Dear Everyone,

Nothing can tear me away from the texts of Herta Muller. What an incredible writer she is. How very scarred and tortured are her thoughts, how cruel her past and how courageous her determination and drive. The very fact that she is alive today is nothing short of miraculous. I know she annoyed the Roumanian authorities with her openness, her frankness. As a result, she was scandalously tainted with lies and slurs on her reputation that many people continue to believe even today, so many years on. Perhaps she brought it all on herself as has been said many times. But woe is the day when we, as human beings, lose the freedom of speech and an even bigger woe when we lose the courage to raise our eyes and our voices to condemn something as wicked as the communist regime, of dictatorship, of terror, persecution, umpteen arrests, beatings, rape, cold, hunger and deportation. When we can no longer find the strength nor the courage to shout our rebellion, to cry 'no', to scream our refusal to dance the steps of such a shameful quadrille.... And Herta Muller, despite everything she suffered - and My God, how appallingly she suffered indeed - she never ever stopped voicing her opinions, standing up for her people and condemning the agonies of her country under the thick grey blanket of Ceausescu's regime. For all that, I cannot tolerate the things I read which are critical of her. Any Roumanian who writes or says, 'huh, did she really suffer that much? Things were not that bad...' well, all I can say is that they themselves are extremely suspect. Their own pasts during the regime become immediately questionable. Hands off my Herta who has suffered enough. You only need to look at her face to see the pain in her eyes, the hunted look. Read from 'Everything I Own I Carry With Me', if you will. One cannot write like that if one hasn't lived the things she did.

Herta Muller has taken me on a voyage. A voyage of Romanian-German literature. You are already familiar with Oskar Pastior, so let me share Paul Celan with you. This below from Kirjasto:

Celan_'Paul Celan was born Paul Antschel, the only child of German-speaking Jewish parents in Cernauti, earlier Czernowitz in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Chernovtsy, Ukraine. Bucovina was relatively free from religious discrimination; nearly half of the inhabitants of Czernowitz were Jews ? the city was called "Little Vienna." Celan's parents spoke German at home and with his mother, Fritzi, Celan shared a passion for German poetry; especially the influence of the Romantic tradition from Novalis to Rilke is seen in his early verse. At the age of six, Celan entered a liberal, German-language elementary school and he was then sent to a Hebrew school, the Safah Ivriah. After his bar mitzvah in 1933, Celan joined an anti-Fascist youth group, which published a mimeographed Marxist magazine called Red Student.

Celan studied medicine in Paris in 1938 and then Romance philology at the University of Czernowitz. The Russians invaded Bucovina in 1940 and two years later the Nazis started to deport Jews to labour camps. His parents refused to go into hiding and were taken to death camps where they died shortly afterwards. According to some sources, Celan's father died of typhus and his mother was killed by a shot in the back of the neck, too exhausted to work after months of forced labour. During World War II Celan, a Jew, was sent to a forced-labour camp, where he worked until heavy snow forced it to close. Celan managed to survive the Holocaust, although he was imprisoned until 1943.

When the Russian Army reinvaded his homeland in 1944, Celan went to Bucharest, where he continued reading such great German lyric poets as Georg Trakl and Rainer Maria Rilke. A year after receiving the news of his parents' deaths, Celan wrote: ''And can you bear, Mother, as once on a time, / the gentle, the German, the pain-laden rhyme?'' Celan had lost his mother, and his German mother tongue, the Muttersprache, reminded him of the loss constantly. Like many Central European Jews, Celan had viewed Germany as a nation of writers and thinkers.

Celan changed his name to Paul Aurel, then to Paul Ancel, and finally to Paul Celan. In Bucharest he worked as a translator and editor at a publishing company. In 1947 he went to Vienna and immigrated the following year to Paris, where he became a teacher of the German language at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. In 1952 Celan married the graphic artist Gisele Lestrange, a non-Jew. They had met in Paris in 1951 and during the following 19 years they wrote over 700 letters. Their correspondence, edited by their son Eric Celan, was published in 2002. Celan's and Ingeborg Bachmann's letters, POETISCHE KORRESPONDENZEN, appeared in 1997. Gisele Celan-Lestrange knew about her husband's love affair, and, although it caused her much pain, she eventually accepted it.

Celan first established his reputation in West Germany. His first poems started to appear in the periodicals in the late 1940s. His second book, MOHN UND GEDACHTNIS (Poppy and Memories, 1952), which included Todesfugue, gained wide acclaim and made the author an important poet of the Holocaust.

Todesfugue, Celan's most famous poem, describes with nightmarish, surrealistic images the Jewish experience under Nazism. It begins with the lines (tr. by Jerome Rothenberg) ''Black milk of morning we drink you at dusktime / we drink you at noontime and dawntime, we drink you at night / we drink and drink / we scoop out a grave in the sky where it's roomy to lie /' (Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken sie abends / wir trinken sie mittags und morgens wir trinken sic nachts...)

Death is a gang-boss aus Deutchland his eye is blue 
he hits you with leaden bullets his aim is true 
there's a man in this house your golden hair Margareta 
he sets his dogs on our trail he gives us a grave in the sky 
he cultivates snakes he dreams Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland 

(from 'A Death Fugue')

Celan's friends René Char, Nelly Sachs, and other poets felt the restrictions placed on them by their identity, the "death-bringing speech", and by the history that the Holocaust represented. As Celan once said, language must be set free from history. "I went with my very being towards language," he once said. In the 1950s, Celan's work was becoming known for its broken syntax and radical minimalism, expressing his perception of the shattered world in which he lived. Celan concentrated on transforming silence into words, or circumscribing its boundaries. When he received the Bremen Prize for German literature he explained: "Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech." DIE NIEMANDSROSE (1963) marked Celan's return to the theme of the meaningless of human suffering, in which the "clubfoot of the gods" stumbles over mountains of corpses.

Ein Nichts
waren wir, sind wir, werden
wir bleiben, blühend:
die Nichts-, die

(from 'Psalm')

When Claire Goll, married to the poet Yvan Goll, accused Celan of plagiarising some of her husband's work, Celan had a nervous breakdown. He had translated some of Goll's poems but the accusations lasted from the 1950s to 1960s. He had also translated works from such writers as Cocteau, Michaux, Mandelstam, Ungaretti, Pessoa, Rimbaud, Valéry, Char, du Bouchet, and Dupin. In 1960, Celan received Georg Büchner Prize. He suffered from bouts of depression throughout the 1960s. "Celan is sick ? hopelessly," said the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who met the poet in 1967. Heidegger had joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and after the war was forbidden to teach for some years. He never openly apologised for his past. Celan had studied Heidegger's major work, Being and Time(1927) thoroughly and in 1957 he had wanted to send him the poem 'Schlieren'. Heidegger had followed Celan's work since the 1950s and had long wished to meet him. After reading at Freiburg University, Celan visited Heidegger's famous cabin in Todtnauberg, but what they talked about is unknown. Celan's entry in the logbook was ambiguous: "Into the cabin logbook, with a view toward the Brunnenstern, with hope of a coming word in the heart." However, Celan left Freiburg in high spirits, and wrote the poem 'Todtnauberg' with the lines: "a hope, today, / of a thinking man's / coming (un- / tarryingly coming) / word / in the heart."

A year before his death, Celan visited Israel. Celan's relationship with Judaism was complicated. He drew from the heritage of European Symbolism, but his work was rooted in the Jewish-Hasidic tradition. He often brought Jewish themes into his work, and also wrote some ''pained scrawlings'' in Hebrew, apparently during a month-long psychiatric stay in 1965. Celan died by his own hand: he drowned himself in the Seine on May 1, 1970, at the age of 49. In his pocket calendar he had written: "Depart Paul." Before his death Heidegger had planned to guide him through the Hölderlin landscape of the Upper Danube. The three books Celan left unfinished at his death appeared in 1986 under the title Last Poems.

A Death Fugue

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
drink it and drink it
we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there
A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
he writes it and walks from the house the stars glitter he whistles his dogs up
he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in the earth
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink in the mornings at noon we drink you at nightfall
drink you and drink you
A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
Your ashen hair Shulamith we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there

He shouts stab deeper in earth you there and you others you sing and you play
he grabs at the iron in his belt and swings it and blue are his eyes
stab deeper your spades you there and you others play on for the dancing
Black milk of daybreak we drink you at nightfall
we drink you at noon in the mornings we drink you at nightfall
drink you and drink you
a man in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He shouts play sweeter death's music death comes as a master from Germany
he shouts stroke darker the strings and as smoke you shall climb to the sky
then you'll have a grave in the clouds it is ample to lie there

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death comes as a master from Germany
we drink you at nightfall and morning we drink you and drink you
a master from Germany death comes with eyes that are blue
with a bullet of lead he will hit in the mark he will hit you
a man in the house your golden hair Margarete
he hunts us down with his dogs in the sky he gives us a grave
he plays with the serpents and dreams death comes as a master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith