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by Paul Celan (1959)
translated from the German by John Felstiner

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There was earth inside them, and
they dug.

They dug and dug, and so
their day went past, their night. And they did not praise God,
who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, witnessed all this.

They dug and heard nothing more;
they did not grow wise, invented no song,
devised for themselves no sort of language.
They dug.

There came a stillness then, came also storm,
all of the oceans came.
I dig, you dig, and it, the worm, digs too,
and the singing there says: They dig.

O one, O none, O no one, O you:
Where did it go, then, making for nowhere?
O you dig and I dig, and I dig through to you,
and the ring on our finger awakens.

Paul Celan (1920-1970) was born in Romania to German-speaking parents. John Felstiner is the author of Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (1995), and the editor and translator of Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, to be published by Norton this month.

All material copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
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