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
Two Blind Men
Two blind men met. Said one: "This earth
Has been a blackout from my birth.
Through darkness I have groped my way,
Forlorn, unknowing night from day.
But you - though War destroyed your sight,
Still have your memories of Light,
And to allay your present pain
Can live your golden youth again."
Then said the second: "Aye, it's true,
It must seem magical to you
To know the shape of things that are,
A women's lips, a rose, a star.
But therein lies the hell of it;
Better my eyes had never lit
Transit of the Gods
Strange that the self’s continuum should outlast
The Virgin, Aphrodite, and the Mourning Mother,
All loves and griefs, successive deities
That hold their kingdom in the human breast.
Abandoned by the gods, woman with an ageing body
That half remembers the Annunciation
The passion and the travail and the grief
That wore the mask of my humanity,
I marvel at the soul’s indifference.
For in her theatre the play is done,
The tears are shed; the actors, the immortals
Trilogy Of Passion 02 Elegy
When man had ceased to utter his lament,
A god then let me tell my tale of sorrow.
What hope of once more meeting is there now
In the still-closed blossoms of this day?
Both heaven and hell thrown open seest thou;
What wav'ring thoughts within the bosom play
No longer doubt! Descending from the sky,
She lifts thee in her arms to realms on high.
And thus thou into Paradise wert brought,
As worthy of a pure and endless life;
Nothing was left, no wish, no hope, no thought,
To the Years
To-night I close my eyes and see
A strange procession passing me--
The years before I saw your face
Go by me with a wistful grace;
They pass, the sensitive shy years,
As one who strives to dance, half blind with tears.
The years went by and never knew
That each one brought me nearer you;
Their path was narrow and apart
And yet it led me to your heart--
Oh sensitive shy years, oh lonely years,
That strove to sing with voices drowned in tears.
'THOUGH logic-choppers rule the town,
And every man and maid and boy
Has marked a distant object down,
An aimless joy is a pure joy,'
Or so did Tom O'Roughley say
That saw the surges running by.
'And wisdom is a butterfly
And not a gloomy bird of prey.
'If little planned is little sinned
But little need the grave distress.
What's dying but a second wind?
How but in zig-zag wantonness
Could trumpeter Michael be so brave?'
Or something of that sort he said,
'And if my dearest friend were dead
Nothing has changed.
The body is susceptible to pain,
it must eat and breathe air and sleep,
it has thin skin and blood right underneath,
an adequate stock of teeth and nails,
its bones are breakable, its joints are stretchable.
In tortures all this is taken into account.
Nothing has changed.
The body shudders as it shuddered
before the founding of Rome and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are as they were, it's just the earth that's grown smaller,
If you should look for this place after a handful
Perhaps of my planted forest a few
May stand yet, dark-leaved Australians or the coast
With storm-drift; but fire and the axe are devils.
Look for foundations of sea-worn granite, my fingers
had the art
To make stone love stone, you will find some remnant.
But if you should look in your idleness after ten
It is the granite knoll on the granite
To the Unknown Warrior
You whom the kings saluted; who refused not
The one great pleasure of ignoble days,
Fame without name and glory without gossip,
Whom no biographer befouls with praise.
Who said of you "Defeated"? In the darkness
The dug-out where the limelight never comes,
Nor the big drum of Barnum's show can shatter
That vibrant stillness after all the drums.
Though the time comes when every Yankee circus
Can use our soldiers for its sandwich-men,
When those that pay the piper call the tune,
Zummer An' Winter
When I led by zummer streams
The pride o' Lea, as naighbours thought her,
While the zun, wi' evenen beams,
Did cast our sheades athirt the water;
Tokens ov my jay zoo fleeten,
Heightened it, that happy meeten.
Then, when maid an' man took pleaces,
Gay in winter's Chris'mas dances,
Showen in their merry feaces
Kindly smiles an' glisnen glances;
Brought anew the happy meeten,