The Poem

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509

“With All My Thoughts” is a poem of nineteen lines broken up into four stanzas. The first three stanzas are of four lines each, while the last stanza, breaking this pattern, is seven lines long. The poem does not follow a set rhyme scheme or syllabic pattern, either in the original German or in the English translation. Rather, the music of the poem arises from the sense it creates of being a transcription of the poet’s inner thoughts.

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The poem’s title is incorporated into the opening line of the first stanza. Much of Paul Celan’s earlier poetry is titled in the conventional way, but as his work progressed he increasingly shifted to this other mode of presentation. Incorporating the title directly into the poem makes it seem more immediate and strangely anonymous, like a message found in a bottle or an inscription on a monument overgrown with weeds.

In keeping with this sense of anonymity, the poem is written in the first person and addressed to some other, although the poet never makes entirely clear who this other is. Equally strange is the poet’s declaration in the first stanza that in order to meet this “quietopen one” he had to go “out of the world.” Immediately, it becomes clear that the poet is not concerned with presenting a concrete depiction of a “real-life” event. While the situation of the poem is deeply dramatic, the drama occurs on some level beyond that of strictly representational action. The enigmatic relationship between the events of the external world and the content of the poem is further developed in the second stanza. There, the poet refers to some unidentified past crisis in which both the speaker’s and the listener’s “eyes broke” (literally but not figuratively impossible). Paradoxically, however, this crisis did not result in tragedy but in a sense of awakening, in a sense of the world becoming new.

While up to this point the poet has claimed to speak “outside the world,” stanza 3 charts the entrance of the sun into the poem. The sun is the external world’s most visible and obvious emblem, and it is strange that the poet should draw a connection between the inner silence of the soul and the path of the sun. For if, on the one hand, one might think of the soul as a small, focused thing, on the other hand, little could be vaster than the sun’s orbit.

Celan further develops this mysterious connection in the final stanza, where “With All My Thoughts” seems most clearly a love poem. For once the soul and the sun have come into contact, the lover’s “lap open[s], tranquilly,” and a “breath” (the poet’s? the lover’s?) rises up into the sky, where “clouds” are formed. The poem up to this point has been reluctant to speak of a particular person or situation, but the breath that turns into clouds brings with it the possibility of forming itself into a “name,” though the name is never specified.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 420

Paul Celan was born in Romania in 1920 and as a young man, lost both of his parents at the hands of the Nazis, a fact that it is always necessary to bear in mind when reading his work. In some of his earlier work—most notably “Todesfuge” (“Death Fugue”)—he attempted to deal with the Holocaust directly, but when such poems came to be famous and were anthologized he began to be bothered by them, as though such direct presentation inevitably trivialized the sense of tragedy he had meant to convey.

This biographical fact alone does not fully account for the feelings of anonymity and mysterious crisis present in “With All My Thoughts,” but it does help the reader to understand the complex interplay of spiritual and physical realities in Celan’s work. The lack of an offset title, for example, is consistent with a poem that refuses to provide some clear referential handle that will allow one to read it in terms of distinct characters involved in a specific situation. The poem reads like a message that has arrived out of nowhere. Its asymmetrical appearance on the page, jagged line breaks, and abrupt pauses push the reader’s attention toward the blankness of the surrounding page, as though the poem were merely a crack in the silence there. As stanza 3 makes clear, it is the lovers’ silence that “map[s] out/ an orbit for the sun.”

Similarly, the sequence of pronoun references and the relationship between pronouns and events in the poem seem purposely obscure. Leaving the world, the “I” in the first stanza encounters a “you” who “received us.” In the third stanza, the sun appears, “bright/ a soul and a soul confronted it.” Again, the sequence of events does not seem logically ordered as it might be in a straightforward narrative; rather, as might be appropriate to religious meditation, everything seems to happen at once.

This rich confusion helps to reinforce the theme, central to the poem, that the inner “soul” and the external world coexist in mysterious relation. When the poet states in stanza 2 that “our eyes broke,” this literal impossibility makes perfect figurative sense, much as it makes perfect sense to speak of silence as “breaking.” Consider, too, that eyes “breaking” might simply refer to two lovers gazing at one another, then turning away. Yet for the poet, at this moment of “breaking,” “everything began.” This curious interplay between the utterly simple and the utterly mysterious is at work on every level of the poem.

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