The Stone in the Air – A Suite of Forty Poems from the German of Paul Celan
Page Count: 62
Publication Date: Monday, March 05, 2018
Cover Artwork: Cover Photography: Christine Casson. Design: Siobhán Hutson
About this Book
The great Holocaust poet Paul Celan, whose mother and father died in an internment camp, and who himself was imprisoned in a work camp, has written some of the most memorable and mournful poems about death and loss. In these lucid and lyrical translations of Celan’s poetry by Daniel Tobin, we are reminded that for Celan, “Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language.” This lyrical collection places Celan’s poetry in an interpretive musical arrangement that reverberates with notes of metaphysical longing amidst the speaker’s despair. It is both compelling and haunting, a testimony to the enduring power of language and poetry to confront the unspeakable.
As time sweeps inexorably forward from events that occurred in mid-twentieth century Europe that framed Paul Celan’s life and formed his literary vision, new voices of intolerance are raised that target minorities and the vulnerable to remind us, chillingly, of the Holocaust. Born into a Jewish family in Romania, Celan lived through the horrors of the period leaving us a poetry of witness: sparse, imagistic, hermetic, luminous.
Daniel Tobin’s new versions of Celan’s poems, while building on the work of others, offer us new and nuanced approaches to the poetry underlined by a finely-tuned sense of tone, diction, syntax, and line. Tobin, as a poet and scholar who has always engaged with issues of faith, doubt, witness, and the presence of the past in the present, is an ideal interpreter of Celan’s vision—his solitary candle as it burns in defiance of power.
In Tobin’s able and reverent hands, Celan’s work is given a new charge for our own times. The Stone in the Air is moving, splendid, and a gifted work of translation.
Daniel Tobin is the author of eight books of poems: Where the World is Made, Double Life, The Narrows, Second Things, Belated Heavens (winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry, 2011) The Net, the book-length poem, From Nothing, and Blood Labors (Fall 2018), along with the critical studies and Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, Awake in America: On Irish American Poetry, and On Serious Earth (forthcoming 2019). He is the editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: The Selected Early Poems and Lola Ridge, Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Art, and The Collected Early Poems of Lola Ridge. Among his awards are the “The Discovery/The Nation Award,” The Robert Penn Warren Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, and creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.
Read a sample from this book
Snow falling, dense as some poems, denser,
like yesterday, dove-colored,
snow falling, as though you still were sleeping,
the whole world piled into whiteness.
And beyond the world, endless—
the sleigh print of the desolate.
There, deep down, sheltered under that mountain:
what so harrows the eye—mound
after mound—burgeons upward invisibly.
From each, hammered home into its
own present, a pole, wooden,
an I that sinks away into muteness.
There, shuddered by ice and wind, it moors
itself to the dove-, to the snow-colored
fabric of what it feels, its only flag.
Masada’s swamp soldier
hauling himself home
against the wire’s every thorn.
the eyeless, the shapeless
rousing you to freedom
with their furious digging
until you strengthen
Imagine it: your
has held a scrap
more habitable, that
suffered upward again
this was borne over to me—
a name awake, a hand awake
from the ones who will never be buried.
These countless constellations
bestowed to us, to everyone….
I was, when I beheld you—
how long ago?—out in the open
among the protean Otherworlds.
O these passages, galactic,
O this hour whose tipped scale
gravitates to the burden of our names.
It is, I know it, not true that we lived,
a breath wavering blindly between
being there and not there, now and then
our eyes alighting to one frequency,
a comet humming toward extinguished things
in gorges where they would die away
and time stood, voluptuous,
on which all that is or was or will be
had already burgeoned
upwards and downwards and away.
I know, I know and you know, we knew
did we not, we were there, yes,
and sometimes when Nothing
stood between us we found
our way entirely to one another.
All poems © Copyright Daniel Tobin 2018