In Memory Rose into Threshold Speech, Celan's reader witnesses his poetry, which starts lush with surrealistic imagery, become gradually pared down; its syntax tightens and his trademark neologisms and word formations increase toward a polysemic language of great accuracy that tries, in the poet's own words, to measure the area of the given and the possible. Translated by the prize-winning poet and translator Pierre Joris, this bilingual edition follows the 2014 publication of Breathturn into Timestead, Celan's collected later poetry. All nine volumes of Celan's poetry are now available in Joris's translations, accompanied here by a new introduction and extensive commentary. The four volumes in this edition show the flowering of one of the major literary figures of the last century.
No translation can ever encompass the multiplicity of meanings embedded in these hybrid, polyglot, often arcane poems; the translator must choose an interpretation. This is always true, but it is particularly difficult with work as fundamentally ambiguous as Celan’s. Joris imagines his translations as akin to the medical diagrams that reproduce cross-sections of anatomy on plastic overlays, allowing the student to leaf forward and backward to add or subtract levels of detail ... As Joris writes, Celan intended his poems to be read in cycles rather than one at a time, so that the reader could pick up on the patterns. But he did not intend for four books to be read together in a single volume. The poems, in their sheer number and difficulty, threaten to overwhelm, with the chorus drowning out the distinct impact of any particular poem ... I wish that Joris had made more of an effort to reproduce the rhythm and music of Celan’s verse in the original, rather than focussing so single-mindedly on meaning and texture. When the poems are read aloud in German, their cadence is inescapable. Joris’s translation may succeed in getting close to what Celan actually meant, but something of the experience of reading the poetry is lost in his sometimes workaday renderings. Still, Joris’s extensive commentary is a gift to English readers who want to deepen their understanding of Celan’s work.
... a 'collected' volume of Celan’s poetry brings its own difficulties to the reader. The poems are not meant to be read in large batches, but discretely, one by one, like stones ... Quantity blurs the edges. Still, the bulk is not so heavy as it appears. Bilingually presented on facing pages, the poems in English or German come to fewer than 170 pages each. The 500+ pages of Memory Rose into Threshold Speech are particularly valuable for the accompanying apparatus: notes and bibliographies, taking up nearly half the whole. The notes engage language issues, explain allusions, and provide helpful cultural context. On the other hand, a comprehensive edition lets the reader see the sweep and growth of Celan’s voice ...
This ambitious bilingual edition completes Joris’s herculean effort to translate all of Celan’s poetry into English ... Joris’s introduction and commentary provide useful historical and literary context. This admirable translation presents the early work of an eminent German language postwar poet to a new audience.