I, Lonesome, Writing: Poems by Paul Celan

by Paul Celan
translated by Margret Guillemin
June 7, 2016

Dichten, the German word for writing poetry, literally means “to make dense,” and Celan’s poems are rich with neologisms and compounded words. As Celan himself suggested, the only way to decipher his poetry is to read it over and over again, allowing for multiple layers of meaning. Through all of Celan’s poetry runs the theme of you and I:

The world is gone, I have to carry you…

As the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer so succinctly asked, “Who am I and who is you?” Is this the poet’s form of self-address? Is he speaking directly to the reader? Or is he ultimately addressing his ideas and his poetry? It is up to the reader to read, to re-read, and to speculate.

Click anywhere below to view the original German poems.

There was
               The days
a glow
               each other

There was a glow
                               The days
forget each other
                           between us

There was
The days forget each other
The glow betweenus.

Incessantly under bombardment of omens.

Look through me,
here I am yet once more,
closer, I never
was other
than myself.


With you, you eternal
neversongs, deep
below where
the word beloved
ahead to the
word fields


I lie with
my soul-
algae full of names
around me – : I

a fanned out beach grass greeting,
I will never be there
when you do the cartwheel of joy under the sky,
the heavenward wheel,
I reach into its spokes
from an unthinkable distance,
I, lonesome, writing.