Jean Daive Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan (selection)
translated from the French by Rosmarie Waldrop

alligatorzine | zine

Jean Daive’s Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan tells of the friendship of the author with Paul Celan, their collaboration in translating each other, their walks, their conversations, their tensions, their silences, and, discreetly, of Celan’s crises and final suicide in 1970.

Part memoir, part prose-poem, it is told through often lyrical fragments. It is autumn. Autumn in Paris. Autumn of ideas. Incessant walks under the dome of chestnut leaves rather than “under the dome” of the Académie Française, to which Celan was never elected. Paris, the Luxembourg Garden, the Square of the Contrescarpe. And, finally, the question: who are we, and how do we read the unreadable world?

The book blurs the time of these encounters and walks (1965 -1970) with the present of the author writing, 20 years later, on a mediterranean island. He thinks and writes about Celan, about the women that led him to the poet, about other encounters that take place under the sign of Celan.

Under the Dome is an intimate portrait of Celan in his last difficult and increasingly dark years. It is also the encounter of two poets, each with his demons. The encounter of two poets for whom it is a matter of life and death to work language into a grid, a Sprachgitter, that could hold the world.

Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan is volume 5 of the 7-volume work, La condition d’infini (éditions POL, Paris, 1996).

[Rosmarie Waldrop]

              A Sunday in winter. It is snowing. I have just crossed the Seine and see Paul a ways off, in his big gray coat, crossing diagonally the Place du Palais-Royal. A certain distance, a space full of snow separate us. An encounter abandoned in the snow. I turn around. He is in the middle of the empty crossroads. The place is deserted and I clearly see the tracks of two paths. I turn again. He has disappeared.

              I walk along the garden of the Palais Royal. Branches covered with rime and glitter. An emptiness given shape by columns, pillars, balconies. In my mailbox I find a letter from Paul.
              — I am the meridian, he told me one day.

              Letter of snow. Letter of Absence. Letter of missed encounter. Behind us today’s snow and the white Seine.

              Why? I don’t want to look anymore. I don’t have the tone. The word no longer has the tone. How would you say? How would you understand?
              — The secret is in the leaves. The secret is perhaps within us, he says to me. But we cannot understand all. The world is empty. The sky is empty.

              I remember the small book I found in a bookstore in Hamburg, Der Meridian:
              “Ladies and Gentlemen,
              “Art, you will remember…”

              Fascinated by the book and the text, the vocabulary: the marionette, the tropes… Associating writing and the meridian, the word and the meridian.

              One day, a beautiful woman in a long black dress and a black almost pirate’s hat looks at me and comes up:
              — I’d like to talk to you… Actually, I’d like you to talk to me.
              I open my mouth, and no sound comes out into our space, hers and mine.
              So she anticipates, mischievously:
              — If you talked to me I would not lose my true north…
              — Ah.
              — You know why?
              — No.
              — I’m a geographer.


              One day I go into the Sorbonne to look at the fake frescos and the empty Great Amphitheater. Paul had the experience of being an exhibition in an almost similar hall, which must have been a horror.

              Gisèle tells me the horror. The fit of dementia. The neighbors’ testimony. The police car. The police station. And Paul exhibited in an amphitheater to medical students who take notes.

              Sun. Paul invites me to La Coupole which he loves. Everything’s red. I sit on his right.

              Red benches for two men in gray. Four tables away, Philippe Sollers.

              I‘ve often walked along the Seine at night with Joerg (i). Paul with us in spirit, and his kind of questioning: the reflections on the still water must be the despair of surveyors. Because the Seine flows and the glistening follows our movement. We walk and the glitter moves toward us. Joerg was never short of frenzy.

              In a café, Paul goes through his identity for me in a neutral, toneless voice the acoustic equivalent of a photomat.
              — Jean Daive, I was born in Bukovina, in Czernowitz.

              He weighs his words knowingly. Every moment he evaluates the word. I should add: every moment he evaluates silence.

              I’ve come to understand that a silence — is — the negative of a moment of thought and that it needs to be heard attentively. The moments of his identity thus told have echoes of an epic. Everything falls into place: the father, the mother, Judaism, languages, disappearances, the dismembered family regrouped in the camps, then destroyed, the war, poetry. Tours, Paris. Neutral voice, always. Nothing too much.

              Time looks on. We are trembling. There must be a wound inside the words that communicates. Paul Celan:
              — I have paid. I can say that I have paid.

              He again speaks of the German misconceptions at his expense: “Death Fugue” first among them. He is visibly irritated by what he tells me, and the conclusion is not long in coming.
              — If there is a paradise I will certainly be there.

              He gives me a quick look, but avoids my eyes. His mottled forehead gently comes near my face: he looks at me steadily, with large eyes.
              — I shall translate Décimale blanche (ii).
              — Ah.
              — I feel it will be possible…some day…But things are not always possible.

              Impeccable gray-black suit. White shirt. Tie. Heavy walking shoes. He is sitting on his chair. He looks at me. He turns his tongue in his mouth. A moment of suspense and, above all, illusion. As talking is impossible for us today he makes me understand in silence, in the negative. He lets veils comes between us. I notice a big book open in a low bookcase.
              — Yes, I’m reading Meister Eckhart. Look.

              He shows me pages of the book. His voice, an orphan’s.

              He is going to come out of hospital. He tells me to meet him at the Balzar. I show I am astonished.

              — Yes, at the Balzar.
              — Ah.
              — For the coffeepots that are so impressive…
              — I go mostly for the soup bowls… You’ve seen them?...

              He laughs. We go on to other things.

              By his side, I feel enclosed in a dark knowing without unease, hence without irritation. He is aware of it: no stranger to anything in the world.

              A world as in a dream, nocturnal, unraveling around the paulownias of the Contrescarpe. Crates stained with peach juice, crates full of half rotten tomatoes, black hands eating almost liquid pears and bluish hearts of lettuce. He looks on.
              — What one should respect, what one should not respect. It takes a sense of measure. It takes knowing.

Some leaves turned toward the sky turn blue in the sun, cast shadows. He takes my arm and pushes me away from the rotting vegetable heap.

We walk down Rue Mouffetard.
              — Measure is never obscure and excess is always captive of knowing. You understand?... You write the word énoncé (iii). My poem denounces the world or, more exactly, announces the world to énoncer o – ther – wise. I am the énoncé, right…

He is violent. He turns shy. We’re approaching the Public Baths, and the air of the Street of the “Patriarchs” calms him. His head is down. He walks. I walk.
              — I write the word coeur. The heart, because there is no blood on us, he says.

The clouds scatter in the distant sky and beyond the sky.
              — There are two worlds: the world and the world of the star. And I haven’t yet mentioned the world of the shoelace.

              The water at our feet is gleaming without flashes. Children crying behind the closing gates. The water turning black like the trees. It was a beautiful day at the Luxembourg.


              It’s a time of wounds, of silence and fall. He has left the hospital. He invites me for a drink. Sun. We sit outside.
              — What will you have, Jean Daive? I feel like ordering… that red drink… red… Campari with seltzer. It feels as if the palm trees of Lugano were coming to me… palms and pink drink… And you?
              — Something white, green, yellow… a lemon Perrier.

              We watch the crowd of the Rue de Condé and the Rue de l’Odéon come and go. He drinks, really savoring. The pink liquid is a sensual, beatific dream.
              — Patience under a gray sky. How far?... Jean Daive. How far?...

              The sky is clouding over. He gets up. Shakes my hand.
              — Come see me Saturday. Can you work this Sunday? We’ll spend the afternoon together. I’d like to read ”Und mit dem Buch aus Tarussa” (iv) with you.

He takes my arm and pushes me into the Rue de l’Odéon, toward the Luxembourg.
              — I once received a strange parcel addressed to me in Cyrillic script. As I took it I knew it would play a great role in my life. The parcel came from the USSR. It contained books and an anthology. A road opened for translating Mandelstam and others. Come Saturday and Sunday. We’ll read “Tarussa” together.

              One day Paul says to me:
              — In May 68, you remember, we were all German Jews, and according to Marina Tsvetaeva all poets are Jews, right… Now I’ll translate for you what she meant: all poets are Jews… contaminated…

              The Contrescarpe is our dune, green with large paulownia leaves. We simply walk there. Walk across it. Simply circle it. No, its outskirts mean danger to us, a threat. It’s where fear is and its street names: Rue du Pot-de-Fer, Rue Tournefort. Often we are overcome by weariness. A door closes. I go back down the dune.

              The prayer, for it is a prayer, our murmur that continues, ecstatic, in the street. Our murmur remains internal. A few syllables escape.
              — Bah!
              — Ah.

This goes with the impeccable, incorruptible character of his being. His ironed handkerchief: white square, perfect square, square without fold. Square folded and without fold. You understand?
              — No, there is nothing to understand. There is the task to be and to reshape the word, i. e. a matter of memory. I already told you: the ancient murmur in the child’s ear. The word in memory has something fat about it, greasy…
              — A pat of butter?
              — Watch out for the knifeblade…
              — Yes…

              The fence of the Luxembourg garden seems to observe us, and behind it trees stand one by one, like organ pipes.
              — I’ve thought much about the spoken word and its trace in us that I would call its drift. This drift inside us. A word heard: is that still a word, simply a word…
              — I cannot answer you today, Paul Celan. I have the certainty, but no means to ascertain it, that there is invisible work impinging on our thought which, by its nature, cannot help giving in to it. Giving in is not the right word…
              — Thought cannot, by its nature, help thinking itself there…
              — Hail, fence...

He looks at me and together we look at the fence of the Luxembourg.
              — That’s where you want to see a language?
              — Perhaps…
              — Don’t forget the human being, Jean Daive.
              — Who says I do?
              — I mean the human being, the Other. I already told you: it’s madness. You with your love of mountains, that’s one of them — one that grows along with our words, our climb. I am witness to this, and victim.
              — Victim?
              — Victim. Some day I’ll tell you. But haven’t you seen me in hospital?

The toy sailboats on the bit of water farther off turn also with Paul’s phrases, vehement, dejected, ravaged. His hands are beautiful, gentle. On his forehead too, a terrible gentleness. And we walk on.

              There were never any crossroads on our walks, halts I mean, exactly as if our promenade were part of a long ribbon without beginning or end, without collision and almost without witness.

              On the paving stones his step turns gentle: pure sound, muted sighs. The leaves are still and the air holds back all the doors of the silent Ecole.
              — What do you want to open, Jean Daive?

I look at him. He senses my confusion. We are stammering. I push him toward it in spite of myself. Too late.

              I like walking in the scent of blooming linden after the rain that fills the ear with warm sounds, noises, diffuse sights or, more precisely, fleeting thoughts.
              — Write. Do not doubt, I mean: do not deny poetry.
              — That is not easy.
              — I know.
              — It is not easy to find words again, I mean to relearn words or relearn to speak. It’s a little as if you were coming to after seventeen years in a coma and you heard yourself pronounce a single word: “write,” without any idea what the word means.

Gravely he stops and turns toward me:
              — What has happened?

His voice extremely gentle. And impossible to add to, reply to — and a speed, a pain behind my eyes make me dizzy. We walk on.

              The crowd, with cold eyes, disperses. The leaves, the trees, a lit window, a woman in front of a door take on an almost mythical charge. I ask myself today if the worry about communicating is not of the vegetable order. Man can only talk and move under the sign of the vegetable world, hence of a millenary structured knowing.

              I am juxtaposing two moments. In the brownish garden of the Ecole Normale Supérieure garded by busts he likes to eye:
              — Look at these stone busts, look at eternity: they are here forever…

Watching the goldfish in the pond and the bare branches, Paul develops the Goethean idea that the seed is a modified leaf.

              Back from London, Paul shows me in his office a postcard of Géricault’s horse struck by lightning: the horse is peaceful, and lightning strikes.
              — A poet is one who touches lightning: he knows it can strike two meters off.
              — According to you, energy is a structure and develops according to numbers… And according to you eternity is a grid, the grid of the human.
              — You are lending me a ladder here, Jean Daive…

We smile. We talk under the black lamps of the garden. We do not leave the Ecole.


              One whole summer long I look at a donkey upright against the sky. The meadow is by the sea, and the donkey stands stockstill in the abundant light. In spite of the gritty stuff of things everything seems translucid except for a gray splotch that I sometime identify as a bit of cloth or piece of bread: the donkey looks and I sense his moving off.

              A storm rages. The whole island is nothing but gusts and waves of sand on the ground. The wind strong. The noise deafening. Things rise up, open, come apart. Branches break. Squalls of water shatter windows. Waves detach from the sea, fly over the meadow and hit the roofs of houses. The donkey stands stockstill. His eyes have fallen shut. I look at him.

              I run into Gisèle (v): “How was he? Calm? Dejected?...” I tell her some according to a selective grid. Above all I’m aware of tracing a diagonal across shadows that form chords as in a sonata.

              What I call the Aegean Sea is perhaps a displacement of the Contrescarpe. My island, a place that induces rituals or itineraries: I take cold showers with a watering hose in front of the rambler rose, I pick up nails the carpenter left on the beach, I climb up to the sanctuary, I look in on the cool white hotel lobby twice a day, morning and evening, I walk a path lined with giant cactus and fig trees: to go beyond, but without thinking about the space beyond.

              My rambler climbs with a passion, and I watch it climbing. The three armchairs in the lobby are covered with white sheets, and I look at this phantom garment that I sense, but do not see.

              I am or I resist? There is no answer. Or: ”To inoculate is the foremost simplicity,” Paul Celan says to me in his office in Rue d’Ulm.


              I pass the night with X. Her arms never relax. We whisper. I do not look at her face. A candle is burning, throws light on her bare back. The bread and the plates, the knives and forks budge in the dark, and the shadows on the wall tremble. I tremble in her arms. Dawn light. I leave.

              Chestnuts bounce, roll at our feet: nature drops off autumn. Mild wind.
              — One has to go through life with a rasp, he says.

              The falling chestnuts hit the ground with a dry sound. Detonations. It’s nature massed in the air that turns and rolls like bursts of a meteor.
              — So it is possible that the earth is a limit to the infinite of language…

              After a long silence punctured with noise, he continues:
              — The world is of glass.
              — And disappearance is within us.

              A woman is waiting behind walls. She eats apples and, stretched out like Olympia, reads books of Austrian thought, taking notes. She reads lying down or sometimes sitting, an always hot kettle on the floor beside her pantoufles. She bends down, lets her long hair fall over her face and brushes it back nonchalantly without letting go of her book and her reading. It is snowing. I bring the snow in with me, the growling of the world and a very controlled rage:
              — No sooner do you come in than my tea is cold!

              It is snowing. My footbridge is white, as are the roofs. I breathe the weather.

              I go out into the snow, and the sides of beef that redden the butcher shops in Rue Coquillière remind me of this remark Paul made while staring at the pond of the Ecole Normale:
              — Autobiography is a goldfish…

              I walk through the jumble of vegetables on the snowy ground.

              This afternoon the light is blue and the air silvers the streets. A drum roll sounds in the distance, we rush and, at the angle of Rue Jacob, under the four paulownias of Place Furstenberg, discover gypsies with tambourines, a ladder and a monkey in red pants. Paul remains fascinated all through the spectacle. The tame monkey wears short red pants, green suspenders and round his neck a scarf with little red dots on white. The monkey laughs, talks, thinks, and the drum rolls set the rhythm of his double somersaults.

The crowd applauds. Paul smiles. He reconnects with an ancient joy.
              — The East is coming all the way to us.

He seems really joyous. Delighted by the sound of the tambourine.
              — Don’t you think that drums are somewhat like a maternal heart?

              The giant leaves of the paulownias recall the size of the monkey’s ears.

              His gaze joins the universe, decomposing its memory and perhaps its reflections. His gaze joins a theater, not all of whose storms he can master, nor all its bridges, as if places now detached (one after the other), drifted off (one after the other) without him, without us, and sundered the real roads: hospital, Rue Tournefort, Rue d’Ulm, the clinic, Rue de Longchamp.
              — The passage still happens in language. That’s all I have left. But how much longer? There are no more real bridges, right… The poem has burned them all. I shall accept Gisèle’s proposal. I shall accept moving to Avenue Emile-Zola. I need to pitch my tent.

              Again snow and cold. Again the huge branches of the chestnut trees with us walking underneath. A street vendor sells warm chestnuts, and Paul smiles:
              — The East drawn by the warm chestnuts is here to sell them to us, and it is the unengendered offspring that peels them… I’ll get some, we can eat them while walking.

I remember the feel of our mouths biting in the cold and of our breath.

              Again chestnuts roll all around us and burst open here and there. Drift carries off even the rolling chestnuts, and each one is a god without a bridge. Rolling gods: Yahweh, Christ, Moses, the Self. The bridges are burned.
              — I’ll teach you how to peel a chestnut.

              The gods are already peeled. Appealed to and peeled. Gods roll. They have no trees. They fall. They roll. We roll. Gods.

              We both live in attics. I can imagine bridges from the skylight to the gods.
Twilight and light. The hills (the attic and the gods) communicate. We walk. It’s a dream. I awaken.

              I have not seen him read. Or seldom.

              He walks. He turns. The page. The world. Us. He returns books.

              I have not seen him write. Or seldom. Once, for a long time. Twice. Three times. No, four times. Rather often, I think.

              Our rendez-vous is at the Ecole Normale. It is evening. Nobody. Night falls. The empty hallway echoes, vibrates. In the distance, voices. I wait. An hour. An hour and a half. Two hours. The brownish garden gets dark and is decomposed by large shadows.
The stone eternities do not separate anything. In their niches.

The day after, a letter from Paul. Held up at the clinic, he writes.


              We look at the walls. We read the walls. A May of blossoming trees. A May of goldfish. Paul watches, fascinated, a bill-sticker. We read Artaud on the walls. We read: The One Alone exists. And his voice reads to me what’s written on the walls. He says:
              — Our mirrors of today are walls.

              The stars have set. The pink crowd of dawn. I’m writing on a commode.

              A melody of yellowed leaves accompanies us and interleaves our silences, which he knows to keep, provoke, appease. Anxiety darkens his face, and his silence tries to stave off fright. His two arms end in hands he keeps clenched. He remains mute, my lips painfully dry. But the ear follows the cries of a little girl at grips with an imaginary game.

              Very softly he hums, his mouth closed, while looking at the posters on the fences or hurriedly glued on tree trunks: spots of color, shiny on the skin of the air. We move along the civic growling, his hands behind his back, mine in my pockets. The sun is shining, and flashes of gold sweep over the facades. (vi)

              A woman is sweeping the street. Her heap of leaves and dust grows visibly. Her mouvements almost symptomatic of age-old knowhow: with an incredibly light touch that makes her broom literally fly, she describes the figure eight that she doubles and repeats to the infinite: an infinite eight bound and closely watched like most of our walks.
              — It’s beautiful the way her dress swings around her legs, and the broom moves without fail. She’ll stop only when she runs out of dust…
              — … or leaves…
              — … or leaves… yes… Do you think that for lack of dust she could allow this motion to a madness with a mental object corresponding to our broom, for example?
              — …
              — … I often watch the street sweeper. He has changed, and his broom does not recognize him.
              — It too has changed.
              — The broom has changed, and the sweeper has lost the motion that reproduces in real time the sign of the infinite, which is that of the Open.
              — …
              — I have often watched the drains and the dreams that wash down the drains, silvery, and in this running puddle have often imagined an absolute sweeper, master of the perfect gesture, able to tamp down the dust of the whole world.
              — The dust comes back… the song comes back… What does not come back?
              — A woman won’t come back!
              — And as for the word, you know?...
              — Sometimes, I know, I know it will come back…

He looks at his wedding band and turns it on his finger. Gold — amid children’s cries and flashes of sun.
              — Let’s go eat at La Chope, I’ll invite you.

Paul orders two steaks and two glasses of port that stay with us all through lunch. The two plates arrive, followed by the two glasses of port. Paul looks at me, smiling:
              — I won’t say, to the health of the serpent.

We raise our glasses and drink. The blue air above us is still forming a vault that preserves the Contrescarpe.
              — All things considered, this place is safe, protected. I often spend my days here on the hill without getting off it.
              — Coming to see you I crossed a fence with an empty lot behind it. Clochards were sleeping there. I think they recognized me. They were part of the gang tossing empty wine bottles the other night…you remember…
              — I remember perfectly….
              — …but what fascinated me: in walking toward them I was sinking into the ground, and it was sand…
              — Ah! always the beach under our feet, underneath us…
              — Your hill is sandy…
              — Yes, and sand doesn’t make the best pillow for my nights.

He seemed slightly dejected as he said this. A long silence followed. The noise of the square penetrated into the café. We finished our lunch.

              After her return from the morgue, Gisèle described his corpse to me: “Paul was black. His head was all black.” And I immediately visualized “the Savior’s dark head platted in thorns,” for his presence always had the feel of a person possessed by intense spirituality. This presence of the spiritual determines the poetic emulsion according to the quality of attributes, images, lives, readings, the moment of memory, information, news, the day, in short of all the chance happenings that it generates and sorts out.

              He sorts. Always. He tears up. I’ve surprised him in his office sorting letters and papers with feverish exasperation. He sorts. He tears up letters, papers with extraordinary violence, other sheets, flyers, advertisements with rage, passion, fury, despair, revolt. His waste basket always overflows with torn paper but not crumpled into balls as with others I know.

              A voice is a mask, and talking does not mean saying. Walking back down the hill I often surprise myself having a different voice or, rather, finding myself without any. I enter into another memory of which I know — practically — nothing. Practically may elicit a smile. For what is the practice of another man’s memory whose reflection interiorises most deeply all the images around him. Paul has set up a precaution between us: silence as reverberation of our interiority. He understands my uneasiness, and I his.
              — You know… (very long silence)… Ingeborg Bachmann… (what is he getting at?)… (very long silence)… (his voice deliberate, thick, deliberate above all, and very distant)… (does he want to tell me a fable… the East… or?)…
              — I have read some poems…
              — They are not always very good… (very long silence)… We knew each other… she expected much from me… in life… and I disappointed her very much… but I loved her… then I met Gisèle…
              — Yes…

We’re ambling along the Avenue des Gobelins. He speaks slowly. A real prayer. His voice solemn. I feel his memory in vertigo, but every word is chosen with mature consideration. I feel that the dense silence does not hamper what he wants to tell me.
              — This was long ago… right?…
              — You are thinking of the Group 47 (vii)
              — Yes… which I knew too…
His right hand sweeps the air. It’s time, he seems to signal, to have done with all this, “right”…
              — Yes, Jean Daive… let’s have done with all this… right? Let’s meet next Saturday.

              A pattern of moss and grass. A pattern of tufts between paving stones, an uninterrupted line at our feet, line of writing or line of promise or line of torment that leads us beyond ourselves. Leaves us behind. Precedes us.
              — This line of grass anticipates us, Jean Daive… Take note.

It follows us. Crosses our path.

              I imagine his black skull covered with grass… I see this black head in black-and-white and Gisèle’s tears, in black-and-white. The beyond in the offing and deliverance no doubt in black-and-white. Deliverance.

              Uninterrupted line that crosses and divides us, line of writing that anticipates our end. End of Paul Celan in Paris, in the Seine. End of Ingeborg Bachmann three years later, in Rome, found burned to death in her bed. How?

              “Paul had to die so that we could meet in the word énoncé,” Joerg Ortner said to me one day in the pink streets of Florence. “You realize, Jean, that we first met on the Place des Vosges to talk about the word énoncé that Paul could not translate. It is incredible.”

Perhaps Paul did not want to translate it, and that is the best he could do for the two of us (Paul and me): to leave the last word for the end, and the end here is the énoncé of death… the declaration… without subtitle, Joerg, the terms of death, but not subtitled…

              There is a symptom of Paul’s that I would like to analyze, that of avoidance. But I wonder if the reader has not perceived its structure, perhaps its grid and frequency all along our meetings, our walks. I hear him say to me:
              — The thorn is not what you think, I don’t mean spine, not this hill. (viii)
              — The thorn has no crown…
              — No, no crown of thorns. The man of today wears a hat. Remember that portrait of Kafka with the hat at an angle? There the thorn would rather be in the eye, in the fire of the eye.
              — What are you getting at?
              — The heart bleeds, because of the thorn… the thorn in the side of the man awake without recourse or sleep… The camp is the thorn. Memory is the thorn… also the sun…

He shivers. He trembles. I walk across the barely lit office. The dense night in the garden of the Ecole Normale breaks against the windows. We are sitting down. He stares fixedly at his desk. Fixedly. His hands on his desk. Dejected. He no longer knows I am near him, with him. He raises his head and says:
              — Jean Daive.

We say goodbye. I disappear. Walk back down the hill whose thorny spine he is.

              This hill without a tree, this “peeled” hill he loves. He leaves it only rarely, for necessary expeditions.

              Sometimes air touches his hands. Hands that sometimes, like today, seem peeled. White and “peeled.” Burned. Peeled as after a burn.

              Peals, last peals of a bell above the hill. I am suddenly afraid. Gripped by apprehension. I enter his office. He is somber, menacing. We leave immediately. The Contrescarpe. La Chope. He says:
              — You don’t need cover to approach a bug.
              — It isn’t eaten.
              — Too flat for that… One doesn’t need knife or fork because it is invisible, eternal and invisible…
              — That’s a lot of attributes…
              — It has two and they are unclassifiable… I mean… these two attributes make thinking of it unclassifiable.
              — So it exists and man does not see it.
              — Or else: it does not exist, it is invisible and man declares it…
              — There is a link between the invisible bug and the Contrescarpe.
              — That would make it the counterscarped bug… if you like.

Peals, last peals of a bell above the hill. Faint.

              Rain, drumming on the leaf-covered glass. The wind whips up the rain, very close to the open window. It is morning, as today it is morning for yesterday… right... Time breaks through. Time hangs over us and its duration opens onto moments of past words. Today’s rain falls on yesterday. Steps come back. I am very hungry. Very thirsty. Very afraid. Along a passage that allows me to see stars shining at night and roofs gleaming brightly during the day. Along a passage whose space becomes that of the wanderer on earth. Rain falls outside the warm room.
              — I have hidden the blood. My poem hides the blood. What do you think? I have paid… I have paid, he says.

              The rain stings the air, hits the silvery window panes. Today for yesterday. Today for words said earlier that perhaps did not yet have their structure thought out…

              Peals, last peals of a bell above the hill, above the funeral procession rolling over the sand. Sandy Paul with a black head, and there already, visible above the crowd, the black hat of his friend.

              — I have hidden the madness… My poetry masks the madness.


(i) Joerg Ortner: Austrian painter and friend of Celan’s.

(ii) Décimale blanche is Jean Daive’s first book of poetry, Mercure de France, 1967.

(iii) énoncé: usually rendered as statement. Jean Daive defines: “An énoncé is a group of words or formulas that constitute a unity. I say: the énoncé of a law or the énoncé of a theorem or the énoncé of a proposition. The énoncé is a world apart. It has its strangeness, but always its logic because it starts from one point and arrives at another point by foreseeable steps.”

(iv) poem by Paul Celan, in Die Niemandsrose [Nobody’s Rose], 1963.

(v) Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, Paul Celan’s wife, at this point separated from her husband.

(vi) This is in spring 1968. The area around the Luxembourg was one of the centers for posters, slogans, graffiti.

(vii) Group 47: “Gruppe 47,” a German literary group founded in 1947 (by Hans Richter et al.) to encourage young authors in post-war Germany. The meetings consisted of young authors reading from manuscripts, followed by criticism from established literary critics. Prizes were awarded at each meeting. The year Celan was invited, 1953, Ingeborg Bachmann received the prize. The group was disbanded in 1977.

(viii) “L’épine n’est pas ce que vous croyez, elle n’est pas cette colline”. A play on the word épine, thorn, thornbush and “épine dorsale,” spine, backbone, also used for the crest of a hill.

Jean Daive, born in 1941, is one of the most noted French writers. His work comprises poems, novels, and photography as well as translations of Paul Celan and Robert Creeley. He has edited encyclopedias, worked as radio journalist and producer with France Culture, and has edited three magazines: fragment (1970-73), fig. (1989-91), and FIN (1999-2006). His first book, Décimale blanche (Mercure de France, 1967) was translated into German by Paul Celan, into English by Cid Corman.

Other important titles are Fut bâti, Gallimard (1973), Narration d'équilibre, Hachette-POL (1982-90: 9 volumes) and the prose series, La Condition d'infini, POL (1995-97: 7 volumes, of which Under the Dome is volume 5).

In English:
White Decimal (tr. Cid Corman), Origin, 1969
A Lesson in Music (tr. Julie Kalendek), Providence: Burning Deck, 1992
The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry (1982) and magazines like Modern Poetry in Translation, Avec, New Directions 44, Série d’Ecriture 3.

English translation © Rosmarie Waldrop
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