This is the eye of the times:
it looks out slant
under a seven-colour brow.
Its lid is bathed in flames,
its tear is steam.
The blind star flies at it
and melts on the hotter lash:
the world grows warm,
and the dead
break bud, and blossom.
Auge der Zeit
Dies ist das Auge der Zeit:
es blickt scheel
unter siebenfarbener Braue.
Sein Lid wird von Feuern gewaschen,
seine Träne ist Dampf.
Der blinde Stern fliegt es an
und zerschmilzt an der heißeren Wimper:
es wird warm in der Welt,
und die Toten
knospen und blühen.
Paul Celan, translated by Jean Boase-Beier
Notes from Jean Boase-Beier and Arc Publications:
Notable in this poem, from the early 1950s, is the use of Jewish symbols – fire, star, eye, the number seven – many of which became personal symbols for Celan. In his poems eyes suggest life, point of view and engagement, but often also the Jewish folk belief in the Evil Eye. And because, in German, dice have eyes rather than dots, eyes also suggest chance.
There have been many translations of Celan, each reflecting a different angle of approach to what is generally agreed to be his very complex poetry. Celan was known to have a special interest in language, in the way words work and the way in which they can be misused and can misrepresent – this is why he so often revised his poetry. Jean Boase-Beier’s particular approach to translating Celan focuses on his use of words, and her illuminating introduction and her notes contextualizing each of the poems in this chapbook are invaluable in helping the reader to their own interpretation. You can watch Celan’s translator, Jean Boase-Beier, discussing the collection with Philip Wilson in a video available on the Arc YouTube channel.
Paul Celan, who was born Paul Antschel, is widely considered to be one of the foremost European poets of the twentieth century. Born in 1920 into a German-speaking Jewish family in Czernowitz, at that time a multicultural city in Romania, he spent a short time studying Medicine in France before the start of the Second World War forced him to return. Back in Czernowitz, he began to write and translate poems, while studying French and Russian, but persecution of the Jews led to the deportation of his parents to a concentration camp, where his father died and his mother was shot. This sudden loss was to lead to severe trauma from which Celan never recovered. After the war he went to Paris, where he worked as a university lecturer in German, and won many awards for his poetry. In spite of his success, he was increasingly troubled by uncertainty, lack of self-belief, and mental disturbance. He drowned himself in the Seine in 1970.
The translator, Jean Boase-Beier, is Professor Emerita of Literature and Translation at the University of East Anglia, where she founded and ran the MA in Literary Translation. Besides her translations of Rose Ausländer , she has translated poetry by Volker von Törne and Ernst Meister, which also appeared with Arc Publications. Jean has written extensively on translation, especially the translation of poetry. Her latest book for Arc is Poetry of the Holocaust: An Anthology (edited with Marian de Vooght, 2019). Find out more about Jean’s work on the Arc website.
Founded in 1969, Arc Publications publishes contemporary poetry from new and established writers from the UK and abroad, specialising in the work of international poets writing in English, and the work of overseas poets in translation. Arc also has a music imprint, Arc Music, for the publication of books about music and musicians. To learn more about Arc and to see its range of titles, visit the publisher’s website. You can also find Arc on Facebook and on Twitter.
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