Paul Celan: “An hour, lapped up by wolves”
An excerpt from Microliths They are, Little Stones (the Collected Posthumous Prose) by Paul Celan,
translated by Pierre Joris
[This is one of Celan’s rare forays into prose/fiction & dates most likely from the early fifties.]
121 An hour, lapped up by wolves — in these parts one knows all too well what that means. Grey, wolf-grey it creeps up, unnoticed it sneaks up on you, crouches behind a last, halting moment of daylight, and then — before you notice, it jumps you, grabs ahold of you. You try to resist, you tear and shake the claws that have grabbed you — in vain, it doesn’t let go. Or rather: it only lets you go when it wants to, not earlier. When? You cannot foresee the moment, no experience can give you a hint. Before long you give up resistance. That’s when it starts its real work, slowly, thoughtfully, with relish: its wolfishness recedes, and it, the hour, the time-splinter drills into you, deeper and always deeper — how far in?
In these parts this is well known. Some even claim to know that one has resigned oneself to this, that one knows how to experience this hour as if it were a change in the weather. One doesn’t think too much about it, one simply lives through the day, undisturbed, a little blind, a little deaf, a little mute. A quiet “Ah yes, of course, here it comes again,” is all one comes up with when it hits — barely more. I have often been astonished by how inconspicuous the trace it leaves in people’s memory is.
At any rate, I have so far not succeeded in making this trace clearer. It turns out that questions are pointless: people act as if they didn’t understand you, or turn the conversation to another subject. No facial expression betrays them: your question seems to belong to those that one does not let the other repeat because they are irrelevant.
This did not satisfy me, however, and I did not let go. Maybe, I told myself, this is because they do not yet see you as one of theirs. How long have you lived here already? Six years — a span barely worth mentioning in a country like this. A few moments, I decided. What weather! The friendliest one could imagine, true friends’ weather. I grabbed my cane on the table and started on my quest.
On the street below I ran into Karin.
That is: I didn’t really run into her, in fact I hadn’t noticed her at all and had walked past her. Suddenly I felt that something was pulling me backwards — my walking stick, which no longer obeyed me. I turned around and recognized Karin: she had grabbed the lower end of the cane and didn’t let go anymore; with bent back she now stood behind me, her little fists clenched around the end of the cane, not looking up.
A good sign, I thought; the first jest I was allowed to take part in.
I felt myself smiling. Slowly I began to rotate the cane — Karin’s small firsts accompanied this movement. How wonderful! I now grabbed the cane with my left hand too, roughly in the middle, and slowly twisted it upward with my right hand — in this too Karin obeyed. While pursuing this movement I turned toward her completely.
Her gaze was still lowered. Soon I would meet it — my smile was growing larger and larger.