The entire section is 429 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Homecoming” is spare and stark, having little use for ornament. The truth it describes trivializes conventional attempts at ornamentation. Its nineteen lines contain a number of words that have a falling rhythm—words such as “hidden,” “dumbness,” and “feeling,” each of which contains a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one. These words, often placed at the ends of lines, contribute to the mood of snowfall and of sadness. (The words in the original German have the same effect.) The other patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in the poem produce the effect of chords in a minor key, and contribute to the overall impression of grief. The musical quality of “Homecoming” is also found in many of Celan’s other poems, some of which make specific reference to musical forms and themes.

Metaphor in this poem is very basic. Snow and winter traditionally suggest death, and here the snow is becoming “denser and denser”—obscuring more and more the possibility of any vision of light. The snow is described as “the sleigh track of the lost.” One of the recurrent images in Celan’s earlier poems is the picture of the ashes of the dead rising over the Holocaust ovens, and this suggestion is recalled by the image of the dead rising in this poem into the air in a sleigh. The gray of the remembered ashes pollutes the purity of the snow, so that although the snow should be white, it is seen as gray, “dove-coloured.”


(The entire section is 471 words.)