you unlock the house in which
drifts the snow of that left unspoken.
Always what key you choose
depends on the blood that spurts
from your eye or your mouth or your ear.
You vary the key, you vary the word
that is free to drift with the flakes.
What snowball will form round the word
depends on the wind that rebuffs you.
This is a poem by Paul Celan translated from the German original by Michael Hamburger. The original was written in the early 1950s. Its title is the first line. We assume a translation is second-hand and only the original can provide definitive clarification. But clarification of what? Isn’t our sense of the opacity of translation also the sense of the rebuffing wind in Celan’s poem? Searching for the key to this poem, and being resisted, we sense the climate the poem reports. As we watch the snow gathering, pursuing an answer to explain why Celan chose this particular key - and there are grim details one can point to - prompts only a return journey to the poem.
It is an uncomfortable fact that the bar to a poem’s key - this poem’s key - is the key to the poem itself. Some might dismiss this as tiresomely reflexive; a poem about poetry. It is clear, I think, that this is an insensitive reading. The metaphors are too close to experience to dismiss it as abstract. Indeed, can they get any closer? [Stephen Mitchelmore - Spike Magazine].