Paul Celan's Poem Todesfuge or Term Paper

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It is interesting thus that many of the symbols that usually have a positive meaning in the literary tradition, such as the starts which are shining brightly in the sky or Margaret's golden hair which makes her resemble an angelic figure, have negative connotations in the poem through the reversals that Celan proposes. Also, the blue eyes of the German master and the fact that he writes love letters to Germany might beguile the reader for a moment and make him or her believe that these are the symbols of purity and innocence in the text. Both the commander and Margaret symbolize the Arian race which was considered by Hitler as absolutely faultless. The fact that Margaret is corrupted and destroyed by evil in Faust is a hint at the way in which the Nazi regime turned the qualities of the Arian race into an instrument of evil. Sulamith, by contrast, represents the Jews and the power of true, uncorrupted love, as it is described in Solomon's Song of Songs. Her ashen hair, opposed to Margaret's golden one, alludes in the first place at the contrast between the two races. Sulamith is in the Biblical text, the black lover of King Solomon: Ich bin schwarz, aber gar lieblich, ihr Tchter Jerusalems, wie die Hutten Kedars, wie die Teppiche Salomos."(Hohelied, 1:5)

Solomon, by contrast, is portrayed as white, with the same attributes that Margret and the German officer have in Celan's poem: Mein Freund ist weiss und rot, auserkoren unter vielen Tausenden. / Sein Haupt ist das feinste Gold. Seine Locken sind kraus, schwarz wie ein Rabe. / Seine Augen sind wie Augen der Tauben an den Wasserb chen, mit Milch gewaschen und stehen in Fulle. / Seine Backen sind wie Wurzg rtlein, da Balsamkr uter wachsen. Seine Lippen sind wie Rosen, die von fliessender Myrrhe triefen. / Seine H. nde sind wie goldene Ringe, voll Turkise. Sein Leib ist wie reines Elfenbein, mit Saphiren geschmuckt. / Seine Beine sind wie Marmels ulen, gegrundet auf goldenen Fussen. Seine Gestalt ist wie Libanon, auserw hlt wie Zedern."(Hohelied, 6:10-15) Thus, the love song that talks about Sulamith and Solomon, the black woman and the white king, symbolizes also the union and love that should exist between the races. The black and white imagery recurs in Jeremiah's Lamentations, where Jerusalem, as the symbol for the Jewish nation is seen as white and very bright and is lamented as having been blackened and turned into ashes by Jehovah: Ihre Fursten waren reiner denn der Schnee und klarer denn Milch; ihre Gestalt war rtlicher denn Korallen; ihr Ansehen war wie Saphir. / Nun aber ist ihre Gestalt so dunkel vor Schw rze, dass man sie auf den Gassen nicht kennt; ihre Haut h ngt an den Gebeinen, und sind so durr wie ein Scheit."(Klagerlieder, 4:7-8) the next sequence of the text, again works its effect by using opposition and intertextuality. The German master orders some of the Jews to dig the tombs, while others are required to dance and play music: er befiehlt uns spielt auf nun zum Tanz[...]Er ruft stecht tiefer ins Erdreich ihr einen ihr andern singet und spielt / er greift nach dem Eisen im Gurt er schwingts seine Augen sind blau / stecht tiefer die Spaten ihr einen ihr andern spielt weiter zum Tanz auf / Schwarze Milch der Fruhe wir trinken dich nachts / wir trinken dich mittags und morgens wir trinken dich abends / wir trinken und trinken..."(Celan) This sequence recalls Heine's poem Das Skalvenschiff to mind. In this poem, a slave owner transports his black slaves in a ship, but worries over the death rate among them. His doctor advises him to organize some dancing for the slaves, and to force them to dance so as to ensure they are happy: Musik! Musik! Die Schwarzen soll'n / Hier auf dem Verdecke tanzen. / Und wer sich beim / Hopsen nicht amusiert, / Den soll die Peitsche kuranzen."(Heine) the image is of course very ironical, as the slaves are made to dance forcefully, just as in Celan's poem. Der Buttel ist Ma "tre des plaisirs, / Und hat mit Peitschenhieben / Die l ssigen T. nzer stimuliert, / Zum Frohsinn angetrieben."(Heine) Again, the shining stars in Heine's text recall those in Celan's poem: Hoch aus dem blauen Himmelszelt / Viel tausend Sterne schauen, / Sehnsuchtig gl nzend, grossund klug, / Wie Augen von schnen Frauen."(Heine) the slaves are made to dance, are forced to feign happiness so as to better serve their master. In the end of the poem, the slave trader ironically says a prayer to God, in which he prays for the blacks' lives with a totally selfish purpose. The sequence also recalls Psalm 137 in the Bible, where Jerusalem is asked to sing and make merry in a foreign land: An den Wassern zu Babel sassen wir und weinten, wenn wir an Zion gedachten. / Unsere Harfen hingen wir an die Weiden, die daselbst sind. / Denn dort hiessen uns singen, die uns gefangen hielten, und in unserm Heulen frhlich sein: "Singet uns ein Lied von Zion!" / Wie sollten wir des HERRN Lied singen in fremden Landen? (Psalm 137, 1-4)

Thus, Celan underlines in his poem, through the series of striking and ironic oppositions and through many intertextual allusions, the fact that the Jews, who are described in the Bible as the people of God have been submitted to a terrible and unjust discrimination during the Nazi regime. The poem takes up the main images already discussed rearranging them in different patterns and thus redoubling the effects of the contrasts and oppositions. The end of the text repeats the main symbols, emphasizing the fact that the Germans have unjustly appropriated the role of God when they started persecuting them: der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland / dein goldenes Haar Margarete / dein aschenes Haar Sulamith." Death is imparted by Germans, instead of God, the German officer plays the role of death itself in the faith of the Jews. Thus, the gist of Celan's Todesfuge is the aesthetic representation of the Holocaust experience. Through symbols, intertextuality and metaphorical oppositions Celan translates the terrible experience of the Jews during the Nazi regime.

Works Cited

Celan, Paul. Todesfuge. http://www.celan-projekt.de/

Goethe, Wolfgang. Faust. Ditzingen: Reclam, 2001

Heine, Heinrich. Das Skalvenschiff. http://www.martinschlu.de/literatur/gedichte/heinesklavenschiff.htm

Die Luther Bibel.

A www.biblegateway.com

Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays…[continue]

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