Year: 
2021

These are my modern English translations of Holocaust poems by Paul Celan, a Jewish poet who wrote the original poems in German. 

Todesfuge ("Death Fugue")
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come midday, come morning, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
We’re digging a grave like a hole in the sky;
there’s sufficient room to lie there.
The man of the house plays with vipers; he writes
in the Teutonic darkness, “Your golden hair Margarete ...”
He composes by starlight, whistles hounds to stand by,
whistles Jews to dig graves, where together they’ll lie.
He commands us to strike up bright tunes for the dance!

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come dawn, come midday, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house plays with serpents; he writes ...
he writes as the night falls, “Your golden hair Margarete ...
Your ashen hair Shulamith ...”
We are digging dark graves where there’s more room, on high.
His screams, “Hey you, dig there!” and “Hey you, sing and dance!”
He grabs his black nightstick, his eyes pallid blue,
screaming, “Hey you, dig deeper! You others—sing, dance!”

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come midday, come morning, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house writes, “Your golden hair Margarete ...
Your ashen hair Shulamith ...” as he cultivates snakes.
He screams, “Play Death more sweetly! Death’s the master of Germany!”
He cries, “Scrape those dark strings, soon like black smoke you’ll rise
to your graves in the skies; there’s sufficient room for Jews there!”

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come midnight;
we drink you come midday; Death’s the master of Germany!
We drink you come dusk; we drink you and drink you ...
He’s a master of Death, his pale eyes deathly blue.
He fires leaden slugs, his aim level and true.
He writes as the night falls, “Your golden hair Margarete ...”
He unleashes his hounds, grants us graves in the skies.
He plays with his serpents; Death’s the master of Germany ...

“Your golden hair Margarete ...
your ashen hair Shulamith.”

Published by Bewildering Stories, Rose Marie’s Litteratur (Germany), Supporting Evidence, War Poems Student Book and Poetry Garden (China)

***

O, little root of a dream, or, Little rootdreamings
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O, little root of a dream,
you enmire me here;
I’m undermined by blood—
made invisible,
death’s possession.

Touch the curve of my face,
that there may yet be an earthly language of ardor,
that someone else’s eyes
may somehow still see me,
though I’m blind,

here where you
deny me voice.

Published by Bewildering Stories, The HyperTexts, Angel Shoes and cnpoems (China)

***

You Were My Death
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You were my death;
I could hold you
when everything abandoned me—
even breath.

Published by: The Horn of Plenty, Bells Chime, Sans Titre (France) and Poetry Garden (China)

Keywords/Tags: Paul Celan, Holocaust poems, German, translation, Germany, root, dream, death, breath, Nazis, black, milk, drink, vipers, serpents, hounds, graves, golden, hair, Margarete, Shulamith, sing, dance, master

Author of original: 
Paul Celan
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