It is arduous to describe a single poem by Paul Celan without including his whole opera. Most of his works are related and connected to each other. These connections can be spotted in both, between collections and among poems of the same collection. One of the main features of his poetry, especially in the first period (1948-1955, year when he moved to Paris), is the usage of recurrent themes or sceneries. Ein Körnchen Sands starts with the word Stein [rock, stone]. The stone is an element that occurs in other poems (Ich hörte sagen, In Gestalt eines Ebers…) and is a metaphor of the petrified world of the "submerged". It is the nostalgic remembrance of the first Threshold, the shade of the tough past. This remembrance did not dissolve. It just took other shapes: a tree, a bird, a grain of sand.

The middle part of the poem introduces a marine scenery. In all his poems this refers to an amorous setting and suggest that Celan is most likely talking about a person he loved. Since this collection (Von Schwelle zu Schwelle) gathers poems written between 1945 and 1952 (his absconding period) he might be talking about Ruth Lackner. She was a Yiddish actress, probably his first love, who helped him to escape from the Nazi deportation. We can consider her as his saviour. She is probably Ein Vogel (the bird) who saved Celan from the Boden von Tod (the bottom of death).

Pain, despair, hope and love cohabit in this poem, united. The night, seat of the shadows, sanctioned this union. The feat of the night is to dominate not only the personal past, but all the terrible legacy of his generation.

In the music I tried to incorporate this union by using ambiguous harmonies, extraneous sounds, and conflicting sections, without being descriptive. The material is partially taken by a Schubert’s lied Letzte Hoffnung, from Die Winterreise. This lied follows, almost exactly, the same dramatic structure of Celan’s poem. Moreover, different elements appear in both poems and have the same role (e.g. the tree, the leaf, the wind, the earth). Even though these poems have been written in a very different period, they still have some connections. Thus, this was my mission as a composer. I tried to translate this connection in music and give the audience the chance to feel the journey from suffering through hope... without reaching a real destination.

Andrea Sordano, 2020


Ein Körnchen Sands

Stein, aus dem ich dich schnitzt,
als die Nacht ihre Wälder verheerte:
ich schnitzt dich als Baum
und hüllt dich ins Braun meines leisesten Spruchs
wie in Borke –

Ein Vogel,
der rundesten Träne entschlüpft,
regt sich wie Laub über dir:

du kannst warten,
bis unter allen den Augen ein Sandkorn dir aufglimmt,
ein Körnchen Sands,
das mis träumen half,
als ich niedertaucht, dich zu finden –

Du treibst ihm die Wurzel entgegen,
die dich flügge macht, wenn der Boden von Tod glüht,
du reckst dich empor,
und ich schweb dir voraus als ein Blatt,
das weiß, wo die Tore sich auftun.

 From Von Schwelle zu Schwelle. (From Threshold to Threshold) Gedichte. 
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1955


 A grain of sand

Stone, out of which I’ve carved you,
When night would harry her forests:
I carved you as a tree
draping you into the brown of my softest sentence
as in bark – 

A bird,
hatched out of the roundest of tears
stirring like leaves above you: 

you can wait,
until under everybody’s eyes a grain of sand glimmers for you,
a grain of sand,
that helped me dream,
when I submerged to find you – 

You sprout your root towards it,
Which makes you fledged, when the soil’s glowing of death,
You strain aloft,
and I waft before you, a leaf
that knows where the gates will open. 

English translation by Stephan Meier