Gadamer, “Meaning and Concealment of Meaning in Paul Celan”

Meaning and concealment of meaning in the poetry of Paul Celan––with this theme we do not actually legitimize a particular perspective from which to guide the interpretation of Celan’s art, but rather simply articulate what anyone experiences upon becoming acquainted with Celan’s work. One feels the attraction of a precise meaning while also being aware that this meaning is withheld, perhaps even deliberately concealed. What is behind this style of poetry, one typical not only of Celan, but indeed of an entire generation, and how do we deal with it?––these are the questions we must ask ourselves. Addressing the former does not require is to pose theoretical considerations; it requires us to read.

            Perhaps to begin a general observation will suffice. Contemporary poetry seems to strive to permit the gravitational pull of words to operate fully without constraining them by means of logic and syntax. This blocklike speech, in which the individual words that stimulate impressions are situated next to each other does not mean that words cannot be conjoined in the unity of an intention of meaning. But the accomplishment of this is a challenge left to the reader. It is by no means the case that the poet arbitrarily conceals and obscures the unity of meaning. This is precisely how the poet releases the multidimensionality of the associations of meaning which is suppressed by the practical unity of intention in logically controlled, one-dimensional everyday speech. it is a mistake to think that because the semantic associations are not unambiguous one can understand nothing of the poem. Moreover, it is a mistake to think that the unity of speech-intention is missing. This is what makes the poem.

            The poem reads:


We are near, Lord,
near and graspable

Grasped already, Lord,
clutching one another, as if
the body of each of us were
your body, Lord.

Pray, Lord,
pray to us,
we are near.

Wind-awry we went there,
we went there to bend
over hollow and ditch.

To the watering-hole we went, Lord.

It was blood, it was,
what you poured out, Lord.

It glistened.

It cast your image into our eyes, Lord,
Eyes and mouth stand so open and empty, Lord.

We have drunk, Lord
The blood and the image that was in the blood, Lord.

Pray, Lord.
We are near.


Nah sind wir, Herr,
nahe und greifbar.

Gegriffen schon, Herr,
ineinander verkrallt, als wär
der Leib eines jeden von uns
dein Leib, Herr.

Bete, Herr.
bete zu ans,
wir sind nah.

Windschief gingen wir hin,
gingen wir hin, uns zu bücken
nach Mulde und Maar.

Zur Tränke gingen wir, Herr.

Es war Blut, es war,
was du vergossen, Herr.

Es glänzte.

Es warf uns dein Bild in die Augen, Herr,
Augen und Mund stehn so offen und leer, Herr.
Wir haben getrunken, Herr.
Das Blut und das Bild, das im Blut war, Herr.

Bete, Herr.
Wir sind nah.

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