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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 1959, “Conversation in the Mountains,” and Washburn provides an informative (though sometimes formidably academic) introduction to Celan’s life and writings.

Ultimately, LAST POEMS reveals Celan moving toward his own death, addressing his parents in an imagined underworld and drawing himself ever more intimately into their “circle.” Yet the book also shows him simultaneously striving for, and often achieving, spiritual sustenance through the quest for poetry--a quest that seems almost literally to be keeping him alive. Though Celan severely narrows his range of imagery, confining himself to a dark and silent world of stones and boats, snow and sand, blood and litter, that world is transformed into a surrealist mental landscape in which voyages, journeys, and walks--all metaphors for poetic movement--yield some hope and fulfillment. Similarly, images of leaves and flowers, birds and beacons, flags and stars, the breath of lungs and the pulsing of blood serve as symbols of the countervailing force of poetic response to the prevailing darkness and silence. Though Celan eventually succumbed to the pull of this world of death, his writings leave behind a resounding refutation to the idea that poetry could ever be made spiritually impossible.

Last Poems

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

The catastrophic fact of the Nazi Holocaust has been considered so destructive to the human spirit that one critic, Theodore Adorno, has proclaimed, “After Auschwitz there can be no more poetry.” Among the millions of lives devastated by the Nazi regime 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. After years of exile in Paris under the name of Paul Celan, he took his own life in 1970 by jumping into the Seine. Tormented as he was, however, and as strongly as part of him subscribed to the sort of absolute pessimism expressed in Adorno’s dictum, Celan nevertheless completed nine volumes of poetry. In these brilliantly paradoxical books, he somehow draws creative force from the abiding sense of nothingness and despair that the Holocaust produced in him.

Last Poems constitutes an ideal introduction to Celan’s work, for this collection of ninety-nine poems (most of which have not been previously translated into English) 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 last three volumes—Lichtzwang

(The entire section is 2,347 words.)