Paul Celan: The Meridian Address.

In October 1960 Celan made an acceptance speech in response to being awarded the Georg Buchner Prize for literature. This is the longest and most detailed statement of Celan's poetics that we have and provides a number of important insights into his later work.

As you would expect with Celan, we don't get a full rationale for Celan's various modes of expression nor do we get a direct statement as to what poetry is about but we do get:

"Poetry - I am only asking - perhaps poetry, like art, moves with a self-forgotten I toward the uncanny and strange, and sets itself free again - but where? but in which place? but with what? but as what?"


"Poetry- that can mean an Atemwende, a breathturn. Who knows, perhaps poetry follows this route - also the route of art - for the sake of such a breathturn?"


It stands fast - after so many extreme formulations, permit me this one too - the poem stands fast at the edge of itself; it calls and brings itself, in order to be able to exist, ceaselessly back from its already-no-longer into its always-still.

This always-still can only be a speaking. But not just language as such, nor, presumably, just verbal "analogy" ether.

But language actualised, set free under the sign of a radicial individuation that at the same time. however, remains mindful of the borders that language draws and of the possibilities language opens up for it.

This always-still of the poem can indeed only be found in the work of the poet who does not forget that he speaks under the angle of inclination of his Being, the angle of inclination of his creatureliness.

The the poem is - even more clearly than previously - one person's language-become-shape, and according to its essence, presentness and presence.

I'll readily confess that these are the most important parts of the Meridian for me as both a reader of Celan and an occasional maker of poems and that others may find other parts of greater worth but I'll stay with the self-forgotten I, with poetry as a turn of breath, the poem as actualised language, the poet who speaks from under the inclination of his own (heideggerian) Being because these seem to strengthen my encounter with the poems.

I think I also need to point out that enormous amount of critical attention has been paid to this speech, most of which has served to further complexify and obfuscate an already complex and elusive piece of writing. This is unfortunate given the importance of the Meridian for poetry especially as most of these learned analysyes arrive at radically different views as the 'meaning' of the Address and the underlying rationale.

This isn't to say that there's anything wrong in having a different view but it is to object to the overly ornate and elitist way in which most of these views are expressed.

Celan's Drafts for The Meridian.

In 2011 Stanford University published the Celan's drafts and notes translated by Pierre Joris. In my view, this book is absolutely essential to anyone with an interest in late modernist poetry and to anyone who aspires to produce 'serious' work. The notes reveal a man of prodigious skill working and thinking and writing at the furthest borders of his powers, a man absolutely intent on discovering what it is that language does.

It is very difficult to produce an accurate (honest) precis of the notes but I'm going to try and give some indication of what these might mean.

The notes are divided into 11 main sections but I'm only going to deal with the first five as these appear to be the most helpful in furthering our grasp of the work: