This poem is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.Benighted / Eingedunkelt (translated by Ian Fairley)
Eingedunkelt is a sequence of eleven poems which Paul Celan published in the Suhrkamp anthology Aus aufgegebenen Werken in 1968. This collection of 'abandoned works' by various Suhrkamp authors placed Celan in the company of, among others, Samuel Beckett, Uwe Johnson, Nelly Sachs and Peter Weiss. According to the volume's editor, Siegfried Unseld, Celan's contribution was composed in the first months of 1966, the author having destroyed most of the poems contemporary with its composition.
It is now known that the report of Celan's destruction of these related poems was in error. Eingedunkelt has since been issued as a separate volume containing drafts of the eleven poems in the title sequence together with twenty-four previously unpublished poems dating from the period March to May 1966, all but two of which were annotated 'definitive version' by Celan (Suhrkamp, 1991). The new editors of Eingedunkelt, Bertrand Badiou and Jean-Claude Rambach, remark that all thirty-five poems belong to a coherent group of papers designated by Celan for 'the poem after Fadensonnen' ('für das Nach-Fadensonnen-Poem'). Among these papers, a title page headed Eingedunkelt is dated July 1967. However, another title page and table of contents together suggest that all of the assembled poems were at one point or more conceived as part of a larger sequence to be called either Narbenwahr [Scartrue], Notgesang [Needsong], or Wahngang [Path of Madness]. In the event, the first sequence which Celan issued after Fadensonnen was Eingedunkelt.
The textual history of Eingedunkelt confirms a serialism directed against the singularity of lyric self-expression. For Celan, poetry speaks 'on behalf of the other, who knows, perhaps of an altogether other' ('The Meridian'). The reader is one such 'other' in Eingedunkelt. This is a work abandoned to its readers, and before it we too are benighted. The poems which begin and end Eingedunkelt speak in, of and to the first person plural. Both affirm a solidarity in adversity of the non-identical first and second persons singular announced elsewhere in the sequence. Eingedunkelt asks to be read as literally as possible; it describes an actual darkness. A moral condition is here realised as material, recalling the Animadversions of Milton: 'let us feare lest the Sunne for ever hide himselfe, and turne his orient steps from our ingratefull Horizon justly condemn'd to be eternally benighted'. Celan's sequence shares with this passage its apprehension of an eschatology in eclipse. In poem eight, what is benighted is the 'power of the keys' - the ecclesiastical authority conferred by Christ upon Peter and claimed by his successor Bishops of Rome: 'And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven' (Matthew 16, 19).
There appears to reign in these poems a temporal theology of negation which the poetry resists but, in turn, cannot be held to negate. The dialogical intention of Eingedunkelt is not commensurate with any ready-made dialectic; this is, after all, a fragmentary sequence of a fragmentary sequence. Yet by that very token Celan's mutation of the lyric moment refuses the lament of a lone subject. The 'grief' ('Gram') announced in poem eleven is 'insurgent' and collective, qualities which mark a remove from Celan's immediate precursor in the lyric, Rilke. The 'travellers' or 'Fahrenden' of Eingedunkelt make reference to those in the fifth of Rilke's Duino Elegies: 'But who are they, tell me, these travellers, a shade / more fugitive even than ourselves?' These are the acrobats pictured in Picasso's Les Saltimbanques. Rilke's poem describes a forlorn group wrung by a 'never-contented will' and serving an art whose - now practised ease empties it of significance. His poem protests the 'wearisome Nowhere' of their act, and proceeds to imagine a 'place we do not know' where - on the far side of life, before the 'innumerable soundless dead' - authenticity is recovered in the achieved reciprocity of love. Having forgotten the kind of practical knowledge ('Können') which is realised only in striving for it - the knowledge, for example, of how to love - such travellers have possibly ceased to travel. Rilke's admiration for their enduring human presence is mixed with the sense that they are little more than a 'plaything' given to appease some greater 'sorrow' ('Leid'). The concluding poem of Eingedunkelt remains intent on this side of life, but has no place for the resignation or pathos which inflects Rilke's ambivalent identification with the acrobats. The figures of the Fifth Elegy perform on a mat which bears the initial letter of 'Dastehn' - signifying that here is where they stand or remain. Celan translates this term into the aufstehen or rising up which informs 'aufständische / Gram'. His poem responds to Rilke's question by travelling beyond its initial gesture of incomprehension. Celan declares an alliance between us travellers and a grief which, 'not to be usurped', returns us to our identity as travellers.
Fathomsuns and Benighted, translated by Ian Fairley, is published by Carcanet.
den Vernebelungen zuwider,
glü;ht sich der hängende Leuchter
nach unten, zu uns
sucht jetzt sein Eisen, hört,
woher, aus Menschenhautnähe,
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