Paul Celan’s Poetic Doubt and Affirmation of God



No one moulds us again out of earth and clay,
no one conjures our dust.
No one.

Praised be your name, No one.
For your sake
we shall flower.

A nothing
we were, are, shall
remain, flowering:
the nothing-, the
No one’s rose.

our pistil soul-bright,
with out stamen heaven-ravaged,
our corolla red
with the crimson word which we sang
over O over
the thorn.

– Paul Celan

Paul Celan’s poem “Psalm” captures the distance that sometimes one can feel between creation/nature and God.  God, if he/she exists, is invisible and noncorporeal while at the same time omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.  The tension in the Celan poem is one between faith in God and doubt, perhaps in the wake of a great tragedy.  Despite possessing a tone of doubt with the phrase “No one moulds us again out of earth and clay, no one conjures our dust, No one” the voice of the poem addresses God with “Praised be your name, No one.”  The presence of God is almost like a bombshell crater, great tragedy has come and imprinted itself on the author’s life and he/she is left discerning how God could allow such an event occur.  Yet, there is hope in the poem that is expressed at a poetic fulcrum “For your sake we shall flower towards you.”  The author seems to have hope that new growth can occur, perhaps in the bombshell crater, towards the God that he/she expresses doubt and faith in.  Many examples of such growth out ashes exist.  For example, the tropical paradise of Hawaii grew out of the ash of volcanos.  “A nothing we were, are, shall remain, flowering: the nothing-, the no one’s rose,” suggests, however, that the author recognizes the impermanence of life.  Life is fleeting and fragile, he/she seems to doubt that life will be redeemed by God.  God’s weakness seems to stand large in the author’s mind.  Perhaps a great evil has occurred and God has “let it happen.”  Given Celan’s history, the poem’s tone may reflect that he may be writing in the wake of World War II and Auschwitz.  “With our pistil soul-bright, with out stamen heaven-ravaged, our corolla red with the crimson word which we sang over O over the thorn.”  Here the new life that has grown, a flower, still has an aspect of darkness, the flower still has thorns.  The poem as a whole expresses the balance between good and evil, white and black that exists in life.  How should one live in the context of such a complex balance?  Combining two quotes by Ai Weiwei and Thich Nhat Hanh one gets a solution to this dilemma, “A small act is worth a million thoughts.  I have lost my smile, but don’t worry.  The dandelion has it.”  Remain aware of the Light of God in the face of tragedy by looking to the simple things and remaining faithful to the next smile.  You do not always have to be happy, just aware of the next smile.

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About kayaerbil

I am a Berkeley educated chemistry Ph.D. who is moving into the area of working on developing appropriate technology for communities that are subjected to socio-economic oppression. The goal is to use simple and effective designs to empower people to live better lives. Currently, I am working with Native Americans on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota. I am working with a Native owned and run solar energy company. We are currently working on building a compressed earth block (CEB) house that showcases many of the technologies that the company has developed. The CEB house is made of locally derived resources, earth from the reservation. The blocks are naturally thermally insulating, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Eventually, a solar air heater and photovoltaic panels will be installed into the house to power the home and keep it warm, while preserving the house off the grid. A side project while in Pine Ridge is a solar computer. I hope to learn about blockchain encryption software for building microgrids. In addition, it is an immediate interest of mine to involve local youth in technology education.
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