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The Stone in the Air

The Stone in the Air: A Suite of Forty Poems from the German of Paul Celan

Praise for The Stone in the Air

"The great Holocaust poet Paul Celan, whose mother and father died in an internment camp, and who himself was imprisoned in a work camp, has written some of the most memorable and mournful poems about death and loss. In these lucid and lyrical translations of Celan's poetry by Daniel Tobin, we are reminded that for Celan, `only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language.' This lyrical collection places Celan's poetry in an interpretive musical arrangement that reverberates with notes of metaphysical longing amidst the speaker's despair. It is both compelling and haunting, a testimony to the enduring power of language and poetry to confront the unspeakable." --Steven Schneider

"Daniel Tobin's new versions of Celan's poems, while building on the work of others, offer us new and nuanced approaches to the poetry underlined by a finely-tuned sense of tone, diction, syntax, and line. Tobin, as a poet and scholar who has always engaged with issues of faith, doubt, witness, and the presence of the past in the present, is an ideal interpreter of Celan's vision--his solitary candle as it burns in defiance of power."
--Eamonn Wall


Snow falling, dense as some poems, denser,
like yesterday, dove-colored,
snow falling, as though you still were sleeping,

the whole world piled into whiteness.
And beyond the world, endless—
the sleigh print of the desolate.

There, deep down, sheltered under that mountain:
what so harrows the eye—mound
after mound—burgeons upward invisibly.

From each, hammered home into its
own present, a pole, wooden,
an I that sinks away into muteness.

There, shuddered by ice and wind, it moors
itself to the dove-, to the snow-colored
fabric of what it feels, its only flag.


Imagine it:
Masada’s swamp soldier
hauling himself home
against the wire’s every thorn.

Imagine it:
the eyeless, the shapeless
rousing you to freedom
with their furious digging
until you strengthen
and rise.

Imagine it: your
own hand
has held a scrap
of earth,
more habitable, that
suffered upward again
into life.

Imagine it:
this was borne over to me—
a name awake, a hand awake
from the ones who will never be buried.


Every night the flowers purse their lips,
the pine trees’ shafts, wizened with moss,
cross, crisscross, the stones tremble
while over the glacier the jackdaws
rouse awake for the everlasting flight.

This is the country where those who left,
those we’ve overtaken, take their rest.
They will not reckon the pending hour,
they will not number the whirling flakes,
nor follow the river to the battlements.

They stand there, cut off from the world,
each one, like everyone, sealed into night,
each one, like everyone, sealed into death,
scowling, bare-headed, vested in the frost
of everything near, everything far off.

They carry a guilt bred from the source,
they carry it away and into a word
that endures, unjustly, like summer.
A word—you understand—a corpse.
Let’s wash it, groom it, fix its eyes to heaven.