Last Poems

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The catastrophic fact of the Nazi Holocaust has been considered so devastating to the human spirit that one critic, Theodor Adorno, has proclaimed, “After Auschwitz there can be no more poetry.” Among the millions of lives devastated was that of Paul Ancel, a Romanian Jew who survived the forced labor camps but was lastingly haunted by that experience and by the Nazis’ execution of his parents. In 1970, after years of exile in Paris under the name of Paul Celan, he took his own life by jumping into the Seine. Tormented as he was, however, and strongly as part of him subscribed to Adorno’s pessimism, Celan nevertheless wrote nine volumes of brilliantly paradoxical poetry, in which he drew creative force from the abiding sense of nothingness and despair which the Holocaust produced in him.

LAST POEMS constitutes an ideal introduction to Celan’s work, for the collection presents the writer in the final, most powerful stages of his development. Selected and ably translated by Katharine Washburn and Margret Guillemin, these poems from Celan’s three posthumous volumes--LICHTZWANG (FORCE OF LIGHT, 1970), SCHNEEPART (SNOW-PART, 1971), and ZEITGEHOFT (THE FARMSTEAD OF TIME, 1976)--show the poet reaching his minimalist limits of hard-edged compression, while also continuing to achieve the effects of verbal wit and strangely hypnotic lyricism that had always characterized his work. The translators also include Celan’s short autobiographical fable of...

(The entire section is 419 words.)