A Labyrinth _ Celan's poem: Tübingen, Jänner (1)

The first impression of the poem points to the work and life of Hölderlin. In the first stanza Celan quotes a sentence : “ein Räitsel its Reinentsprunges” […] from the swabian poet hymn "Der Rhein." (1)

But, in his speech "The Meridian"(2) Celan also alludes to Georg Büchner personage Lenz who became insane in the 20th January. Another significant fact for Celan took place on January 20, 1942: the Wannsee Conference. Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's second in command of the SS organization, convened a conference in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee to determine the future of the jewish population and coordinate the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question."

Celan focuses attention and adds details about the last years of Hölderlin’s life on referring Hölderlintürme. In Tübingen, after doctors diagnosed Hölderlin’s mental illness, the carpenter Ernst Zimmer and his family took care of him and logged the poet in their home at a tower overlooking the Neckar. He lived there for 36 years until his dead. The Schreiner of the second stanza evokes Zimmer.

The poem includes another Hölderlin quotation: (“Pallaksch. Pallaksch”), a nonsense expression often used by Hölderlin during his insanity, documented by the poet first biographer Christoph Theodor Schwab. (3)

Hölderlin, Louise Keller drawing (1842)

A recurrent theme in Hölderlin’s poetry is the complex relations among human’s world and the goods sphere. He conceives the poet as a mediator between the two levels. Analogically the content of Tübinger Jänner expresses a crucial problem of Celan’s own poetry: the possibility or impossibility of language and communication. Heike Bartel wrote about the suject as follows:

[...] Celan makes many references to language and speech in Tübingen, Jänner and therefore chooses the fowlling expressions: Zür Blindheit über-/redete[…]tauchenden […]worten[…]. Sprächer, lallen und lallen ─ like the words describing movement in the same poem, Erinnerung; Schwimmen; umschwirren, tauchenden ─ the terms referring to language cannot be pinned down easily either.

The first and second ones are integrated in complex metaphors: Zür Blindheit über-/redete/Augen; bei/diesen/tauchend Worten. They are difficult to interpret, but it is obvious that both combine two different spheres with each other. Zür Blindheit über-/redete/Augen combines seeing-or-not seeing in this case – and speaking. [B]ei/diesen/tauchenden, worten describes how words - usually articulated through the air – are moving through water. The third therm – Sprächer – is written in the subjunctive mood the “coniuntius irrealis”, showing that something is not a fact but is restricted by certain conditions and dependent on the surrounding circumstances. The last one describes a way of talking without sense or differentiation, language determines the last three lines of the poem where the text itself descends into bable repeating words and exchanging syllables in a seemingly absurd manner: Käme/ Käme […], /Käme immer-immer-/Zuzu. [...] (4)

Isaac Sinclair (1775-1815)


(1) This poem was dedicated to Isaac Sinclair one of Hölderlin’s closest and most loyal friends. Höderlin characterized the structure of the hymn as follows:

The law of this poem [dieses Gesanges] is that the first two parts are formally opposed as progression and regression but are alike in subject matter the two succeeding parts are formally alike but are opposed as regards subject matter the last part, however, balances everything out with a continuos metaphor.

Friedrich Holderlin and Eric.L. Santner (ed), Hyperion and selected poems, (Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. , 2002), Endnotes, p.295

(2) P. Celan, "The Meridian", in John Felstiner, Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, (New York - London, W.W. Norton & Company, 2001) pp. 401-413.

"Hör ich’s da auch, sagt’s der Wind auch?Hör ich’s immer, immer zu, stich tot, tot." ( Do I hear it there, too, does the windsay it, too? Hear it always, always, on, on, stick dead, dead.”) Lenz, Georg Biichner

(3)Thomas Bosche on Kurtag's interpretation of Celan's poem: The Celan poem with which Kurtag concludes the cycle may offer a key to the Holderlin songs as a whole, embodying as it does a view of the poet Holderlin from the perspective of our own age. The title "Tubingen, Janner" is a twofold allusion: to Holderlin's town, of course, and to Lenz's "20. Janner". The Holderlin tower is described as afloat; the joiner Zimmer, who took in the sick poet, is drowned. The Neckar proves to be, not "that which cultivates the land / Which nourishes father and beloved children / In cities that it founded", as Holderlin had praised the Rhine in an ode to the river, from which Celan quotes the line "Ein Ratsel ist Reinent-sprungenes..."["an enigma is the purely originated"]. The words that might describe a poet today seem to spring from the Neckar, but are described as "submerging". Celan inverts the imagery of the Rhine ode into the negative: today, a poet can only babble. "Pallaksch", which Celan puts in brackets, is a word Holderlin is said to have used with visitors during his madness. Christoph Theodor Schwab recounted in 1846 that Holderlin had answered questions with this word, which meant both "yes" and "no". But for Kurtag it is more of a curse. Celan gives it to a person who, by no means mad, is surrounded by the divine aura of the "shining beard of the Patriarchs" ["Lichtbart der Patriarchen"]. Kurtag wants the word "Pallaksch" to be sung in a fortissimo of "extreme rage and desperation", then "almost shouting" and finally pianissimo, "suddenly fleeting", in this way compressing the greatest agitation and resignation into the smallest possible space. Holderlin's madness reveals itself as the madness of our time, about which there can be no poetry, only babbling. It is from this that the Holderlin settings derive their timeliness, uncompromising stringency and matchless radicalness. The impression of interiority, almost autism, evoked by the textless melismas - recalling the voices heard by schizophrenics and the endless pacing and mumbling of the crazed poet - thus become a judgement on the present-day world. This is Kurtag's most radical verdict on contemporary life to date. At the same time, he interprets "Kame, ka-me ein Mensch..." ("Should, should a man come..."), marked "Arioso, molto largamente", with profound intimacy, as if he knew both Celan's original version of the poem -"Should, should a child come into the world, today..."- and the Messianic hope expressed by this invocation. From here

(4) Heikel Bartel, "Dimensions of Parody in the Poems of Paul Celan"in Beate Müller (ed), Parody Dimensions and Perspectives on Modern Literature, (Amsterdam-Atlanta, GA, Rodolpi, 1997), pp. 19-20.

Pictures from, Paulo Quintela, Hölderlin, (Porto, Editorial Inova LDA, 1971).


Tübingen, Jänner

Zur Blindheit über
redete Augen.
Ihre - ‘ein
Rätsel ist Rein-
entsprungenes’–, ihre
Erinnerung an
schwimmende Hölderlintürme, möwen-

Besuche ertrunkener Schreiner bei
tauchenden Worten:

käme ein Mensch,
käme ein Mensch zur Welt, heute, mit
dem Lichtbart der
Patriarchen: er dürfte,
spräch er von dieser
Zeit, er
nur lallen und lallen,
immer-, immerzuzu.

(‘Pallaksch. Pallaksch.’)

P. Celan, in John Felstiner, Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, (New York - London, W.W. Norton & Company, 2001) p. 158.

Tübingen, January

Eyes talked into

Their - 'a riddle, what is pure-
ly arisen' -, their
memory of
floating Hölderlintowers, gull-

Visits of drowned joiners to
Plunging words:

Came, if there
Came a man,
Came a man to the world, today, with
The patriarchs’
Light-beard: he could,
If he spoke of this
Time, he
Only babble and babble,
Ever- ever-

(“Pallaksh. Pallaksh.”)

Translated by John Felstiner, Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, (New York - London, W.W. Norton & Company, 2001) p. 159.

Tübingen, January

Eyes talked into
Their – “an enigma is
the purely originated” – their
memory of
Hölderlin towers afloat, circled
by whirring gulls.

Visits of drowned joiners to
submerging words.

Should a man come into the world, today, with
the shining beard of the
patriarchs: he could
if he spooke of this
only babble and babble
over, over
again again.

(“Pallaksh. Pallaksh.”)

Translated by Michael Hamburger - who has translated both Hölderlin and Celan, says “Celan can be seen as continuing a line of development in German poetry that runs from Klopstock and Hölderlin in the eighteenth century to the later Rilke and Georg Trakl.”Michael Hamburger, Poems Paul Celan,(New York, Persea, 1988), p. 177

Tübingen, Janeiro

Olhos con-
vertidos à cegueira.
A sua -- "são
um enigma as puras
origens" --, a sua
memória de
torres de Hölderlin flutuando no esvoaçar
de gaivotas.

Marceneiros afogados visitando
palavras a afundarem-se:

Se viesse,
se viesse um homem,
se viesse um homem ao mundo, hoje, com
a barba de luz dos
patriarcas: só poderia,
se falasse deste
tempo, só
balbuciar balbuciar
sempre, sempre,
só só

("Pallaksch. Pallaksch.")

Paul Celan, tradução de João Barrento e Y.K. Centeno in Sete Rosas Mais Tarde, Antologia Poética, (Edições Cotovia, Lisboa, 1996)