"Romanian Poems," by Paul Celan, contains writings that have been translated from the Romanian by Julian Semilian and Sanda Agalidi. The translators also provide a fascinating introduction (pp. 7-22) that discusses Celan's life and career. Semilian and Agalidi note that Celan, who is considered a major German-language poet, grew up and was educated in Romania, and that German was spoken in his parents' home. They also note that the poems and prose poems contained in this short volume (76 pages) were written during time that Celan spent in the Romanian capital of Bucharest between 1945 and 1947.
The introduction further describes these Romanian pieces as "somewhat 'secret' or private" writings--texts that Celan "did not translate, publicize or intend to publish." I found these pieces to be strange and surreal--overall this body of work reminds me of some of Gertrude Stein's adventurous writings. Celan uses words in odd, hard-to-decipher combinations; he often creates weird and striking imagery. There are occasional cultural references--Spanish dancers, Columbus, the Great Southern Cross, etc. But overall, there is very little in the poems that anchor them to identifiable historic or cultural moments. They feel more like deeply personal psychological phenomena. He also frequently uses the pronouns "I," "you," "we," or variations thereof.
Here are sample fragments that may give a sense of the overall flavor of the book: "Our phosphorescent eyeballs will scurry down from the walls"; "I offer my fingers bloodied by the floating spines of the nocturnal sky." Other interesting phrases include "a chiming of celibate coins," "the leprosied curtain of the bloodstained tents," and "the razor-edged fanfare of the eyeless platoon." This bilingual edition presents the Romanian and English versions on facing pages. Although I can neither read nor speak Romanian, I appreciated having the distinctive-looking Romanian text available; it adds visual excitement to the overall presentation. Overall, I found these poems too obscure for my taste. Still, the cryptic quality, dreamlike images and often striking language of these pieces make them oddly compelling.