“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.)