“Black Flakes / Schwarze Flocken:” Celan & Ukraine

This poem, probably written in or after July 1944, most likely in Czernowitz, today Chernivtsi, after returning from the forced labor-camp he had been interned in. The ms. has his note: “In memory of the snow at railway station Pascani, workcamp Radazani,” referring to the village of Pascani in Moldavia. It was probably then that he learned of the death of his parents, Leo & Fritzi Antschel who had been deported into camps situated in Transnistria, on Ukrainian soil (in early 1944 he still thought that they had survived.) Celan included it in his first book of poems, Der Sand aus den Urnen / The Sand from the Urns, which he had destroyed because of the many typos. He didn’t include the poem in his next book, Mohn und Gedächtnis / Poppy and Memory, & I thus didn’t translate it for my Paul Celan: Memory Rose into Threshold Speech —  Collected Earlier Poetry (FSG, 2020). But did so now, as Ukraine & death are much on our minds.

 

BLACK FLAKES

Snow fell, lightless. One moon
it has been or two, that autumn in monkish habit
brought news to me too, a leaf from Ukrainian scarps:

“Think, that here too it winters, for the thousand’s time now
in the country where the widest river flows:
Jaacob’s heavenly blood, blessed by axes…
O ice of unearthly redness — there wades your Hetman with full
retinue in the darkening suns… Child, oh a cloth,
to wrap myself in, when it shines helmets,
when the clod, the pinkish one, breaks open, when snowy your father’s
bones scatter, under the hoofs crush
the Song of the Cedar…
A scarf, a narrow scarflet, that I safeguard
now, as weeping you learn, on my side
the narrowness of the world, that never greens, my child, your child!”

Mother, autumn, it bled away for me, the snow, it burned me:
search for my heart I did, that it may weep, the breath I did find, oh that of summer,
like you it was.
Came my tear. Wove I the scarflet.

 

SCHWARZE FLOCKEN

Schnee ist gefallen, lichtlos. Ein Mond
ist es schon oder zwei, daß der Herbst unter mönchischer Kutte
Botschaft brachte auch mir, ein Blatt aus ukrainischen Halden:

“Denk, daß es wintert auch hier, zum tausendstenmal nun
im Land, wo der breiteste Strom fließt:
Jaakobs himmlisches Blut, benedeiet von Äxten . . .
O Eis von unirdischer Röte – es watet ihr Hetman mit allem
Troß in die finsternden Sonnen . . . Kind, ach ein Tuch,
mich zu hüllen darein, wenn es blinket von Helmen,
wenn die Scholle, die rosige, birst, wenn schneeig stäubt das Gebein
deines Vaters, unter den Hufen zerknirscht
das Lied von der Zeder . . .
Ein Tuch, ein Tüchlein nur schmal, daß ich wahre
nun, da zu weinen du lernst, mir zur Seite
die Enge der Welt, die nie grünt, mein Kind, deinem Kinde!”

Blutete, Mutter, der Herbst mir hinweg, brannte der Schnee mich:
sucht ich mein Herz, daß es weine, fand ich den Hauch, ach des Sommers,
war er wie du.
Kam mir die Träne. Webt ich das Tüchlein.

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