In the twenty-five years since his death in 1970, Paul Celan's reputation, though already firmly established while he was alive, has grown steadily. He is now clearly perceived as one of the two or three greatest German language poets of the century. As the critic George Steiner wrote: "Celan is almost certainly the major European poet of the period after 1945." Today Celan functions for thinkers such as Otto Pöggeler, Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida, and Hans-Georg Gadamer—each of whom has devoted at least one book to Celan's work—much as Hölderlin functioned for the late Heidegger.
Celan's first major volume of poems, Mohn und Gedächtnis, published in 1952, brought him instant recognition and a measure of fame. A new volume of poems followed roughly every three years until his death by drowning in April 1970. In the early 1960s, midway through his writing career, a poetic change or "Wende" took place, inscribed in the title of the 1967 volume Atemwende and lasting to the posthumous volumes. His poems, which had always been highly complex but rather lush in a near-surrealistic way, were pared down, the syntax growing tighter and more spiny, his trademark neologisms and telescoping of words increasing, with the overall composition of the work becoming more serial in nature.
In this translation of that great work, noted poet and translator Pierre Joris has attempted to convey the serial, cyclical aspect of Celan's writing, while demonstrating the immense power of the linguistic experiments that has become Paul Celan's trademark.