Paul Celan

Country: Romania
Language(s): German

Put the words in the dead man’s grave,
the words he spoke in order to live.
Cradle his head among them
let him feel
the tongues of longing,
the tongs.

Put the word on the dead man’s eyelid,
the word he refused to speak
to the one who said “thou” to him,
the word
his heart’s blood rushed past
when a hand bare as his own
knotted the one who said “thou” to him
into the trees of the future.

Put that word on his eyelid:
his eye, still blue,
takes on a second, stranger blue,
a second blue,
and the one who said “thou” to him
dreams with him: we.


You too speak:
you speak last,
say your word.

but never split No off from Yes.
Give your word a meaning:
give it the shade.

Give it enough shade,
give it as much shade
as you know is parceled around you
between midnight and noon and midnight.

Look around:
how everything comes alive–
In the presence of death! Alive!
whoever speaks shade speaks truth.

Now, though, the shade where you stand is shrinking:
Where now, shade-stripped?
Upward. Grope your way up.
You grow thinner, less perceptible, finer.
Finer: a thread
a star would like to slide down on:
to be able to swim down there
where it observes itself glimmering: in the flow
of drifting words.

 Translated by David Young.