Paul Celan Biography : Romanian POET


Paul Celan

Paul Celan, born Paul Antschel, was a Romanian poet and translator, regarded as one of the major German-language poets of the post-World War II era. His poetry is characterized by a complicated and cryptic style that deviates from poetic conventions.

  • Paul Celan was born Paul Antschel in Czernovitz, Romania, to a German-speaking Jewish family. His surname was later spelled Ancel, and he eventually adopted the anagram Celan as his pen name. In 1938 Celan went to Paris to study medicine, but returned to Romania before the outbreak of World War II. During the war Celan worked in a forced labor camp for 18 months; his parents were deported to a Nazi concentration camp. His father most likely died of typhus and his mother was shot after being unable to work. After escaping the labor camp, Celan lived in Bucharest and Vienna before settling in Paris. Celan was familiar with at least six languages, and fluent in Russian, French, and Romanian. In Paris, he taught German language and literature at L’Γ‰cole Normale SupΓ©rieure and earned a significant portion of his income as a translator, translating a wide range of work, from Robert Frost, Marianne Moore, and Emily Dickinson to Arthur Rimbaud, Antonin Artaud, and Charles Baudelaire. His own work has been translated into English numerous times and by several noted poets and translators including Michael Hamburger, Rosmarie Waldrop, Heather McHugh, John Felstiner, and Pierre Joris.


Though he lived in France and was influenced by the French surrealists, he wrote his own poetry in German. His first collection of poems, Sand from the Urns, was published in Vienna in 1948; his second collection, Poppy and Memory (Mohn und Gedaechtnis, 1952), brought him critical acclaim. Katherine Washburn, his translator, noted in her introduction to Last Poems (1986): “The title of this book [Poppy and Memory] pointed with a fine vividness to the central predicament of Celan’s poetry—the unstable and dangerous union between Paul Celan, caught early in that sensual music of the Surrealists, pure poet of the intoxicating line, and Paul Ancel, heir and hostage to the most lacerating of human memories.”



In 1959, Celan took a job as a reader in German language and literature at L’Γ‰cole Normale SupΓ©rieure, a position he would hold until his death in 1970. His poems from this period grew shorter, more fragmented and broken in their syntax and perceptions. In 1960, he received a Georg Buchner Prize. During the 1960s, Celan published more than six books of poetry and gained international fame. In addition to his own poems, he remained active as a translator, bringing out works from writers such as Henri Michaux, Osip Mandelstam, Rene Char, Paul ValΓ©ry, and Fernando Pessoa. In 1970, Celan died by suicide. He is regarded as one of the most important poets to emerge from post-World War II Europe.

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