1: Poem, Paul Celan's “Todesfuge,” the original German text, 1948.

1: Poem, Paul Celan's “Todesfuge,” the original German text, 1948.

Many readers of Celan’s “Deathfugue” have noted the poet’s use of German to write poetry about his Holocaust experiences. He was a Holocaust survivor who wrote in a language that was at once his mother tongue and the language of his parents’ murderers. Listening to Celan read his poem aloud, listeners cannot help but hear the multiple meanings contained within the language itself.

Suggested Activity: Play this recording of Celan reading his poem aloud for students, so that they can hear how the poem sounds as they examine it in its original language. Ask them to pay attention to Celan’s rhythm and tone of voice. Even without understanding the words, what can they gather about the poem’s subject? What images do the sounds conjure up for them? In addition, ask students to notice how the poet varies the speed with which he reads. When does the reading become faster? When does it become slower? How do these changes impact their understanding?

Source: Paul Celan, Mohn und Gedächtnis: Gedichte (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1952).