“The figs of remembrance”
Feigengenährt sei das Hertz,
darin sich die Stunde besinnt
auf das Mandelauge des Toten.
Schroff, im Anhauch des Meers,
Und um dein Weisshaar vermehrt
der sömmernden Wolke.
Paul Celan, in John Felstiner, Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, (New York/London, W.W. Norton, 2001), p. 65.
Nourished by figs be the heart
wherein an hour thinks back
on the deadman’s almond eye.
Nourished by figs.
Steep, in the seawind's breath,
And full-blown by your white hair
of the grazing cloud.
Paul Celan, translated by John Felstiner, Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, (New York/London, W.W. Norton, 2001), p. 66.
With regard to the present poem I quote, below, Robert Savage's acute analysis. In this insightful study, Robert Savage goes a long way to dispelling the obscurity that has surrounded this poem.
[…] Celan’s “Andenken” commemorates Hölderlin’s poem of the same name by placing it in connection with what, acknoledging the inadequacy of nomination, he called “that which happened”. Celan composed “Andenken” while holidaying with his wife at the Mediterranean coastal town of La Ciotat, which perhaps explains why he felt moved to reflect at the time upon Hölderlin’s homage to the South of France. (…)
Despite a lack of conclusive textual evidence to support an autobiographical reading, the poem is widely held to be a memorial to the poet’s father, who died of typhus in a German labor camp in Ukraine in 1942. One critic traces the figs that feed the work of mourning to the Palestinian homeland to which Leo Antschel, a committed Zionist, had wanted to emigrate. Another critic, Celan’s biographer John Felstiner, links the almond eye of the deceased to other passages in which the almond stands as a cipher of Jewishness, shoring up this philologically questionable tactic with the argument: “That it is Celan’s father (the shipwrecked forehead?) who emerges in this elegy becomes clear when a fleecy surrounds “your white hair” (Leo Antschel’s hair went gray under the duress of occupation and deportation). Both critics alleviate the discomfort they fell before the vacant , cyclopic gaze of the dead man by supplying the eye with the body, and the body with a name (the nom du père non less), reconstructing “Andenken” on this basis as a kind of Kaddish, a prayer for the dead traditionally recited by the surviving child. This in fact takes us quite far in clearing up some of the immediate difficulties posed by the poem, even if it is overly optimistic of Felstiner to speak of achieving final clarity when faced with a text that concludes swathed in cloud. If one pursues the line of interpretation suggested by Felstiner a little further, one notices that the poem appears as the last in the collection "Mit wechselndem Schüssel” (With changing key), which opens with an epitaph to Celan’s son François. The cycle is thus framed at both ends by breaks in the poet’s line, breaks that paradoxically ensure the continuity of the cycle of generation that leaves the poet with nothing but figs – a symbol of remembrance since Augustine – to nourish his doubly-bereft heart.
The role played by Hölderlin in this family tragedy, is at once invisible and highly visible. It is invisible because, like the father, his name is never mentioned, an omission that has been repeated by all those who have written in the past on Celan’s Hölderlin reception. It is visible not only by virtue of the tille, instantly recognizable to any educated German reader as an intertextual reference, but also through the various other lexical mements of Hölderlin’s “Andenken” in Celan’s. The fig that sustain the poem, for example, have doubtless been plucked from the fig tree growing in the courtyard in Bordeaux, while the sea crashing against the cliff is also that upon which Hölderlin sailors venture to the Indies in search of riches. Felstiner, for one, shows himself well aware of such borrowings, and yet his one-sided interest in authenticating the poem’s Jewish paternity leads him to neglect evidence of mixed parentage. He overlooks the possibility is suggested by the father figure. This possibility is suggested by the resemblance of the physiognomy sketched in the last two stanzas to that of the poet. Perhaps the most conspicuous feature shared by all the surviving depictions of Hölderlin, from the pencil sketch of the sixteen-year-old through to the wax relief taken shortly before his death, is the forehead, which has since become something of a staple motif in fictional retellings of Hölderlin’s life story, to a precipitous cliff face. Nor is it surprising, in view of what we know about the last decades of Hölderlin’s life, that this vaulting brow should be metonymized as “gescheitert” (shipwrecked).
The image presented here that of the senile, white-haired poet, babbling away in his tower, an image Celan would later multiply and refreact into a myriad of.
And indeed, something of the aphasic solitude from which Hölderlin wrested his late work seems also to trouble the speaker of these verses, as when the keyword “feigengenährt” (fig-nourished) breaks away from its functional context in the propagation of remembrance (and hence in the production of the poem) to stand alone, now nourishing only itself, at the end of the first stanza.
The phrase “gescheitert Stirne” (shipwrecked brow) evokes death as well as madness. Both converge in the sheer barrier encountered by the breeze wafting toward it from the Sea (Anhauch, possibily a byword for pneuma, the ensouling breath). This barrier marks the limit beyond which the remembrance proves powerless, the point at which the intention announced in the first stanza to hold the gaze of the dead man comes face to face with its nullity. This also the point at which the attempts to decode the poem in terms of its author’s biography mentioned earlier intersect with the interpretation I am proposing here. The negative identity of Leo Antschel and Friedrich Hölderlin in the second person singular permits a speculative reading of “Andenken” as a memorial to Celan’s own version of the so-called “German-Jewish synthesis” after its irrevocable failure in the camps. The disembodied eye that confronts the reader from beyond the grave may not be blue, like the eyes of the commandant in “Todesfugue”, but than again, neither were Hölderlins: they were brown (or perhaps almond?). The two distinct sources of the poem, one painfully personal, the other highbrow and literary are retroactively crossed in the act of remembrance , causing the attributes of the one to pass over to the other. In their ferment, Hölderlin is divested of his wartime role providing ideological support for those who unleashed the catastrophe who stood closest to Celan himself, his own father. Peter Demetz’s metaphorical description of Celan as the “heir to Hölderlin2 holds literally true of this poem, which has inherited family traits from both its progenitors.
At the same time “Andenken” resists being reclaimed as a belated example of German-Jewish symbiosis, not only because it remains silent about whom, or what, it is commemorating – the over determination of the intend reference dissolves it into indeterminacy -, but also because it casts into doubt the possibility of commemorating , itself, without which such synthesis cannot be effected. Hölderlin claim to found what endures derived its apodictic certainty from the process of remembrance realized over the course of his poem, as Dieter Henrich has demonstraded in detail. Celan merely expresses the wish to reclaim in mourning what had once been given to experience (note the optative “Sei” (be) in verse one) his poem nowhere guarantees the fulfillment of that wish, nor does it hold out any prospect of consolation. Instead, the concluding image of the cloud condensing from the sea spray and piling up around the ravaged brow suggests amnesia, the gradual muffling of memory or its dispersal into thin air. Celan marked a single line in the copy of Hölderlin’s “Andenken” he took with him to La Ciotat .
His replay to that poem underscores this reminder that the taking of memory precedes its giving, that the anamnesis is predicated upon an initial forgeting, and that remembrance is a speculation on loss which by no means always results in the coming (back) to itself of consciousness, the safe return to harbor of the of the friends who have set sail for the Indies.
Together with Celan’s other Hölderlin poems, “Andenken” implicity rejects the pomp and ceremony of the official commemorations held in his honor during the Second World War. In effect, the poet of the secret Germany has again gone underground, this time without a hint of the messianic expectation of years past. The speaker of “Andenken” is left to perform a precarious balancing act, remaining ever mindful of Hölderlin while declining to resurrect him to memory in a later poem, he is referred to simply as Jener (that one), as if Celan expected his readership to intuit whom he has in mind. In 1970, Celan overcame some initial reservations to travel to Stuttgart to take part in the festivities marking the 200th anniversary of Hölderlin’s birth. There he recited a number of unpublished poems without once mentioning by name the poet in whose memory they being read. According to eyewitness, his words were greeted with blank incomprehension by the assembled Hölderlin specialists, several of whom had been members of the Society since its inception. Bareley two months later, Celan drowned himself in the Seine. In place of a suicide note, a copy of Wilhem Michel’s Hölderlin biography was found on his writing desk, open up to the following underlined passage: “Sometimes this genius goes dark and sinks down into the bitter well of his heart. ” ─ a heart , which in the darkest hour, the figs of remembrance were no longer able to sustain.
In, Robert Savage, Hölderlin after the catastrophe: Heidegger, Adorno, Brecht, (New York, Camden House, 2008), pp. 18-21.
"Andenken" french version:
De figues se nourrisse le coeur!
en qui l'heure se souvient
de l'oeil-amande du mort.
Quíl se nourisse de figues.
sous le souffle marin.
le front échoué,
frère des écueils.
augmentée de tes cheveux,
du nuage paissant.
Version définitive publiée, traduite par Jean-Pierre Wilhelm et revue par Celan, in Paul Celan, Choix de poèmes, (Paris, Poésie Gallimard, 1998), p.320.
English and french translations of Hölderlin's poem, "Andenken":
The northeast blows,
my favorite among winds,
since it promises fiery spirit
and a good voyage to mariners.
But go now, and greet
the lovely Garonne,
and the gardens of Bordeaux,
where the path runs
beside the steep bank,
and the brook runs into the deep stream,
and a noble pair of oak and silver
poplars look down from above.
I remember well
how the crowns of the elm trees
lean over the mill,
and a fig tree grows in the courtyard.
On holidays dark-skinned women
walk upon the soft earth,
and in March,
when night and day are equal:
cradling breezes waft
across the gentle pathways,
heavy with golden dreams.
But someone hand me
the fragrant cup,
full of dark light,
that I may rest.
It would be sweet
to sleep among the shadows.
It isn't good
to stay mindless
with human thoughts.
On the other hand, conversation
is also good: to speak
the thoughts of the heart,
and to hear much of days of love,
and of deeds that occur.
But where are our friends ?
Bellarmin and his companion?
Many are afraid to go to the source,
since treasure is first found in the sea.
Like painters, they gather up earth's beauty,
and they don't scorn winged war,
or to live alone for years
beneath the bare mast ?
where the city's festivities
don't flash through the night, or
the sound of strings and native dancing.
But now the men
have left for India...
from the windy peaks
and vine-covered hills
where the Dardogne
comes down with the great
Garonne; wide as an ocean
the river flows outward.
But the sea takes
and gives memory,
and love fixes the eye diligently,
and poets establish
that which endures.
Hölderlin, English version by James Mitchell
Du nord-est souffle
Le préféré entre les vents
Pour moi, car esprit enflammé
Et bonne route promet-il aux marins.
Mais va maintenant, et salue
La belle Garonne,
Et les jardins de Bordeaux
Là-bas, où sur la rive escarpée
S’éloigne le sentier et dans le fleuve
Tout au fond chute le ruisseau, mais par-dessus
Regarde au loin une noble paire,
Chênes et peupliers argentés ;
Encore m’en souvient-il bien, et comment
De la forêt d’ormes s’inclinaient
Les larges cimes au-dessus du moulin,
Mais dans la cour pousse un figuier.
Aux jours de fête vont
Les femmes brunes, là même
Sur le sol soyeux,
Au temps de mars,
Quand égaux sont nuit et jour,
Et au-dessus des lents sentiers,
De rêves dorés alourdies,
Filent les brises qui nous bercent.
Mais que l’on tende,
Pleine d’obscure lumière,
Vers moi la coupe odorante,
Afin que je puisse me reposer ; car suave
Serait sous l’ombrage le sommeil.
Il n’est pas bon
D’être l’âme vide de pensées
Mortelles. Pourtant est bon
Un dialogue et de dire
Le sentiment du cœur, d’entendre maintes choses
Des jours de l’amour,
Et des exploits qui s’accomplirent.
Mais où sont les amis ? Bellarmin
Avec le compagnon ? Plus d’un
Ressent la crainte d’aller à la source ;
Elle commence en effet, la richesse,
Dans la mer. Eux,
Tels les peintres, rassemblent
La beauté de la terre et ne méprisent
Pas la guerre ailée, et
D’habiter seul, à longueur d’année, sous
Le mât défeuillé, où la nuit n’est pas traversée par l’éclat
Des jours de fête de la ville,
Ni par celui du luth et des danses indigènes.
Mais maintenant pour les Indes sont
Partis les hommes,
Là-bas par la pointe venteuse
Des vignobles, où va
Descendre la Dordogne,
Et s’unissant à la somptueuse
Garonne large comme la mer
Se jette le fleuve. Mais il prend
Et donne la mémoire, l’Océan,
Et l’amour aussi attache assidûment les yeux,
Mais ce qui demeure, le fondent les poètes.
Friedrich Hölderlin, traduction française de Patrick Guillot du poème "Andenken."