Kristallnacht

Tonight is the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of the first major Nazi pogrom also known as Reichspogromnacht. On that night 72 Jews were killed and some 25 to 30.000 were arrested and deported to concentration camps. Here is a poem written in 1962 and gathered in the volume Die Niemandsrose. In it Paul Celan remembers the chance occurrence of him traveling through Berlin by train on that very night as a young student going from his home town, Czernowitz, then in Romania, to Tours in France, to study medicine. As usual Celan’s references to those “events” is minimal and deeply embedded in a poem written in Switzerland and whose title refers to a Paris square, a favorite place for Celan — who also counts up the years of his exile in France as well as the years (9) between his first passage through Paris in November 1938 and his settling in that country. My translation (note that the penultimate stanza that begins “Via Krakow” should be indented):

La Contrescarpe

Break out the breathcoin
from the air around you and the tree:
so
much
is required from him
whom hope carts up and down
the hearthumpway—so
much

at the turning,
where he meets the breadarrow
that drunk the wine of his night, the wine
of the misery-, the kings-
vigil.

Didn’t the hands come along, the awake
ones, didn’t happiness, deeply
embedded in her chalice-eye, come?
Didn’t the human-toned, lidded
Marchpipe come along, that gave light,
back then, widely?

Did the carrier pigeon sheer off, was its ring
to be deciphered? (All those
clouds around it — they were readable.) Did the
flock suffer it? And understand
and take off while it stayed away?

Roof shingle slipway, — on pigeon-
keel what swims is laid. Through the bulkheads
the message bleeds, time-barred things
go overboard:

Via Krakow
you came, at the Anhalter
railway station
a smoke flowed towards your glance,
it already belonged to tomorrow. Under
pawlownias
you saw the knifes stand, again,
made sharp by distance. There was
dancing. (Quatorze
juillets. Et plus de neufs autres.)
Overdwarf, monkeyverse, slantmouth
mimed lived experience. The lord,
wrapped in a banner, joined
the swarm. He snapped
himself
a little souvenir. The self-
timer, that was
you.

O this dis-
friending. Yet again,
there, where you have to go, the one
exact
crystal.

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