Paul Celan as a plant expert

Martin Heidegger was surprised: his guest knew more plants than he did. No wonder, because Paul Celan owned Rudolf Koch’s “Kleines Blumenbuch” (Insel Bücherei, 1933), in which, in addition to the German names, he also noted the English, French, Russian and Romanian names of the respective plants. He also liked to use Heinrich Marzell’s “Dictionary of German Plant Names” (Hirzel Verlag, 1943). When the poet roamed the Black Forest with the philosopher on July 25, 1967 and stopped at his hut near Todtnauberg, he noticed the medicinal plants there that he already knew from his homeland, the Bukovina, the first Habsburg, then Romanian “beech land” today’s Ukraine. “Arnica, eyebright …” – this is how his poem “Todtnauberg” begins, which he began to write on August 1st, 1967 in Frankfurt.

Eyebright, Euphrasia, the plant of joy, had struck him before. “During the war, in the Moldau, I was loaded with two buckets that I was supposed to go to the small town to fetch before noon to bring them to the ‘construction site’. I met this eye-comfort,” he wrote on 30 September 1962 to his wife. Eyebright as a “mnemonic trace”, speculates today Klaus Reichert, at that time Celan’s Suhrkamp lecturer, in his memory book. Did the poet leave behind, as it were, botanical-lyric stamps that Heidegger was unable to follow? Heidegger thought that the Black Forest should have a healing effect on the survivors of the Shoah, because Celan had only tried to kill himself in January of the same year. These medicinal plants with the connotations of poison and prison camp sound like an evil irony, because arnica is as poisonous as it is healing, Janus-headed like the philosopher, who at times shared common cause with those to whom the poet’s parents had fallen victim.

Plants of Pain

The plants in Celan’s poems offer no consolation. The cultural landscape of his youth has been devastated, and flowers bloom in his lyrical garden that do not appear in any botanical nomenclature. For example the “No Man’s Rose” in the “Psalm”. It has a “stylus as bright as a soul” and a “filament of heavenly desert”. What kind of rose is that that “nobody” wants to bloom? Who is “nobody” anyway? The ineffable Eternal? In “Radix, Matrix” it says: “Root of Abraham, Root of Jesse. Nobody / root – o / our. ”Should the“ nobody’s rose ”, this rose from the“ we ”, extinguish in the urns of Dante’s sky rose? Is it growing out of cabalistic humus? Their petals are “red / from the purple word we sang / about o over / the thorn”. Here the botanist Celan disappears behind the poet. For the rose only has thorns in poetry, in botanical reality it has thorns.

“The thorn / woos the wound”, it says in the “Matière de Bretagne”. This time there are real thorns, formed from leaves and short shoots of gorse, which is also poisonous to the point of respiratory paralysis. “Gorse light, yellow, the slopes fester towards the sky”, so begins the poem. Celan’s plants accuse the sky. His “narrow-mindedness” also speaks of this: “We / did a silence about it, / poisonous, big, / a / green / silence, a sepal, there / hung a thought of vegetable matter on it – / green, yes, / under a malicious / sky . ”A sky that hatches latent damage.

The beech land was green in Celan’s memory, white and yellow: “Aspen tree, your leaves look white into the dark. / My mother’s hair never turned white. / Dandelions, Ukraine is so green. My blonde mother didn’t come home. ”Poplars and black alders also grow in Celan’s poems like those on the rivers of the Bukovina, the trees into which the Heliads, daughters of the sun god, were transformed when they wept for their dead brother Phaeton on the Eridanos. When her mother tried to free the girls’ bodies from the bark, they excreted resin, including them – plants of pain, which in Ovid still curdled into amber. In Celan’s “Voices”, however, it says: “A carpel, the size of an eye, deeply carved; it / resists, doesn’t want / to scar. “


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