A certain elation occurs now and then when a translation comes into touch with its original by finding its own rightness. Such elation, inherent to any creative effort, strikes me as slightly suspect, especially touching Paul Celan's "pain-laden" German poems. Unless, perhaps, a la Walter Benjamin, those poems somehow require translation, because they are "making toward . . . something standing open," as Celan put it, "toward an addressable reality." Benjamin said: "Translation takes fire from the endless renewal of languages as they grow to the messianic end of their history."
Paul Celan's poems are astir, albeit thwartedly, with that messianic impulse. Having ventured to Israel in 1969 for the first time, decades later than many compatriots did and he himself possibly should have, Celan wrote a spate of "Jerusalem" lyrics, some elated, some despairing. While there he walked around the Old City, recently liberated in the 1967 Six-Day War, and saw the Temple Mount's Western Wall. One poem speaks of a Posaunenstelle, a "trumpet place" or "shofar place / deep in the glowing / text-void," and closes with self-admonition:
hor dich ein
mit dem Mund.
Literally, "hear yourself in / with the mouth." That glowing "text-void," Leertext, also puns on Lehrtext, "teaching-" or "Torah-text." By holding onto Celan's punctual three-beat utterance, hor dich ein, as in the shofar's New Year blast te-ki-ah, and letting dich deepen the attentiveness called for here, possibly these lines can say