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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
lenore Apr 2017
No, mother, I am not
The fairy tale girl with vipers sliding from her throat;
But rather, the vipers coil
In the pit of my stomach where my anger would rot;
So I dip my words in their poison
Lest it eats a hole in my skeleton;
Lest the world should see
The viper's nest inside of me.
McDonald tsiie Oct 2016
Blood is thicker than water, but often it is a noxious substance and ones origin can be a pit of vipers
Skaidrum Jun 2015
Twin  vipers on
the windowsill
chasing  young
******  moons
send a  shadow
       off  to fetch  me      
gnashing  gears
'tween ink  skin
  skewing   snake
  tales  so that the
  venom      won't
   kiss   my   cheek
  g o o d n i g h t .
For the twins,
and Lycan.
And Jack Addison...
"Written in my Willow Language for you."

© Copywrite

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