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daghani-selma-76

A guest post by flowerville, blog at fortlaufen.blogspot.com and twitter @rootprints. Image by Arnold Daghani.

Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, a niece of Paul Celan, was born in 1924 in Czernowicz and died at age 18 of typhus in the Mikhailovska labor camp. Fifty-seven poems survived in a notebook that she called “Blütenlese” (Harvest of Blossoms).  

This is the last poem in her notebook:

selma tragik

Tragedy:
Dec. 23, 1941 
This is the hardest: to give yourself 
and know that you are unwanted, 
to give yourself fully and to think 
that you vanish like smoke into the void. 

(translation by Pearl Fichman)

 Meerbaum-Eisinger started writing poems when she was 15. They are mostly love and nature poems, very astute about life and its precariousness. Hilde Domin compared her poetry to that of the young Hofmannsthal. Five of the poems in her notebook are translations of Paul Verlaine (2), Itzik Manger, H. Lejwik, and Discipol Mihnea. (She knew French, Romanian, Yiddish and German.) Another poem is titled “Stefan Zweig.” At school when she was bored she secretly read Heine and Rilke. She also liked Klabund and Tagore.  

This is her last letter:

Rena, Tatanca, it is so hot here that I am too lazy to close my eyes, that I am not able to hold a pencil, and find it hard to toss a thought through my head. Nevertheless I want to write to you. Actually, I don’t even know whether I will have a chance to send you this scrap of paper—never mind. Now I have at least the impression that you are sitting next to me, that I can talk to you after almost a year. What do I say; almost a year. Actually, it is over two years since the time when we spent long afternoons together without talking; afternoons when you were playing (the piano) and I was listening and both of us knew how the other felt. 

Perhaps it is no good bringing back these memories. But never mind. I don’t know how you feel, but I sometimes long for the unspeakably sweet pain of such memories. There are moments when I try to conjure up a specially hot, live picture and don’t succeed. At most, once a fleeting touch of a face or a word, but without really grasping or absorbing it. I sometimes think: Berta. Or—Leisiu [Leiser]. Or—a kiss. I don’t grasp the meaning of these notions. Let’s leave it. I have a poem here, the author of which I don’t know. It is beautiful.

Nettchen, how long will this go on? How do you bear it? I have been here less than three months and I imagine that I will surely go out of my mind. Especially in these unspeakably bright and white nights that overflow with longing. Sing sometimes, late at night, when you are alone: Poljushka. Perhaps you will understand my frame of mind. 

Do you remember the fifth chapter of “Home and the World”? I’ll copy a few sentences: “Why can’t I sing? The faraway river glitters in the light; the leaves glisten; the morning light spills over the earth like the love of the blue heavens and in this autumn symphony I alone remain silent. The sunshine of the world hits my heart with its rays, but it does not hurl them back: August is here. The sky sobs wildly. And streams of tears crash on the earth and, oh, my house is empty.” 

I feel as if all my coming days are freezing together into one solid mass and will live forever on my breast. Rena, Rena, if only you were with me. I don’t know, maybe, if we were together, it would be too much. Maybe not. Anyway we could still endure it for a month, if we were together. Of course, one bears it anyway. One endures, although one thinks again and again: Now, now it is too much. I can’t bear it any more, now I am breaking down. Just now Tunia brought me a note from Rochzie. I am using this chance to send you this incomplete outpouring. 

Kisses, Chazak, Selma

Before being deported, Meerbaum-Eisinger managed to get the notebook to her boyfriend (“Blütenlese” is dedicated to him). He kept it for two years before giving it to an old school friend of Selma’s—he was leaving for Palestine and wanted it to be safe. (His foreboding proved to be true; the boat he travels on is shot and he drowns.) Another friend takes the poems with her to Israel. “Poem” first appears in an anthology in East Germany in 1968, and the poem remains her most famous work. Celan, appearing in the same anthology, requested to have her poem next to his. Meerbaum-Eisinger’s old teacher, Hersch Segal, then also in Israel, sees the anthology, looks for more of her writing, and privately prints the poems in 1976. In 1979 Tel Aviv University publishes them; in 1980 a German edition appears. In 2008 an English translation of her poems appeared: Harvest of Blossoms: A Life Cut Short.

Links

—A detailed discussion and poetry excerpts
North Carolina Public Radio (some of her poems being read and general information of her life and how contemporary artists were and are influenced by her)
http://www.selma.tv (in german) contains some excerpts of the original notebook & a lot of other information

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    Via The Paris Review’s Tumblr. (Click to read more; it’s worthwhile.)