Distributed for Seagull Books
Paul Celan (1920–70) is one of the best-known German poets of the Holocaust; many of his poems, admired for their spare, precise diction, deal directly with its stark themes. Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–73) is recognized as one of post–World War II German literature’s most important novelists, poets, and playwrights. It seems only appropriate that these two contemporaries and masters of language were at one time lovers, and they shared a lengthy artful and passionate correspondence.
Collected here for the first time in English are their letters written between 1948 and 1961. Their correspondence forms a moving testimony of the discourse of love in the age after Auschwitz, with all the symptomatic disturbances and crises caused by their conflicting backgrounds and their hard-to-reconcile designs for living—as a woman, as a man, as writers. In addition to the almost 200 letters, the volume includes an important exchange between Bachmann and Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, who married Celan in 1951, as well as the letters between Paul Celan and Swiss writer Max Frisch.
“Scarcely more breathlessly and desperately can two lovers ever have struggled for words. Little known among German literary historians, the relationship between these two poets amounts to one of the most dramatic and momentous occurrences in German literature.”—FAZ, on the German edition
“Correspondence, rendered perfectly in English by Wieland Hoban, traces [Celan and Bachmann’s] letters, telegrams, and book inscriptions to one another, color-coded and augmented by hundreds of footnotes. Like other volumes from Seagull Books, it’s physically gorgeous, with a pleasingly compact trim size. Reading Correspondence feels like an indulgence. It also feels disorienting. The world of the letters and the world of their authors’ real lives are askew in a sometimes jarring way, so that the emotional content of the letters reads almost as fiction.”
“One of the most important books I will read in a decade. . . . The volume begins with ‘In Egypt,’ Celan’s first poem to Bachmann, a poem written into a book of Matisse drawings in June 1948, and its haunting second-to-last lines set the tone for every inarticulable moment of the story to come, for understanding the fragile and unspeakable intimacy between two of the greatest writers, in any language, of their century.”
“A magnificent, and troubled, meeting of minds that would last a lifetime. . . . In almost 200 letters, telegrams, postcards, unsent drafts, poems as love-letters, they tussle with the possibilities and limitations of communication through the written word. Silence and personal darkness have their place. The compromises exacted by life on art, the power and powerlessness of language, fear of the written word, and belief in dialogue through poetry are subjects broached. . . . Taken together, there seems no doubt that, in each other, Bachmann and Celan did have that precious, nigh-impossible fellow being: a companion ‘you . . . for me . . . sensually and intellectually . . . the two cannot separate.'”
List of Scribal Abbreviations
Ingeborg Bachmann–Paul Celan Correspondence
Paul Celan–Max Frisch Correspondence
Ingeborg Bachmann–Gisèle Celan-Lestrange Correspondence
The Secrecy of Letters in the Poems: Poetological Afterword
Bibliography of Biographical Sources