The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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.

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...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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 entire section is 420 words.)