Paul Celan: Breathturn

From Breathturn by Paul Celan, 1967


In the rivers north of the future

I cast the net, which you

hesitantly weight

with shadows stones





above the grayblack wastes.

A tree-

high thought

grasps the light-tone: there are

still songs to sing beyond





(I know you, you are the deeply bowed,

I, the transpierced, am subject to you.

Where flames a word, would testify for us both?

You–all real. I–all delusion.)


From section I. of Breathturn (Atemwende) by Paul Celan, 1967.

Please read more from this great poet, one of the greatest German language poets of the 20th century. Celan was born in Bukovina, lived in Bucharest, Vienna, and Paris; he survived the Nazi labor camps, but both parents were killed by Nazis in the deathcamps. His later poetry is characterized by a compressed language, with composite words (the German language allowing for grafting and “telescoping” of words). These poems are the work of a great mind, inventing a new method of poetry based on a deeply personal world philosophy and poetics.



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