Reading: In Memoriam Paul Celan by Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch (b. 1950) is an American poet who can emulate many different voices. He was a poetry columnist for the Washington Post. He lives and Brooklyn and he has lost a son, about which he wrote an acclaimed book of poetry, called ‘Gabriel’. I read an In Memoriam for Celan:

In Memoriam Paul Celan
Lay these words into the dead man’s grave
next to the almonds and black cherries—
tiny skulls and flowering blood-drops, eyes,
and Thou, O bitterness that pillows his head.

Lay these words on the dead man’s eyelids
like eyebrights, like medieval trumpet flowers
that will flourish, this time, in the shade.
Let the beheaded tulips glisten with rain.

Lay these words on his drowned eyelids
like coins or stars, ancillary eyes.
Canopy the swollen sky with sunspots
while thunder addresses the ground.

Syllable by syllable, clawed and handled,
the words have united in grief.
It is the ghostly hour of lamentation,
the void’s turn, mournful and absolute.

Lay these words on the dead man’s lips
like burning tongs, a tongue of flame.
A scouring eagle wheels and shrieks.
Let God pray to us for this man.

I agree with sadà that this is an unusually good In memoriam. The materiality of the words is of course Celanesque. I also see word play. Pillows where you would expect pillages. Thou where I saw dew. Hirsch describes a bright flower spectacle to convey the idea that our culture’s memory of Celan will outlive us all.

There is probably a lot of metaphors here inspired by the Master himself (I am too lazy to track ’em down). Ancillary eyes: now that Celan can’t see anymore, it is up to us. We should make something of thunder that addresses the ground.

The uniting of the words in grief is the poet’s way to say words are failing to say what must be said. Silent and ghostly is the mournful hour. The words have been robbed of their meaning in the event of the absolute.

A burning tongue he wishes Celan, so that also posthumously, he is that grand eagle wheeling and shrieking. Why should (the Jewish) God pray for this man, and not the other way around?

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