Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Two Poems -- worth our reading

Without much ado
(and yet, below, just a bit of commentary from Anne Carson on Paul Celan's poem
and only a link to commentary from Rachel Barenblat herself on her own poem),
Two Poems -- worth our reading, rereading, remembering:


Keine Sandkunst mehr / No More SandArt   by Paul Celan

Keine Sandkunst mehr, kein Sandbuch, Keine Meister.
Nichts erwurfelt. Wieviel Stumme? Siebenzehn.
Deine Frage, deine Antwort. Dein gesang, was weiss er? 

No more sand art, no sand book, no masters.
Nothing on the dice. How many mutes? Seventeen.
Your question, your answer. Your song, what does it know?

(Carson on Celan's poem:
But suspended within the act of whitening is a terribly quiet pun. For one cannot help but think, watching "Deepinsnow" melt away, that if this poem were translated into Hebrew, a language in which vowels are not usually printed, it would vanish even before its appointed end. As did many a Hebrew.

In preparing his pun, Celan depends upon a very ancient Hebrew exemplar. It is in the book of Genesis (22:17) that God makes Abraham a promise: "That in blessing I will bless thee and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore. And thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." In his lifetime Celan saw the seed of Abraham lose possession of the gate of his enemies and exchange the innumerability of sand for a specific number that is usually put at six million. By the odd mathematics of that time the number six million came to be equal to zero. Celan sets up a parallel mathematics of reduction, but he has replaced sand with snow and zero with a letter of the alphabet. Here is a short answer to his own epistemological question: what a poet knows is how to imitate the human zero with a poetic 'O!' Poetry is an act of memory that carves its way between sand art and snow art, transforming what is innumerable and headed for oblivion into timeless notation. Excising all that is not grace. But I wonder if Celan is not negating this poetic act even as he executes it, when he turns the last verses of his poem into an inside-out Hebrew lesson: here--unusually--it is the consonants that have to be supplied from memory. Here it is the full that thinks the void. How else to refer to the losses implied in these consonants. Or to the grace that poetry claims as its rate of exchange?
from Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan, pages 116-17)


SILENCE (VAYERA) by Rachel Barenblat

Abraham failed the test.
For Sodom and Gomorrah he argued
but when it came to his son
no protest crossed his lips.

God was mute with horror.
Abraham, smasher of idols
and digger of wells
was meant to talk back.

Sarah would have been wiser
but Abraham avoided her tent,
didn't lay his head in her lap
to unburden his secret heart.

In stricken silence God watched
as Abraham saddled his ass
and took Isaac on their final hike
to the place God would show him.

The angel had to call him twice.
Abraham's eyes were red, his voice hoarse
he wept like a man pardoned
but God never spoke to him again.

(Barenblat on Barenblat's poem:
This week's portion: silence
at her blog Velveteen Rabbit)


rbarenblat said...

I'm deeply honored to be placed in Celan's company! Thank you so much.

J. K. Gayle said...

Your poem is fantastic. I keep reading it again and again. What interpretation, what effect, yes like Celan.

scott gray said...

wow!! the barenblat is jaw droppingly stunningly superb.