Paul Celan


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Romanian-born Jewish poet whose works, written in German, evoke the horrors of the Holocaust.

Celan lost both of his parents during World War II in the German death camps, and he himself was interned in a Romanian labour camp in 1944. These experiences, he felt, left only language intact for him. Domiciled in Paris for much of his life, he was greatly influenced by French surrealism. The power of his work largely rests on the contrast between the elegance of his expression and the horror of his subject matter. His first collection of poems, Der Sand aus den Urnen (‘The Sand from the Urns’), was published in Vienna in 1948. Celan's reputation was established by his second collection, Mohn und Gedächtnis (1952; ‘Poppy and Memory’).

Celan, himself a polyglot, lectured on language at the École Normale in Paris and also translated French, Italian, and Russian poetry and the works of Shakespeare into German. In 1958 the city of Bremen awarded him its literary prize and in 1960 he was given the prize named in honour of Georg Büchner, the playwright. Little of Celan's work has appeared in English apart from his own selection, Speech Grille and Selected Poems (1971), which was translated as a tribute after his suicide by drowning.

Subjects: Literature.

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