Prodan Romanian Cultural Foundation
16 Red Lion Square London WC1R 4QT England
+44 (0) 20 7831 9905


Paul Celan
(1920-1970) Poet

Real name: Paul Antschel (Paul Celan was his pen name).

The death of his parents and the experience of the Holocaust are defining forces in Celan's poetry and his use of language. In his Bremen Prize speech, Celan said of language after Auschwitz that:

It has been written, inaccurately perhaps, that German is the only language that allows [us?] to penetrate the horror of Auschwitz, to describe death from within.

His most famous poem, the early Todesfuge, commemorating the death camps, is a work of great complexity and extraordinary power, and may have drawn some key motives from the poem Er by Immanuel Weissglas, another Czernovitz poet. The dual character of Margarete-Sulamith, with her golden-ashen hair, appears as a reflection of Celan's Jewish-German culture, while the blue-eyed "Master from Germany" embodies German Nazism and has been associated with Martin Heidegger by some authors. This excruciating and fertile ambiguity is aptly mirrored in both Celan's and Heidegger's intense engagement with Trakl and Hölderlin.

In later years his poetry became progressively more cryptic, fractured and monosyllabic, bearing comparison to the music of Anton Webern. He also increased his use of German neologisms, especially in his later works Fadensonnen ("Threadsuns") and Eingedunkelt ("Benighted"). In the eyes of some, Celan attempted in his poetry either to destroy or remake the German language. For others he kept the lyricism of the German language. A sense for the language and a lyricism which was not shared by many others in his days. As he writes in a letter to his wife Gisèle Celan Lestrange on one of his trips to Germany: 'The German I talk is not the same as the language the German people are talking here'. Writing in German was a way for him to think back and remember his parents, his mother from whom he had learned the language. This is underlined in the poem 'Wolfsbohne'. A poem in which Paul Celan writes to his mother. The urgency and power of Celan's work stem from his attempt to find words "after", to bear (impossible) witness in a language that gives back no words "for that which happened".

In addition to writing poetry (in German and, earlier, in Romanian), he was an extremely active translator and polyglot, translating literature from Romanian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Hebrew and English into German.

Wikipedia contributors, 'Paul Celan', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 December 2008, 21:44 UTC, <>

13th October 2014, The Times (London).