Submit your work, meet writers and drop the ads. Become a member
Mar 2020
Todesfugue ("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...”

Paul Celan (1920-1970) was a Romanian Jew who wrote poems in German. He survived the Holocaust, despite the loss of his mother and father, to become one of the major German-language poets of the post–World War II era. His parents' deaths and the horrors of the Holocaust have been called the "defining forces" in Celan's poetry.

Keywords/Tags: Paul Celan, Holocaust poems, Holocaust poetry, Shoah, German, translation, black, milk, drink, vipers, serpents, hounds, grave, graves, golden, hair, Margarete, Shulamith, sing, dance, Death, master, Germany, Nazis, racism, antisemitism, injustice, brutality, genocide, ethnic cleansing, World War II, world conflicts
Written by
Michael R Burch  62/M/Nashville, Tennessee
(62/M/Nashville, Tennessee)   
619
 
Please log in to view and add comments on poems