The Columbian Legacy in Postwar German Lyric Poetry

by Cecile Cazort Zorach, Charlotte Melin
The Columbian Legacy in Postwar German Lyric Poetry
Cecile Cazort Zorach, Charlotte Melin
The German Quarterly
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License


Franklin and Marshall College



Springfield, Ohio

The Columbian Legacy in Postwar German Lyric poetry1

In discussing the position of Columbus in the American imagination, Myra Jehlen observes: "One reason the Columbus story is so memorable is that it ends happily with us. Like the child who culminates his mother's story of her life before his birth with 'and then you had me!'we listen to the tale of Columbus, his small ships and his fearsome faith, in the pleasant anticipation of being its punch line" (23-24). The role of Columbus in German-speaking culture, in contrast, does not arise from the same ''hap- py" teleology which shapes many North American images of Columbus as the forward-looking Renaissance man of sci- ence opening up a new continent. Even Ger- man writers disposed to favorable views of the navigator have often addressed some of the more problematic aspects of his biog- raphy and historical position. Against the "unhappy" teleology of 20th-century Ger- man history, authors in German-speaking countries, especially a number of poets since World War 11, have found in the glar- ing paradoxes surrounding the historical L Columbus a reflection of their own situa- tion. The historical ambiguities embodied by the late-medieval explorer speak with particular urgency to writers faced with 20th-century German culture's peculiar ad- mixtures of mystical irrationalism, futuris- tic technocracy, millennialism, and cynical Realpolitik, the various apparent contra- dictions culminating in the "reactionary modernism" characterizing Nazism (Herf).

While postwar literature has viewed the great discoverer skeptically, the German literary tradition had already cast the fig- ure of Columbus ambiguously to some ex- tent, according to the various contradictory images of the New World circulating in its culture. These images ranged from those of a beckoning El Dorado of unlimited pos- sibilities to others of a desolate wasteland of cultural backwardness, with positive and negative evaluations proliferating at times simultane~usly.~

Especially in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, German literary Columbuses often followed the tradition es- tablished by Lope de Vega of the discoverer as "a dreamer mocked by the world. ...the romantic hero who becomes the symbol of man's unquenchable spirit of discovery."3 Often this Columbus illustrated the non- rational components of geographical en- deavor. Thus, Georg Forster extolled his "Standhaftigkeit und edle Schwarmerei" (1).Similarly, the Columbus of Schiller's short poem exemplified the precedence of the ideal over the empirical, an assessment also informing HBlderlin's and Nietzsche's treatments4 In the 20th century, Jakob Wassermann's essayistic biography Christoph Columbus-Der Don Quichote des Ozeans (1929) carried this tradition further by linking Columbus to Don Q~ixote.~

The German image of a quixotic Columbus per- sisted then, coloring, for example, a wry East German reference to the explorer who "hatte zu den geographischen Fantasien der Renaissance die dazupassenden Lander finden wollen" (Fries 11).

The German Quarterly

65.24 (Summer-Fall1992)

Exaltation of poetic genius at the ex- pense of empirical observation and dis- covery signals a subtle divergence of the German Columbus tradition from the quite different American one. This distinct turn, paradoxically, also accounts for the consid- erable number of allusions to the navigator in the postwar era. Since 1945, the ines- capable legacy of the Third Reich has funda- mentally compromised assumptions un- derlying the earlier German image of Columbus. But because Columbus, like few other historical figures, inextricably inter- mingled medieval belief (his obsession with reclaiming Jerusalem from the heathens, his conviction of his prophetic role in the divine plan, and his eschatological ponder- in& with modern practicality (his re- sourcefulness as a navigator, his "modern" geographical instinct^),^ he has proved a uniquely apt figure to accommodate the quandaries of German poets after the Second World War.

This is not to claim that German literary treatments of Columbus-any more than those of other nations-consistently ad- dress perplexing questions about his apocalyptic leanings or his unclear role in history. Yet a number of postwar German lyric poems, even those with rather conven- tional images of the discoverer as the har- binger of a new era, present the events sur- rounding 1492 amidst striking undertones from 20th-century European history. The figure of Columbus commonly signals a problematic tension between a dreamy visionary impulse pulling toward past and future and an intrusive present that demands practical action and engagement, as a broad survey of poems suggests. In texts by Peter Ruhmkorf, Walter Helmut Fritz, and Christoph Meckel, Columbus has occasioned a reevaluation of the traditional purview of the poet in the context of chal- lenges posed to lyric convention and lan- guage in the contemporary world. Poems by Christine Busta and Hans Arp, on the other hand, introduce through the navigator an appraisal of the new postwar European political and cultural circum- stances. Works by other German-speaking authors distanced from Fascism by geog- raphy, ideology, or age (the Swiss Adrien Turel and Albert Ehrismann, or the East Germans Joochen Laabs and Andreas Rtihler) have alluded to Columbus in terms of more immediate contemporary affairs. Lastly, in a piece by Paul Celan, the great explorer becomes positioned in an intricate web of history entangled with the fate of European Jewry,

Standing historically outside Germanic national tradition, Columbus, as a rich literary figure, has thus come to illuminate in the second half of the 20th century some particularly German quandaries. In the fol- lowing, we shall examine three prime dilemmas: the nagging questions about the construction of heroes and poetic language (in texts by Riihmkorf, Fritz, and Meckel), the relationship between heroism and society, especially with respect to political issues (Busta, Arp, Turel, Ehrismann, Laabs, and Rtihler), and finally, the connec- tion between language and history (Celan). While each separate poem displays a highly individual treatment of Columbus that demands close analysis, these fundamental dilemmas are interrelated and appear with remarkable consistency throughout the postwar period.

The loss of the capacity for heroism and the concomitant disintegration of literary genres traditionally associated with hero- ism and idealism, which informs many of the texts, dominates Ruhmkorf's poem "Das Ei des Kolumbus" (originally in Irdisches Vergnugen in g, 1959):

Nicht mehr die Sonne rnit lodernder

Mahne am Heck,

und der Wind, voll Vogelschrei und

gesalzener Nachricht-

Nur den eigenen Atem im Gaumensegel,

genieRest du als deinen letzten Besitz

auf magerer Pritsche die Schwerkraft.

Gestern noch hoch zu Meer, im holzernen Sattel, caramba! Wleviel Licht fiir dein Auge, wieviel

Gesang ftir den Mund! Ganz zugedeckt mit Gluck (von dir selbst war fast nichts mehr zu erkennen)-

wo aber sind
die Freunde jetzt, Bellarmin,
rnit den Gefahrten?

Aller Weiten entratst du und nicht nach
wie ein ungemeistertes Wasser dich
herrisch beiseite tat:
Rippen-und-Spanten, das wird bald

Erkennend strecke dich ahndevoll,
ob du auch weniger kundtust, als daR

es zurest geht.

Wenn du dich gut durch die eingedickte
Nacht gestakt hast
und den Morgen begdt und das
frischgemolkene Licht,
hoch-wie-leer-gegriffen zu niemandes


Es ist just so dahingewinkt und bewirkt
nichts mehr-
Was denn lutschest du noch aus einer
alternden Zunge
wortlosem Zipfel fk fade Hoffart?

Leg dich ohne Widerspruch auf deine rechte Seite, daR dein Herz dem Scheine nach oben treibt, taub und tortillaleicht, ein vegetarischer Spd. Auch dies konnte ein Gluck abgeben:

heiter sein Morgenei zu klopfen, den Witz des Anfangs, den Absturz in nuce . . . Selbiger Stunde noch &hst du die Spaher

schlicht nickend
vor soviel Gr6Re. 8

As the title suggests, Ruhmkorf's poem treats Columbus more as a literary figment than asa historical figure. The 32-line text toys with various aspects of the Columbus legend, most explicitly with the fabled egg story and with the literary tradition of the explorer onhis deathbed.g The poem's open- ing, with its solemn dactylic pentameter andelevated diction ("Nicht mehr die Some mit lodernder Mahne am Heck"), recalls classical odes, asdoes the use of apostrophe throughout the text. It also echoes Georg Heym's celebratory "Columbus; 12. Oktober 1492" (1911), which opens: "Nicht mehr die Salzluft, nicht die oden Meere." Ruhmkorf's heroic images of seafaring, however, quickly give way to a jarring ana- tomical pun in the third line, the "Gaumen- segel." Henceforth, the poem juggles nauti- cal and gustatory imagery to present the aged admiral's physical decline.

The second stanza continues the heroic rhetoric of the first in its recollection of past greatness ("Gestern noch hoch zu Meer, im holzernen Sattel . . ."), until the Spanish expletive "caramba!" creates a precipitous shift in diction that casts Columbus's whole enterprise in a faintly ridiculous light. This stanza intensifies the dismantling of the hero's identity in order to develop the poem's emphasis on the artificiality of his- toric heroism. Thus, the Spanish interjec- tion implicitly questions the navigator's lin- guistic identity: Would a Genoese seafarer utter spontaneous exclamations in Span- ish? This question of individual identity and its erasure culminates in lines 3 and 4: "Ganz zugedeckt mit Gliick (von dir selbst / war fast nichts mehr zu erkennen)." A quotation from Holderlin's "Andenken" fur- ther removes the historical personality into a realm of literary artifice. The lines, "wo aber sind / die Freunde jetzt, Bellarmin, / mit den Gefahrten?," while sneeringly recalling the neglect into which the aging Columbus fell, also emphasize the discon- tinuity between historical reality and its later reconstruction. Moreover, historical heroism is associated here with a small- minded arrogance. The vocabulary in the third stanza ("wie ein ungemeistertes Wasser dich herrisch beiseite tat") conjures up the discoverer's own unyielding per- sonality, as developed in the next stanza, while the allusions to the wreck of the Santa Maria after the arrival in the New World point to the essentialhelplessness ofhuman enterprise in the face of larger forces such as nature.

By the fourth stanza, the depreciation of heroism takes on gratuitously malicious tones as the poetic subject turns to the present and jeers at the great navigator in his helpless decrepitude. The image of the stanza's first line, 'Wenn du dich gut durch die eingedickte Nacht gestakt hast," sug- gesting a small boat slowly and hesitantly poled along in darkness, inverts the majes- tic "htilzerner Sattel" of the second verse and the leonine sun in the poem's first line. The wennclause here arouses expectations ofaconclusion when the 01dmangreets"das frischgemolkene Licht" of the morning. In- stead of supplying a syntactically satisfjring conclusion to the sentence, though, the text disconnectedly elaborates the motif of "griiflen" as a reflection of the hero's self- important rhetoric: 'hoch-wie-leer-gegrif- fen zu niemandes AnlaR." Bombastic speech, to which he has become habituated through years of courtly flattery, no longer serves any purpose for the isolated old man ("es ist just so dahingewinkt und bewirkt nichts mehr-"). Heroic stature thus shrivels to a purely social construct generated by an individual's mastery of dis- cursive patterns, just as heroic verse in reductive form is defined by the mere mastery ofcertain literary conventions. The poem presents both as ineffective and trivial. The denigration of speech continues in the rhetorical question concluding the fourth stanza, 'kas denn lutschest du noch aus einer alternden Zunge 1wortlosem Zip- fel fur fade Hoffart?," underlining the alimentary function of the tongue ("lutschest") vs. its role as an organ of speech. This emphasis on the material and corporeal continues into the final stanza, which presents and makes a mockery of the egg legend.

The story about Columbus and the egg refers to the beginnings of the discoverer's career ("den Witz des Anfangs"; hence, the egg as the germ of life and as the commence- ment of the Columbus legend). Supposedly, Columbus countered the skepticism of men in a tavern by asking them to make a hard-

boiled egg stand on end. When they failed, he simply mashed the end into the table so that the egg then balanced upright. Like the tale of the Gordian knot, the egg legend glorifies boldness and rashness of action in the face of doubt.1° Riihmkorf's poem, by contrast, insists on a literal presentation of the egg as simply an old man's breakfast. The final stanza then reduces the hero to the merely physical, a frail body "taub und tortillaleicht, ein vegetarischer SpaR," tortilla being Spanish for omelet. The famous persona merges with his corporeal nourish- ment, aliteral renditionof Feuerbach'sUDer Mensch ist, was er iflt" and a final dis- paragement of heroism and heroic literary genres. The "Anfang" gives rise to the "Absturz" (playing perhaps on simple sailors' anxieties about falling off the edge of the earth), just as the start of Columbus's quest was also his downfall. In the three lines about the egg, the heroic meter col- lapses to two metric feet, only to return fitfully a last time in the dactylic pen- tameter of "Selbiger Stunde noch sahst du die Spaher vorbeiziehn." "Spaher" calls to mind the sailor on watch in the crow's nest, but in this context, culminating a mocking series of sibilants, it denotes voyeuristic people filing past ostensibly to pay their last respects ("schlicht nickend / vor soviel Grofle"). Since the text has mercilessly es- tablished the paltriness of "soviel Grofle," the ending can only be ironic. Indeed, the whole poem, begun on a note of negation, crescendoes to a scathing rejection of great- ness. The hol!owness of fame, heroism, and accomplishment, as well as of their rhetoric, are mirrored in the arrogant vacuity of the literature of heroism, now the stuff of parody. The opening "nicht mehr" thus heralds the death of literary genres (the ode), conventions (ofmeter anddiction), and tropes (Columbus and the egg). Brief mo- ments of happiness may be possible, but only in a materialist and egalitarian con- text: "Auch dies ktinnte ein Gluck abge- ben. . ." The perspective of the poem be- comes crucial to its reading: the late

20th-century cynic addresses Christopher Columbus not as an individual personality but rather as a paradigmatic 15th-century courtly personage. The "dun used throughout the poem is a purely literary apostrophe, distancing the speaker from the addressee, rather than inviting dialogue. The prominence ofliteraryparody in the piece indicates that what is ultimate- ly at stake here is the Western literary tradition, now aged and flimsy yet still eliciting deferential nods.

The skepticism toward grand achieve- ments informing Ruhmkorf's poem takes a more moderate form in two poems from the 1960s, Walter Helmut Fritz's "Columbus" and Christoph Meckel's"Ko1umbus." Fritz's text, published in his 1966 collection Die Zuuerl&sigl~eit der Unruhe, presents an encounter betweena (presumably) modern- day poetic subject and Columbus:

bin ich Columbus begegnet,
in einer Seitenstrde Genuas,
nicht weit von seinem kleinen Haus.

Er war gerade
von seiner dritten Reise

An die Existenz
eines neuen Festlandes
habe er im Grunde
nicht geglaubt, sagte er.

Die Alten
hatten ja nichts davon gedt.

Vlelmehr habe er zeitweise
den Eindruck gehabt,
er nahere sich dem Paradies.

Beobachtungen an Stromungen
hatten ihn auf den Gedanken gebracht.

Aber Kastilien war doch schoner,
meinte er.

Wenn er tats&chlich
eine neue Kiiste gefunden habe,
werde er es erst spater verstehen.

Wenigstens besteht die Moglichkeit,
fugte er hinzu.ll

Although the opening syntax initiates an emphasis on the lyric "ich" rather than on the historical figure, the poem develops into a monologue formed by the fusion of the two personae, with the words of Colum- bus selected and mediated in indirect dis- course through the first person. The dis- enchantment with heroic undertakings that similarly shapes texts by Riihmkorf, Meckel, Ehrismann, and Turel casts Fritz's navigator in terms of his shortcomings, specifically his failure to recognize the geographical import of his discoveries. Columbus's flaws, however, arise less from his character than from the limitations of his cultural background.

The locus of the encounter, suggesting narrowness and circumscription ("Seiten- strafie," "kleinen Haus," "Genua"), and an adherence to one's native milieu rather than a celebration of new vistas prepare for the subsequent characterization of Colum- bus as an essentially conservative figure whose intellectual horizons are prescribed by his environment. Far from the forward- thinking Renaissance man of science, this figure timidly reverts to the wisdom of the ancients, both to the classical writers ("die Alten") and the biblical ones with their visions of Paradise; he seems to echo an early German response to the discovery of the New World, Sebastian Brant's Nar- rensclziff with its chary view of travel as something vaguely godless, "Denn wer den Sinn aufs Reisen richt't / Der kann Gott giinzlich dienen nicht!" (Brant 66). Thus, his own empirical observations of currents simply confirm scriptural notions of ter- restrial geography. The assertion "Aber Kastilien war doch schijner" situates the origins for the discoverer's diffidence in his deference to his Castilian patrons, a motif which Fritz's poem handles much more gently than Riihmkorf's. Whereas Riihm- korf mercilessly spoofs the inflated rhetoric of heroic literature, Fritz distances himself

from grandiose traditions of poetry and heroes by his mild insistence on modest imagery and indirect discourse. Indeed, be- cause Fritz so scrupulously avoids aggran- dizing conventions even as a point of con- trast, he is able persuasively to reform the image of Columbus. Columbus's historic stature appears at first as simply a fluke, the consequence of a perverse judgment im- posed by later generations on a rather ordi- nary, tradition-bound, unimaginative seaman.Yet the poemdoes not end with this judgment, for the two short concluding stanzas suggest a new modulation. With his acknowledgment that new worlds are pos- sible and that it is only his own limitations that make them currently inaccessible to hisownmind, this Columbusreveals amag- nanimity and wisdom approaching the socratic "I know that I do not know," and transcending the narrow environment which has appeared to confine him. It is perhaps this openness to later discoveries, contrasting with the pettiness of Riihm- korf's figure, which represents the true source of greatness. The tensions embodied by Columbus-between the old and the new, between tradition and experience, be- tween belief and knowledge-never enter the text but remain banished to avague and tentative futurity which nevertheless holds promise of discovery and knowledge. The navigator's ambivalence, as he clings to old geographical beliefs yet chooses, almost as an afterthought, to suspend conclusive judgment about new lands until later, reflects the questioning of tradition and of historical reputations found in other poems by Fritz, particularly those that appear in the volume with "Columbus" under the heading "Neulich bin ich Columbus begeg- net" (notably, Michelangelo, Pascal, and Leonardo are other figures in these texts). These poems often propose modest revisions of judgment and a recognition of the fragility of evaluations of historical events and personages. The discomfort with a cumbersome cultural tradition that would rattle West Germany in the late

1960s and 1970s remains only a vague stir- ringinFritz's'~lumbus."Yetwithitsquestioningof a conservative traditionalism, the poem calls for fresh and inquiring perspec- tives on the material of history.

The emphasis in Fritz's poem on Colum- bus as a participant in a particular society, time, and historical tradition gives way in Meckel's "Kolumbus" (first published in Bei Lebziten zu singen)to a more modern in- dividualistic portrayal of the discoverer:

Diese Meere, diese Himmel
diese unbewegten Weiten urn mich.

Schoner Abgrund aus Blaue
in den einst Gijtter niedergingen,

Fauste voll Sternbilder ertdnkend
und ruhen aus.

Aber ich
und was der Welt hinzukommt
Ozeane, Gebirge
und vergeht
herrliche Ufer-was giilte dies mehr
als ein Knistern von 'lkeblattern in der

hohlen Hand.

Erde, ich kann dir nichts geben als ein

paar Namen
fiir Inseln und Steine
und was ich suche
mit wachsendem Hunger
sind Indiens Kiisten nicht, noch

noch Kiinigjruhrn

sondern ist meine eigene Gerechtigkeit
rnir vorenthalten
vom Himmel, mag sein
auf verlorenen antinenten
in fremder See
unter verfinsterten Windrosen, oder
bis zueinem schnellen Untergang.

Fliege fort, fliege fort mit den Vogeln und ertranke die Erde solange sie narnenlos ist und gerecht wie

das Wasser in einem TrunkWein, dessen Neige dir nichts offenbart als den Grund des ~echers.'~

In Meckel's 30-line poem of six stanzas, Columbus himself, speaking in the first per- son, refutes cliches about his motivation and goals and proclaims instead a radical in- dividualism, a quest for "seine eigene Gerechtigkeit." Subtly interweaving biog- raphy and myth, the text engages in both celebration (of the obsessive perseverance behind the navigator's achievements) and denial (of ideals and motives attributed by others to Columbus, such as the search for India, spices, and fame, even the pursuit of new knowledge about lands and oceans or the prerogative of naming them). The motif of "Gerechtigkeit" in the poem represents a variation on the historical explorer's long and unsuccessfbl pursuit of justice in his cause after his first three voyages. Meckel's text, however, implies a justice far more private and enigmatic than the historical discover- er's search for vindication of his own claims.

The poem opens with a panoramic image of uninterrupted horizons seen through the eyes of the seafarer. The verb- less syntax, the devotion of the entire verse to three nouns denotingvast spatialentities ('Meere," "Himmel," and 'Weiten") and the relegation of the lyrical subject to a preposi- tional phrase suggest an awestruck in- ability on the part of the speaker to define his relationship to the world around him. The second verse, in which the lyric subject is effaced altogether, retains the panoramic vision but transfers it to a temporal dimen- sion. Situated on the cusp of modern his- torical consciousness like Celan's Colum- bus, Meckel's figure voices a Holderlinian regret for mythic prehistory: "Schoner Abgrund aus Blaue / in den einst Gdtter niedergingen, berauscht / Fauste voll Sternbilder ertdnkend / und ruhen aus." The structure of this verse introduces a pat- tern followed throughout the poem, a pat- tern in which the concluding line receives emphasis through either a syntactic or a semantic incongruity. In this instance, the syntax conveys a rupture between the dynamism of the ancient gods and their present passivity, even absence. Colum- bus's vision of the "schoner Abgrund"-an archaic world, a heaven and ocean primor- dially united as the playground of the gods-whimsically refutes common sea- men's fears of the abyss looming beyond the horizon. Here, there is no trace of the mes- sianic Christoferensof either legend or his- tory; instead, a Columbus emerges who acutely senses the distance between him- self and the ancient deities. Columbus's world, which has superseded the "schoner Abgrund," is an earth marked by recogniz- able, individual geographic features ("Ozeane," "Gebirge," "Ufer," "Indiens Kusten"). Yet to this voyager, such ter- restrial features possess no more value than "ein KnisternvonTeeblattern in der hohlen Hand," a semantically incongruous image punctuating the end of the verse. The con- trast of the 'tohle Hand" with the powerful 'Fauste voll" of the preceding verse dis- parages the mercantile quest for riches of the East vis-8-vis the titanic grandeur of the archaic world. For Columbus himself, even the godlike prerogative of naming dis- coveries ("Erde, ich kann dir nichts geben als ein paar Namenlfur Inselnund Steine") pales beside the intensity of his private quest.

All three middle verses focus on the navigator's search, largely in negative terms. Even the decisive affirmation "und was ich suche . . . / ist meine eigene Gerech- tigkeit" introduces a lament over the elu- siveness of his goal-'berloren," "fremd," and "verfinstert," all emphasizing absence and separation. Meckel's Columbus, unlike his historic forebear, acknowledges that he has not reached his goal. Still, like the 15th- century explorer, he sees his own quest as part of a divine teleology. Thus the phrase "bis zu einem schnellen Untergang" ex- tends beyond individual demise or shipwreck and hints at Armaggedon, a motif continued in the flood imagery con- cluding the poem. The navigator's travels "auf verlorenen Kontinenten / in fremder See / unter verfinsterten Windrosen" ap- pear as almost accidental consequences of his pursuit of "eigene Gerechtigkeit." With the recognition that heaven may withhold the object of his quest until the end-faintly echoing the historical Columbus's belief in the imminence of the Eschaton-the lyric subject in the last verse turns toward the future. Here, for the first time, the "ich" addresses itself as a "du." Having acknowl- edged temporality and the futility of ter- restrial journeys, Columbus has achieved a new sense of self which is able to voice itself in imperatives. The concluding exhorta- tion, "Fliege fort, fliege fort mit denvogeln," represents a renunciation of the public ac- tivity of exploration, discovery, and cartog- raphy. The navigator's gesture toward the new worlds ("ertranke die Erde / solange sie namenlos ist und gerecht wie das Wasser") combines motifs of christening a nameless, innocent entity with echoes of the Flood

("ertranke," "gerecht wie das Wasser"). Meckel's Columbus, however, shows him- self a modern, a man free from his historical predecessor's mystical preoccupations, and acknowledging the absence of any cosmic revelation, for the poem portrays him as quenching his thirst "in einem Trunk Wein, dessen Neige dir nichts offenbart / als den Grund des Bechers." In an era lacking sacral gestures, the quasi-Eucharistic ritual concluding the poem becomes a self- reflexive anointing of private vision. The syntactic and semantic coherence of this final statement, departingfrom the pattern established by earlier stanzas, suggests or- dinariness; the ritual goblet is no Grail, merely an everyday object revealing no reality beyond its own concreteness.

The gradual reduction of both spatial and historical perspective throughout the poem, from the limitless horizons and the "schoner Abgrund" through the "Ozeane," "Gebirge," 'Vfer," and "Kiiste Indiens" to the concluding "Grund des Bechers,"marks at once a renunciation of grand statement and a celebration of private insight. At the same time, it suggests temporal progress from an archaic world through the differen- tiated and named worldofthe Genesismyth to the Christian and then the post-Chris- tian era. The poem's final verse remains enigmatic. The melancholy transitoriness of the lines "solange sie namenlos ist und gerecht wie das Wasser" implies that this earth, specifically the New World, will change once it becomes colonized. The discoverer's only solace is to hold fast to the discovered world before it loses its identity and integrity. The movement from the "schdner Abgrund" to the "Grund des Be- chers," rather than signaling despair, sup- ports the pursuit of "eigene Gerechtigkeit" in upholding the primacy of individual-if limited--experience over such public state- ments as naming and, thus, of conquest. Through this experience, the lyric subject attains the ability to articulate his own goals, first innegative and then-at thecenter of the poem-in decisively positive terms. Ultimately, he achieves the voice to command himself. Less negative than Riihmkorf's 'Xi des Kolumbus," Meckel's "Kolumbus" reflects the paring down of ambition and ideals confronting Germans in the postwar society and anticipates the resignation of the "neue Innerlichkeit" that characterized much lyric poetry of the

1970s. Incorporating as its lyric subject a central figure of Western history, Meckel's text invites readers to ponder the nature of historical achievement and progress, the value of private ambition, and the sub- stance of personal and societal integrity.

Whereas Meckel's Columbus poem in the end sacralizes the personal and aban- dons questions of society and history, two other divergent poems from the mid-1950s, Christine Busta's "Die Auswanderer" and Hans Arp's "Amerika," present the dis- coverer in order to consider more specifical- ly political questions and, hence, directly confront the second dilemma often sug- gested by the figure of Columbus, that of his status with respect to the intrusive present of the contemporary world. Chri- stine Busta's "Die Auswanderer" (hpe und Delplzin, 1955) introduces the navi- gator as a bridge between the illusory security of Old World society and the uncer- tainty of emigrants' new life:

Sonntags sitzen sie wohl noch bei


stochern Kuchen und nippen Mocca,

setzen Tassen und Worte gesittet

im Gehege des Langgeiibten

und von Abschied wird nicht geredet.

Unbemerkt ist er langst voriiber:

mitten im Sicheren war ein Schwanken,

jah durch Teppich und Rasen spiirten

sie die nackten Planken der Ausfahrt,

und vor den Herzen stand kiihl die Brise.

Selten unter den Jausenglisten

sitzt Horizonte priifend Kolumbus,

Stern und Segel, die Zeichen des Meeres,

unbeirrbar am Blick erkennend

oder am Salz verbrauchter Silben.

Lautlos sind sie einander verbunden

durch die Wittrung des Abenteuers.

Aber das Neue hat keinen Namen,

und die VerheiRung liegt hinter ihnen.

Die Hand des Kolumbus bedeckt nur

sein Knie.

Published in the year of the Austrian State Treaty, the poem, though it does not mention places, dates, or events, reflects the disrup tive interlude of World War I1 in Central Europe. The opening stanza recalls a sedate Viennese Sunday afternoon Jause, the guests sipping coffee,poking at their cake, and talking. The careful placing of cups and words ("setzen Tassen und Worte gesittet / im Gehege des Langgeiibten") conveys an effete refinement, a secure cocoon of well- practiced gestures and phrases that excludes unpleasant topics. The stanza's concluding line, "und von Abschied wird nicht geredet," initiates the movement toward silence which intensifies as the poem progresses. An important element throughout Busta's poetry (Blumenthal113), the silence which develops here expresses at once the plight of many emigrants and the problematized situation of German-speaking writers in the 1950s.

The balance of the text occupies an un- resolved space between departure and ar- rival. The second stanza, the only one in the past tense, adumbrates the departure, or at least the farewell, which has occurred un- noticed ('Unbemerkt ist er liingstvoriiber"). The absence of a farewell implies the failure of many to recognize the end of one society in 1945, and perhaps of another in 1955. The comfortable security of civilized life ('Teppich und hen'') has given way to the unsteadiness rein Schwanken") of the ship's rockingplanks. The phrase "die nack- ten Planken der Ausfahrt" suggests a strip- ping away of earlier lives, a reduction to bare essentials. This nautical setting, moreover, prepares for the appearance of Columbus in the third stanza.

Busta's Columbus emerges as a mere shadow, acipher for the rare individual with the ability and energy to penetrate the shal- low chatter of the crowd. Whereas the other Jausenghte limit their perceptions to the scent of coffee and the chatter of gossip, Columbus employs his senses more directly. 'Worizonte priifend," he recognizes in the faces and even in the "Salz verbrauchter Silben" of others the signs of the sea. Not a visionary, Busta's Columbus is neverthe- less gifted with a vision which penetrates the superficial conventions of society to probe experience (the "Zeichen des Meeres") in the faces around him. It is likely that in this brief portrait of a sensitive in- dividual Busta intended a tribute to Gertrud Rakovsky, to whom she dedicated the poem. Beyond this biographical refer- ence, however, her Columbus illuminates the situation of the poet in the postwar era.

The movement toward silencrfrom the hackneyed phrases (the "Gehege des Langgeiibten") through the non-mention of farewell ('Gon Abschied wird nichtgeredet") to the traces of used-up syllables ("Salz verbrauchter Silben"hu1minates in the last stanza, which begins with the word 'lautlos." The adjective describes the bond between Columbus and the others, a bond constituted by the aura of the adventure on which all are embarked. The poem's final three lines, however, present a rather star- tling conclusion to what has preceded. Whereas each of the other verses has con- sisted of one stanza-long sentence begin- ning with an adverb in a self-consciously 'literary" style, the last verse contains three short sentences with the common subject- verb-complement structure: "Aber das Neue hat keinen Namen, / und die Verheirjung liegt hinter ihnen." Here, the inadequacy of language to accommodate the experiences of the emigrants, and thus of new states after World War 11, negates the traditional role of Columbus as the New Adam. Furthermore, the time of verbal promises ("Verheifiung") has passed. All that remains is the silent and insignificant (non-communicative) gesture of the poem's last line: "Die Hand des Kolumbus bedeckt nur sein Knie." The denial of heroic gesture here (the seated posture emphatically rejects such portrayals as that of the Bar- celona statue with its outstretched hand, or others showing Columbus with his hand shading his brow), the recognition that grand promises belong to the irretrievable past, and the abdication of language to en- compass the new postwar reality all be- speak the poem's provenance in the mid-


Busta's poem celebrates a clear-eyed, contemplative Columbus who has chosen to sit and wait as he examines the figurative horizons of the new society. The 'Wittrung des Abenteuers" linking him and the emigrants conveys the uncertainty of the dawning era, which the poem otherwise declines to name: "Aber das Neue hat keinen Namen."This line sums up the open- endedness of the poem's perspective and its tolerant plea for waiting, as well as the com- parative passivity of Busta's Columbus. He occupies the position of the poet in the post- war decades, treading a difficult path be- tween the quotidian chatter of those around him, themselves now without a home, and the pseudo-vatic role expected of writers during the Third Reich. Not amanof action, this poet-Columbus serves as an observer and a listener, occupying an interim waiting space between the exhaustion of older dis- cursive conventions and the as yet un- formed vocabulary of the new society.

In contrast to Busta's reticence, another "Columbus poem" from the mid-1950s, Hans Arp's "Amerika" (Auf einem Bein, 1955), suggests a number of playful names for this new world of postwar Europe:

Ein fadenscheiniger Clown steigt einem fadenscheinigen Clown auf den Buckel und diesem fadenscheinigen Clown steigt wieder ein fadenscheiniger Clown auf den Buckel und so fort. Dem letzten fadenscheinigen Clown steigt ein schwarmender Kolumbus auf den Buckel urn nach seinen Karavellen Ausschau

zu halten
die inzwischen in See gestochen sind
und zwar in der finsteren Richtung
aus der es sttihnt rochelt und gurgelt
und wo selbst die himrnlischen Lichter
vor Angst zittern.

Ein Bettler mit einem Kopf wie eine

entdeckt im Kleiderschrank
des schwarmenden Kolumbus
ein tadelloses ungetragenes Amerika.
Nicht weit von der Hohle des Bettlers
in der weiten sandigen Ebene
erhebt sich tiiglich einmal ein Erdteil
ein noch unbeschriebenes Blatt.
Dieser Erdteil hat vier gewaltige

Adlerbeine rnit machtigen rotlackierten pedikiirten Krallen Wie ein Raubvogel stiirzt sich dieser

in das himmlische Gewolbe
und schreit: 'Ich will das tadellose

ungetragene Amerika haben!
Der Bettler zahlt der Ordnung wegen
den Rest seiner Tage.

Ein briichiges Clownskelett
wird dick fett und reich
und kauft sich einen dressierten Esel.
Der Esel gerkit unverhofft
in einen eigentiimlichen Fall von guter

Vier Beine wachsen diesem Esel iiber
aus dem Riicken.

Nun konnen sich die beiden
nicht mehr enWiel3en
auf welchen der vier Beine
ausgeritten werden solle.

Als der Bettler mit dem Kopf wie eine


der Wehrnut verfiel

versuchte der schwarmende Kolurnbus

das ijbermenschenmijgliche.

Er versprach was die Sprache hergibt

und lie13 noch wahrend einer Woche

glattziingige gleisnerische

Onomatopoesien folgen.

Er versprach dem Bettler

die wunderjauchzende massiv


selbstgeigende Zigeunergeige.

Vor dieser Wundergeige

miiRten selbst die altbekannkn Himmel


die voller Geigen hangen.

Die Folge davon sei

daR beide

der Bettler und seine Wenigkeit der


hoch hoch oben

in den lichtesten Tiefen des


mit allen hchswild gewordenen Engeln

zu den jeder Beschreibung spottenden


der diarnantenen Zigeunergeige tanzen


und aller Wehmut quitt waren.13

In Arp's witty, at first glance surrealistic poem, the figure of Columbus performs a pivotal function in establishing the work's political thrust. This text confirms the insis- tence of manyrecent critics thatArp'spoetry after World War 11, far from restricting itself to the "purely" verbal play of the Dadaist phase, shows a focused response to problems of the time.14 The coherence which this Columbus, as the link between Old World and New, brings to an apparently nonsensi- cal sequence of images clarifies the poem's satirical stance toward postwar West Ger- many.&~ Columbus, likeBustals, is aspec- tator rather than anagent. Unlike hers, how- ever, Arp's stands firmly in the tradition of Forster and Schiller as an exalted visionary, designated by the repeated epithet "ein schwarmender Columbus." In the course of the 65-line poem, he develops into a full- blown utopian; indeed, the main verb associated with Columbus in the poem is "ver- sprechen."

"Amerika" opens with a grotesque se- quence of threadbare clowns, each climbing onto the back of the one before, and Colum- bus climbing onto the back of the last in order to look out for his ships. The sequen- tiality of this opening presents the image of worn-out historical epochs following one another with unremitting sameness, cul- minating in the appearance of a raving visionary. Oddly, Columbus arrives not to look out for a new land, but rather to spot his ships, which have already put to sea without him and, indeed, in a rather ques- tionable direction: "und zwar in der finste- ren Richtungl aus der es stohnt rtjchelt und gurgelt / und wo selbst die himmlischen Lichter /vorAngst zittern."The poem's ren- dition of medieval seamensJ lore, though humorous, establishes a context of danger and threat as an attribute ofthe New World, for which Columbus himself has no interest in serving as spokesman, nor even as dis- coverer.

Indeed, the verb "entdeckenJJ here ap- plies to the cryptic figure who opens the second verse, %in Bettler mit einem Kopf wie eine Ddrrbirne / entdeckt im Kleider- schrank / des schwarmenden Kolumbus / ein tadelloses ungetragenes Amerika," the clothing metaphor contrasting markedly with the shabbiness of the earlier clowns. Without identifying this troglodytic crea- ture specifically with any one West German politician, the reader can nevertheless recognize in the cave-dwelling beggar a spokesman for Germany of the postwar decade. The land near his cave, "ein noch unbeschriebenes Blatt," conveys the uncer- tain identity characteristic of this transi- tional period and resembles Busta's obser- vation: "Das Neue hat keinen Namen." The attributes of this land, however, become in- creasingly negative in the rest of the second verse; the "vier gewaltige Adlerbeine / mit machtigen rotlackierten pedikiirten Kral- len" present an image of the new political era in a Germany defined by the four great powers, but dominated by vulgar American culture and predatory militarism. In its screams of "Ich will das tadellose ungetrageneherika haben," there resonates the eagerness of the postwar Federal Republic to grab all that the Marshall Plan and the NATO alliance offered.

The third verse delineates the conse- quences of this alliance between Old World and New. This verse, the only one in which the "schwarmender Kolumbus" fails to ap- pear, returns to the clown, the image for Old World civilization, which, though first reduced to a skeleton, suddenly grows fat and rich (much like the FRG during the Wir.tschaftswunder) and buys itself a donkey. The donkey, like the carefully con- trolled conservative governments set up in Germany in the late 1940s and early 1950s, appears well-trained ("dressiert"), but it also suddenly becomes strangely pregnant. The image of the four extra legs sprouting out of the donkey's back overnight, re- capitulating the four powerful talons earli- er, suggests a paralyzing indecisiveness brought on by the Cold War division of Ger- man territory: 'Nun konnen sich die beiden / nicht mehr entschliel3en / auf welchen der vier Beine / ausgeritten werden solle." The impregnation of the Old World by the New has produced the former's prosperity, but also its stagnation, an inability to go any- where on its own feet. The melancholy and stereotypically German 'Wehmut" which this situation elicits in the beggar shunts the text back to Columbus and to the longest part of the poem, the 22 lines of the fourth verse.

The lyrical language of the final stanza almost effaces the poem's political satire as Columbus attains his full stature as rhap- sodic dreamer. While eliminating the Renaissance navigator's role of discoverer, Arp's poem emphasizes another aspect of the Columbus legend-his persistent promises. Whereas these historically tend- ed toward the assurance of gold just around the corner, in "Amerika" they acquire more grandiose, metaphysical dimensions as Columbus attempts "das hermenwhen- miigliche." The historical Columbus's es- chatological preoccupations here turn into predictions of future bliss.

It is perhaps possible to read the final verse as a warning about linguistic mani- pulation, about fantastic, inflated promises and the dangers of bombast as an antidote for a nation's melancholy. The anxious struggle of German writers in the postwar decade to free themselves from the inflated rhetoric of the Third Reich, and the con- comitant focusing of the nation's energies on pragmatic concerns of the present and away from cosmic pretensions of destiny, would provide a plausible context for such an interpretation. However, the playful ex- uberance and musicality of the verse removes its language from both the vacuous pomposity of the Third Reich and from the more sober diction of the "economic mira- cle." Like much of Arp's work, this verse provides a virtuoso demonstration of "was die Sprache hergibt," a performative cele- bration of "glattziingige, gleisnerische Onomatopoesien."

Arp's Columbus himself has emerged from a carnivalesque milieu of clowns and costumes in closets. The "wunderjauch- zende massiv diamantene selbstgeigende Zigeunergeige" he promises implies a world on which the conflicts and tensions of the three earlier stanzas do not encroach. Rather than skepticism toward language, such asmotivated Adorno's pronouncement about the barbarity of writing poetry after Auschwitz, Arp's "Amerika" projects, in motifs like "Onomatopoesien" and the 'jeder Beschreibung spottende Klange," a transcendence of language and of experience through a non-mimetic art that draws closer to music, an art of non-sense. The legacy of Fbmanticism implicit in the 'Wundergeige" / Vunderhorn" parallel lingers here.16 Arp's Columbus speaks as a visionary trickster, a Nietzschean artist-

metaphysician, suggested in the pun on "Ubermensch" in "das ~bermenschenmtigliche."Art and poetry are marginalized here, relegated to the realm of carnivals, gypsies, and wild-eyed enthusiasts, and permanently confined to the subjunctive mode in which the poem ends. The image of Columbus and the beggar dancing6'inden lichtesten Tiefen des Himmelsauges / mit all den fuchswild gewordenen Engeln I zu den jeder Beschreibung spottenden Klangen/ der diamantenen Zigeunergeige" appears asfancifully improbable asthe his- torical Columbus's visions of gold from the New World underwriting a final trium- phant crusade to the Holy Land. Neverthe- less, the very reading of Arp's lines elicits an exhilarating ludic joy which almost sus- tains the exuberant promises of Columbus. The question persists how these promises fit in with the poem's title. The last verse, populated by 'Zigeuner" and "Engel," is resolutely nonnational; at the end of the poem, the sense of "Amerika"seems to shift away from the political entity "United States" to a mythical "Land der unbegrenz- ten Moglichkeiten," construed here as a New World of limitless artistic promise ar- ticulated by Columbus, who thus now be- comes its discoverer and spokesman.

Busta's and Arp's poems place the figure of Columbus in the context of broad political and historical dilemmas, without reducing it to a single epithet (such as great navi- gator, imperialist, plunderer, etc.). Less satisfying treatments of the discoverer as an unwitting, though not innocent, initiator of colonialism and imperialism appear in poems by two Swiss writers, Adrian Turel's (1890-1957) "Maske der Caesaren" (1960) and Albert Ehrismann's "Der Vagant" (1973). Turel's unconventional meditation on the reciprocity of ambition and corrup- tion presents Columbus as a 'Mammon- traumer" navigatingc'ein traumzennorsch- ter Kahn":

Wachst denn der Mensch mit seinen
hohern Zwecken?
Seerauber, wirst du mild,

Wirst du zum Caesar durch den Sieg?

Der Sieg ist eine Maske,
Der Sieg ist euch die Maske Agamemnons.
Ein jeder Narr steigt mit der Welle aufden

hochsten Kamm. Dort bildet er die Maske Agamemnons Aus seiner Fratze, Bindet sich die Maske des milden Caesar Vors GebiR des Metzgerhundes, das ihrn

eigen ist.

Wachst dieser Mensch mit seinen hohern

Zwecken? Wird durch den Diebstahl Der Defraudant zum Weltverwalter?

Kann diese Maske Agamemnons, Kann diese Maske Caesars Den blut'gen Clown erhohn, der sie

miBbraucht? Kein Begrabnis t6tet Das Ahen des Uran. Keine Caesar-Maske Verhiillt mit Moschusduft,mit

Ambra-Rauch Das iible Grinsen reichgewordner Diebe.

Wer spricht vom Jenseits, und er war nicht dort?

Gewalt der Bilder trligt mich wie ein schiff, Nicht gleich dem Schiffdes schlafenden

Odysseus Der greisen Heimat zu- Gewalt der Bilder tragt mich wie ein Schiff Des Mammontraumers, des Kolumbus in

die Ferne . . . Was fiir ein Wrack und Kriippel war sein Schiff, Ein traumzermorschter Kahn, und trug

ihn doch
Ans unerwiinschte Ziel.
Was fiir ein morscher Kahn sind meine

Traume, Und hielten dennoch jedem Sturme stand, Und trugen mich zu Ufern, die kein

Den 'lbdesstrom verwebend wie der

Den Stiefel schniirt,
Mit seiner guten Fahre je
Erfahren kann.

Erfahren, ja! erfahren!

Was keine Kindertraume dir bescherten,

Das wirst dunie erfahren, alter Seemann.

Wer niemals tief im Traurn

Hineinfiel in den Brunnen,

Um tief im dunklen Brunnen

Bei der Frau Holle

Inmitten Sommeralmen dazusitzen,

Der wird auch niemals

Aus braunem Pech so fertig

Und so wie Speck in Schichten


Sich selbst zurn Staunen eine Sonne

kneten. . .

Wer spricht vom Jenseits, und er war
nicht dort?

(Jentzsch 61-63)

Unlike Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who in his ballad collection Mausoleum (1975) would belittle power and so-called historical progress by dismissing Columbus in passing as a "Seefahrer aus Italien,"16 Turel acknowledges an ambiguity in the discoverer, who represents the sole alterna- tive to political tyrants. The historical Columbus acts as alter ego to the poetic subject, since both have been driven "am unerwiinschte Ziel," and both, unlike the "Agamemnons of the world," are striving toward a "Jenseits." The poem lurches er- ratically between a critique of political power (culminating in Cold War rearma- ment and the nuclear threat) and an ex- amination of individual aspirations, in which the outward-bound idolatrous Columbus parallels the poetic subject borne on the rotten skiff of his own dreams (though Turel's own personal obsession ap- pears to have been fame rather than mam- mon.)17 The conclusion, a pastoral vision garnered in a voyage to the bottom of Frau Holle's well, seems to signal a retreat into the solace of a private world. Turel simply abandons the conundrum that initiated the poem. Though he by no means insists on the prettiness of the imaginative realm- Turel asserts, 'Wer niemals tief im Traum 1Hineinfiel in den Brunnen, / . . . Der wird auch niemals /Aus braunem Pech . . . / Sich selbst zum Staunen eine Sonne kneten . . ."-his final vision leaves glaringly un- resolved the question of whether ambition corrupts.

A more coherent poem mentioning Columbus, by Turel's younger compatriot Albert Ehrismann, bears the marks of dis- illusionment and skepticism that swept European intellectuals in the Vietnam era. Ehrismann returned repeatedly to Colum- bus as a figure appropriate to a variety of political questions. His Der neue Kolumbus: Eine dramatische Erztihlung, a Brechtian musical drama from 1939, seizes the vaguest outlines of the historical figure and forms out of them a parable of socialist utopianism. In that work, Ehrismann transfers the historical Columbus's es- chatological preoccupations to a recogniz- ably modern European context threatened by economic and social unrest and military aggression. Columbus appears as an ideal- istic visionary determined to discover a new world where the oppressed can take refuge. In this quest, he must contend, not against skeptical European royalty but against cal- culating capitalist oppressors bent on preserving their power through force. The sighting of land at the end accommodates a note of uncertainty as the chorus exhorts the viewers to continue the struggle. The play's last line, 'Bald steht im Licht der ganze Kontinent," was to prove prophetic. Ehrismann's later musical drama Kolum- bus 1zelz1.t zuriick, first performed in 1946 for the seventh Schweizerisches Arbeiter- Turn- und Sportfest in Basel, also freely substitutes fantasy for historical facts. This Columbus, like Meckel's later one, rejects the exotic realm of Cathay and the Great Khan as "nicht unser Land," seeking in- stead a land "in dem Recht Recht und Un- recht Unrecht ist" (19 ff.). Although the vocabulary anticipates Meckel's "Kolum- bus," Ehrismann's protagonist aims at broader social and political justice and comes close to sacrificing his personal in- tegrity in their pursuit. Reflecting its origins immediately after World War 11, Ehrismann's second Columbus play vacil-

lates between declarations of idealism and suggestions of a tragic loss of innocence. In the end, this politicized Columbus preaches an egalitarian idealism that remains dis- satisfying in its simplistic generalizations: 'Wir alle sind Columbus / Und uberall ist das schonere Land! / Man mul3 es nur entdecken wollen und ktimpfen, ktimpfen, kiimpfed fur die neue Erde" (76). The at- tempt to transform Columbus into an Everyman figure, too, proves precarious. A later rhymed poem by Ehrismann, 'Tierra! Tierra!" from 1962, seeks an alternative to Columbusascentral hero by celebrating the common sailor who first sighted the New World. Yet again, despite this shift in focus, the text ultimately confirms Columbus's role as the chief instrument of history, for it is he who records Rodrigo de Wiana's name in the log while the lyrical subject, for all his professed identification with and ad- mirationofthe shiphand, ineffect preserves the sailor's anonymity by mumly conclud- ing: 'Ych kenne seine Knabenstirn I und weilj, wer er war":

Rodrigo de Triana.
WeiRt du, wer er war?
Wer kennt seine Knabenstirn?
KiiRte sein Haar?

Rodrigo de Triana.
Er schrie hoch vom Mast.
Schrnutzig von Kopf bis Sohle?
Himrnlischer Gast?

Rodrigo de Triana.
'Tierra! Tierra!'
Und er zeigte wo.

Am zwolften Oktober.
Er ist's, der sie sah.
Die Insel Guanahani
in den Bahama.

Rodrigo de Triana.
Matrose, unbekannt.
Columbus hat im Bordbuch
seinen Namen genannt.

Rodrigo de Triana.
Ich kiisse sein Haar.

Ich kenne seine Knabenstirn
und weiR, wer er war.

(Jentzsch 92-93).

The Columbus who then finally appears in Ehrismann's poem "Der Vagant" bears more visibly the marks of disillusionment and skepticism sweeping Europe in the Vietnam era:

Der Laubwald steht zinnobern. Oktobern, ja oktobern ist jetzt die Zeit. Friihnebelhauch, Kartoffelstaudenfeuer auch, bedeuten, dall-dimdudeldei- die hohe Zeit voriiber sei. Das Taglicht kurz. Die Schwarze langer. Nach Beute geht kein SchermausBnger. Das Arnmonshorn, das ich noch fand, ist heiRen Sommers spiites Pfand versteinter Kalk- und Kreidezeiten. Man muR die Schuhe wohl ausweiten fiir dickre Socken. In der Tasche warmt trostlich eine Tresterflasche die kalte Haut und bald die Kehle. Wle aber warmt die triibe Seele, falls es sie gibt, ihr eigenes Haus? Werjetzt kein Bett hat, wandre aus und findenein, Kolumbus schon schwamm das gesuchte Fell davon. Und noch einrnal urn Goldprunks willen die Makaiser blutig killen, ausrotten Volker, stehlen, stehlen zum Ruhrn der frommen weiRen Seelen? Nein, nein! Westindien ist fern. Falsch war der Kurs und falsch der Stern. Die Hirnmel ldt, wo sie auch waren! Wenn ihr mich fragt-vorbei die Miren der Kinderlieder. '. . . Sternlein stehen .. . Wer weiR wieviel verlorengehen .. ! Was kiimmert's mi&? Hier ist mein Ort. Der Traum vom Paradie-verdorrt. Ihr nennt mich Strolch, Vagant, fast Vieh. Die andern denn-was schufen sie? Sind's Kriege nicht und Furcht und Gift? Den's in die dunklen Eler triB der Erde, glaubt's, der hat's nicht leicht. Wem niitzt's, daJ3 ihr den Mond erreicht, Atome spaltet, siegt? Fiir wen? Ich will jetzt durch die Walder gehn. Vielleicht, man la& bei kleinen Bauern rnich diesen Wlnter iiberdauern. Kann Baume Bllen, Messer schleifen, Rundholz zersagen, Hunden pfeifen. Mich scheren Schwielen nicht noch

Will eins nur nicht: Mit Wolfen heulen.
Der Laubwald stehtzinnobern nun.
Veneihhich habe viel zu tun.18

To be sure, the discoverer is again the ven-

turesome idealist who embarked less on a

journey of exploration than on a futile flight from the economic afflictions of the Old World: 'Wer jetzt kein Bett hat, wandre aus / und finde -nein, Kolumbus schon / schwamm das gesuchte Fell davon" (98). Yet here, even as the lyrical subject addresses some of the negative historical consequences of 1492, specifically genocide and plunder of innocent peoples by "fromme, weil3e Seelen," he shies from larger political questions, for the simple allusion to Rilke's "Herbsttag" substitutes areducedspatia1entity"Bett"for the original "Haus," and hence signals a narrowing of aspirations. The first-person 'Vagant" cites these instances as the jus- tification for his own resolutely apolitical stance-'Will eins nur nicht: Mit Wolfen heulen." The speaker's wholesale rejection of Western history, extending to moon landings and, as in Turel's poem, atomic energy, has led him to the life of a vagabond, a societal outsider. At the same time, through a num- ber of self-contradictory statements, the poem undermines the legitimacy and credi- bility of the vagabond's position. Even the affirmation "Hier ist mein Ort" within the speaker's dismissal of the New World as an illusory paradise is itself a meaningless statement for a wanderer, a man lacking even a bed of his own. Likewise, his choice of a life without binding commitments lends the poem's fml line, 'Verzeiht, ich habe viel zu tun," a note of duplicity. The poem thus makes the pint that, rail as we would like against the Age of Discovery and the sub- sequent progress of Western science, we are all inescapably their heirs. The exotic first adjective in the poem, "zinnobern," describ- ing the autumn foliage, underlines this posi- tion, for cinnabar, found in Spain (Colum- bus's pint ofdeparture), China (his intended destination), and North America (his ul- timate discovery), has subverted the

speaker's vocabulary. Similarly, his unself- conscious observation of the "Kartoffel- staudenfeuer," mentioning a staple of the European diet introduced from the New World, undermines the assertion 'Westin- dien ist fern. / Falsch war der Kurs und falsch der Stern" and supplements the speaker's own answer to his question "Die andern denn-was schufen sie? / Sind's Kriege nicht und Furcht und Gift?" The reader involun- tarily asks: And what about potatoes?

Ehrismann's 'Vagant" projects a self- contradictory and illusory world which the text itself cannot sustain. The vagabond himself, rejecting the grand ideals em- bodied in the poem by Christopher Colum- bus in favor of an almost Biedermeier withdrawal to one's own "Ort," thus proves no less deluded than the discoverer. In the end, the reader doubts that the vagabond's modest quest for winter refuge will be any more successful than Columbus's search for the earthlyparadise. The text provides little assurance that this defiant individualist will pursue the various handyman chores which he envisions for himself in a winter abode as assiduously as he willcultivate the consoling 'Tresterflasche" in his pocket. Ehrismann's poem pairs Columbus with the anonymous vagabond to suggest finally that restless journeying inevitably leads beyond its own goals, that the traveler often has little control over the outcomes of his peregrinations. Those who seek to over- come this distressing effect of travel by at- tempting to step outside society and history only delude themselves. For such people, as for the vagabond, hiking around in a limited area and keeping busy with trivial tasks may be the best palliative for a persistent Reiselust, but, when couched in terms of broad political protest, such gestures look pathetically insignificant. The poem's ul- timately fatalistic underpinnings, whether Ehrismann hirnselfrec~~hzed

them or not, derive from and reflect the profound disil- lusionment affecting many German-speak- ing writers during the war in Vietnam.

In comparison with the Columbuses of Busta and Arp, the references to the dis- coverer in Ehrismann's and Turel's poems reflect a narrowly circumscribed political conception. In these works, Columbus figures simply asan icon for fame (Turel) or for the advancing dominance of European civilization (Ehrismann). At the other end of the political spectrum, but with similarly schematic dimensions, stand two Colum- bus poems of different eras from the Ger- man Democratic Republic, Joochen Laabs's 'lch will Kolumbus sein" (Eine Strapen- bahn fir Nofretete, 1970) and Andreas Whler's 'Diesmal kommt Kolumbus nicht zuriiclr" (1989). Laabs's poem of 14 long lines spread unevenly over four stanzas presents Columbus as an unambiguously forward-looking individualist:

LaRt mich einen neuen Seeweg nach
Indien suchen!

Auch wenn ihr mir die Atlanten aufklappt, voller MeBwerte bis in den letzten Winkel.

LaRt mich Kolumbus sein!

Auch wenn wir wissen, daJ3 sich vor dem Bug der westwiirtsgerichteten Schiffe die Kordilleren aus dem Meer baumen

und daR erst der Panarnakanal
hindurchzuschlagen ist

und daR noch vierhundert Jahr die
Schleifscheibe saust, ehe die kte
schlagfertig sind.

Lal3t mich Kolumbus sein! Auch wenn wir wissen, dal3 er auf Guanahani landete und nicht in Calicut. Auch wenn wir das wissen.

LaRt mich Kolumbus sein! Selbst wenn ich nicht mal auf Guanahani landen sollte,

sondern bloB einen Stein aufheb, den
sonst die Brandung ins Meer

oder ein Wort einfang, das sonst der Wind zerfetz t hiitt, oder ein Ucheln aufspiir, vielleicht, das ohne mich versandet geblieben- mag sein, es gibt mehr nicht her als den Pfahl einer Buhne, den ich einramrne vor meine Hallig gegen das gefriiBige Meer;

vielleicht aber ist es gewaltig genug,

Bauwerke vielfachen Ausmal3es des

Empire State Building zu griinden,

und ihr tragt's ein in eure Landkarten.

LaRt mich einen neuen Seeweg nach
Indien suchen!

Ich will Kolumbus sein.lg

This treatment, which in American litera- ture of the time would seem schoolboyishly naive, resonates with political overtones in the East Germancontext. Laabs draws back from directly attacking socialism and even professes allegiance to some of its tenets, par- ticularly its emphasis on engineering and constructionas reliable measures of human progress, though he shows himself often at oddswith those in authority in the state. In- deed, the lyric subject here, in its juggling of self-assertiveness with pragmatically neces- sary subservience, resembles the historical Columbus during much of his career. This tension, announced already in the shift between the title "Ich will Kolumbus sein" and the poem's opening line, 'ZaRt mich einen neuen Seeweg nach Indien suchen," moti- vates the poem.

The opening line replaces the assertive- ness of the "ich" in the title with a deferen- tial request and relegates the first person to an accusative object. The unnamed "ihr" against whom Laabs casts his Columbus appear initially as modern, positivistic authorities who, in pointing to the detailed chartings of the earth, deny the possibility of new discoveries. Their atlases, "voller MeRwerte bis in den letzten Winkel," con- vey an oppressive fullness of knowledge which seems to obviate the need for further travel. The poetic subject itself, however, values the freedom to seek a new route to India over the practical probability of find- ing one. Rather than continue this confron- tational posture of individual against authority, the speaker moderates his posi- tion in the second and third verses, as the "ihr" gives way to "wir" (''auch wenn wir wissen"), establishing a consensus between

the "ich" and the earlier "ihr," and thus mitigating any accusatory overtones of the first verse. The anamnesis in the second and third verses, basedon the fact that both parties know full well what Columbus will discover, and what historical events will fol- low, heightens the sense of consensus. Yet there is a melancholy irony in the 'kir wis- sen," since the places named here (the Cor- dilleras, the Panama Canal, Guanahani) were for citizens of the GDR objects of abstract intellectual knowledge and seldom subjects of experiential knowledge gained through actual travel.

Although the fourth verse continues the anaphoric structure of the 'Zafit mich," the poem now supplements the "auch wenn" concessions with statements about the pos- sible nature of the new Columbus's dis- coveries. Now, the subjunctive mood estab- lishes the tentativeness of these discoveries; the move to indicative, though modified by "mag sein" and 'Gielleicht," strengthens the probability of these projec- tions until finally, in the poem's concluding line, the lyric subject has liberated itself enough to affirm with the title: "Ich will Kolumbus sein." This verse begins to de- lineate various different modes of action, encompassing the physical ("einen Stein aufheben"), the intellectual ('ein Wort ein- fangen") and the emotional ("ein Lacheln aufspiiren"), that the speaker yearns to un- dertake. All three celebrate the individual impulse against destructive forces of large, crushing movement. Although these lines recall the trope of explorer battling natural danger, in the context of the poem they em- phasize not man against nature, but rather individuality against powers (metaphor- ically, the tide and the wind) that threaten it with dissolution.

This theme of besieged and defiant in- dividuality, politically problematic in the GDR of the time, recedes in the latter part of the verse. Now, a shift to the indicative mood hints at possible benefits which a new Columbus might bring to state and society. The text implies that greater tolerance of risk and individualism becomes necessary to prevent social stagnation. Although the roving adventurer may simply manage to build a breakwater for his own little island, he could, on the other hand, with a kind of Whitmanesque enthusiasm?O construct the foundation for buildings even larger than the Empire State Building. The rather sudden shift in focus away from the southern part of the New World (Panama Canal, Guanahani) to North America21 es- tablishes a contrast between Germany, im- plicitly East Germany, and the United States which somewhat coyly hints that the "ich" here may contribute concretely to the socialist struggle against imperialism. In the final line, with the ability to say "ich will" restating the title, the poetic subject assumes a more decisive posture in com- parison with the earlier requests for per- mission.

Against the background of constraints on western travel from the GDR, Laabs's poem conjures up the figure of Columbus in order to plead for a more open society, without questioning the premises of the ex- isting society. Compared with Arp's rhap- sodic trickster, Busta's prescient venturer, even Ehrismann's unwitting agent of colo- nialism, Laabs's Columbus appears as a cardboard image, a flat exponent of prog- ress through technology and engineering, a believer in an unambiguous course of his- tory who matter-of-factly accepts the build- ing of the Panama Canal and its con- comitant destruction of virgin forests ("und dafi noch vierhundert Jahr die Schleif- scheibe saust, / ehe die heschlagfertig sind") as inevitable stages in the history of progress. In its schematic sketch of a crea- tive, forward-looking individual, the poem suggests that the socialist state may suc- ceed if it cultivates or at least allows the venturesome individual initiative which this kind of Columbus exemplifies.

Columbus as the embodiment of an ad- venturous, escapist impulse appears quite differently in another poem from the last years of the GDR, Andreas Riihler's "Dies- ma1 kommt Kolumbus nicht zuruck" (1989). Rijhler, a young poet living in Berlin, belongs to the new generation of East Ger- man writers who attracted attention through the 1985 anthology Beriihrung ist nur eine Randerscheinung edited by Elke Erb and Sascha Anderson. By the end of the decade, many of the GDR's most promising authors (among them, Wolfgang Hilbig, Ga- briele Eckart, Uwe Kolbe, and Anderson himself) had left the country, an exodus that provides a backdrop for Riihler's whimsical poem. Rijhler's poem returns to the topos of Columbus's death used by Riihmkorf and plays with the connection between Colum- bus and emigration to a new world which shapes Busta's and Ehrismann's poems.

Es ist die letzte die endgiiltige

Die seit Jahrtausenden vorbereitete Reise

Fiirdie es weder Karten noch Phantasien


Diesmal ist es Ernst Sagte der Engel Der sonst Stidtetouren zusarnmenstellt Wenn du dich morgen rasierst Wird es Fiir die Ewigkeit sein

Machts gut Esel und Schokolade Machs gut Milch Blatter und Baurne Ade Und fahrt hinaus ads Meer Aufdem jetzt jeder Steuermann sein kann Fiir das keine Haltung mehr nijtig

Apart from the title, a few images establish the identity of the seafarer (''Reise," "Kar-ten," 'Weer") whose days of petitioning (the ''Esel," incongruous in Berlin, alludes to the legendary Columbus's arrival at the Spanish court on a donkey) and exploration ("Scho- kolade" designating a New World discovery, though not one attributed to Columbus) lie behind him. Beyond the title and these iso- lated references, the poem adeptly operates with generalities. The grandiosity of the dic- tion in the first stanza-"die letzte die endgiiltige / Die seit Jahrtausenden vor- bereitete Reid-pretends to establish acos- mic context for individual suicide, which the second stanza ironically undermines. An angel who begins by proclaiming "Diesmal ist es Ernst" turns out to double asa city tour guide. This incongruous motif, linking the final journey to orientation in a city, hints that the "death" contemplated may consist in flight to West Berlin. Similarly, the end of the frst stanza, referring to the trip 'Tur die es weder Karten noch Phantasien gibt," sug- gests the GDR cartographical convention, familiar to Western readers from Peter Schneider's Der Mauerspringer, of showing simply a blank expanse in Berlin to the west of the Wall. Thus, the poem's concluding image of "das Meer / Auf dem jetzt jeder Steuermann sein kann / Fur das keine Hal- tungmehr notig istj'refers at once to mortal demise and to the chaotic individualism of the West. Moreover, the last line implies both political ''Haltung" and more general equi- librium. Read as a commentary on an individual's imminent departure from the East, even "Ewigkeit" in the second stanza's 'Wenn du dich morgen rasierst / Wird es fur die Ewigkeit sein," designates the finality of emigration, the impossibility of return.

In the various poems discussed above, from Ruhmkorf to Riihler, the historical fig- ure of Columbus, by virtue of his individual biography, persistently emerges as a paral- lel to the troubling complexities of Central European history, especially the legacy of World War 11. But while these highly dis- tinct poems have in common an intertex- tual connection to the larger Columbus tradition, and share a variety of particular- ly German thematic motifs such as history, emigration, death, genocide, victimization, language, freedom, escape, and discovery, the dilemmas Columbus poses-as, on the one hand, the visionary poetic hero and, on the other, the man of practicality-remain largely unreconciled. Nowhere do these thematic configurations surrounding the pivotal figure of Columbus intersect with such depth and intensity as in Paul Celan's "Die Silbe Schmerz" from Die Niemands- rose (1963):

Es gab sich Dir in die Hand:

ein Du, todlos,

an dem alles Ich zu sich karn. Es fuhren

wortfreie Stimmen rings, Leerformen,


ging in sie ein, gemischt

und entmischt

und wieder


Und Zahlen waren

mitverwoben in das

Unzahlbare. Eins und Tausend und was

davor und dahinter

grijl3er war als es selbst, kleiner, aus-

gereift und

riick- und fort-

verwandelt in

keimendes Niemals.

Vergessenes griff

nach Zu-Vergessendem, Erdteile,



sanken und schwammen. Kolumbus,

die Zeit-

lose im Aug, die Mutter-


mordete Masten und Segel. Alles fuhr aus,



bliihte die Windruse ab, blatterte

ab, ein Weltmeer

bliihte zuhaufund zutag, im Schwarzlicht

der Wildsteuerstriche. In Sargen,

Urnen, Kanopen

erwachten die Kindlein

Jaspis, Achat, Amethyst-Volker,

Stiimme und Sippen, ein blindes

Es sei

kniipfte sich in

die schlangenkopfigen Frei-

Taue -: ein


(und Wlder- und Gegen- und Aber- und

Zwillings- und Tau-

sendknoten), an dem

die fastnachtsiiugige Brut

der Mardersterne im Abgrund

buch-, buch-, buch-,

stabierte, stabierte.

Here, thevoyage of Columbus, at first glance a slim allusion, becomes a crucial probe into the uncertain terrain of language and his- tory confronting writers in the post- Auschwitz world as Celan moves forcefully to meditate on both aspects of the explorer's Janus-like personality.

Celan's poem opens with images of lan- guage in a state of primordial fluidity, then advances through a delimiting process of creation to culminate in the stammering articulation of syllables in the penultimate line. Yet the apparent progression from the undefined to the defined reveals, in fact, the persistent and disturbing multivalence of language. Columbus, who at first would ap- pear to be a cipher for the stasis of the canonized hero, becomes surrounded in this context by the unremitting flux that affects history, language, and human existence. A text interweaving 'Wortwerdung," 'lch- werdung," and 'Weltwerdung" (Perels 56), 'Die Silbe Schmerz" reflects the dialogical polarities associated with other Celan texts (cf. Schwarz and Lyon). The poem subtly juxtaposes the historical figure Columbus with the fictive storyteller Scheherazade, reiterating the dualistic conceptual frame- work established in the opening by the stark contrast between du and ich.Yet the closer the text moves toward its conclusion, the mo1.e the separate terms of the many dualisms become interconnected. Proceed- ingfrom a state of inarticulation and travel- ing toward articulation, the poem projects a series of images and terms which them- selves reveal double meanings. The in- dividual words in Celan's contrasting pairs resonate with overtones that allow them to be read alternately in both positive and negative lights, or, frequently, from both Jewish and Gentile perspectives. The fleet- ing appearance of Columbus in the third stanza, thus, initially plays on the reader's conventional and fwed assumptions about the navigator; yet it ultimately challenges such comfortable views through the com- plex and, sometimes, contradictory web of allusions to i5th and 20th-century history, Judeo-Christian heritage, literary tradi- tion, and Celan's own biography which the poetic figure is made to bear. By virtue of these allusions, then, Celanuses Columbus to arrive at the poem's conclusion, where victim and murderer become entangled in one language.

The poem's opening words, 'Es gab sich Dir in die Hand: / ein Du, todlos," pairing the impersonal construction "es gab" with the poetic convention of apostrophe, obscures rather than defines the relation- ship between the "Dir" and the poetic sub- ject. The "Du" of the second line, the "Silbe Schmerz," renders the lyric subject here (which might or might not be the "Dir") silent; the lyric subject certainly does not voice itself as an "Ich," for the "1ch"remains an abstraction ("alles ich"). These two lines convey an intimacy between the "Dir" and the 'Du" suggesting both proximity and the posture of writingwith a hand-held utensil. But language itself remains unformed in the first stanza. 'Wortfreie Stimmen" and 'Zeerformen" grow capacious enough to ac- commodate "alles," without, however, amalgamating into words, remaining, in- stead, simply "gemischt."

The advent of history, and with it nar- ration, in the second stanza advances the poem beyond the primordial chaos of the opening. The sequentiality implied by such words as 'Davor und dahinter" or "riick- und fort-," as well as the implications of growth and development in the organic vocabulary such as "gereift" and "keimen- des," suggest evolutionary progress. The preoccupation with Jewish experience that characterizes the poems of Die Niemands- rose surfaces in this stanza. The phrase 'Zahlen mitverwoben in das Unzahlbare" bespeaks the fates of distinct individuals among the countless victims of the Holo- caust. The "Eins und Tausend," an adroit allusion to the Tausend und eineNacht, im- plies the imperative of narration-here, not to prolong life through storytelling as Scheherazade did her own, but to preserve memory through recounting history, rescu- ing the 'Vergessenes" of the third stanza from the 'Zu-Vergessendem."The intimacy between tormentor and victim charac- terizing the situation of Scheherazade defines the plight of the Jews as well.

The concrete embodiment of history in the poem, Columbus appears in the third stanza, as in Meckel's "Kolumbus," as the initiator of the modern era. The Renais- sance rewriting of the "Erdteile," however, culminates negatively in the threatened forgetting of individuals, the "Herzteile" lost in the Holocaust. The historical simul- taneity of Columbus's departure and the ex- pulsion of the Jews from Spain provide the unspoken background here. In keeping with the exclusionary doctrine that moti- vated the expulsion, Celan's Columbus ap- pears, not as a seafarer with modern navi- gational instincts but rather as a religious visionary driven by a single-minded devo- tion to the Holy Mother: "Kolumbus, / die Zeit-/ lose im Aug, die Mutter- / Blume, / mordete Masten und Segel."

The dense imagery of this stanza en- compasses many, sometimes paradoxical, dimensions. The term 'Zeitlose" and the flower imagery associated with the Virgin Mary (Perels 58-59) collide with the violent intensity of the phrase "mordete Masten und Segel." Although the latter expression may imply, as Perels suggests, a voyage needing neither masts nor sails, it also evokes-through the traditional associa- tion of ship masts with the cross-the ruthlessness of European cultural progress in destroying its own ideals. Further, Perels also links the floral imagery of this poem to the autumn crocus or "Herbstzeitlose" of Apollinaire's "Les colchiques" (54), a paral- lel which, by token of the colchicum's bloom- ing season, would connect the time of Columbus's landfall with the autumn mur- der of Celan's mother by the Nazis. Moreover, the colchicum's poisonous properties intensify the associations of Columbus with unnatural death.22 Cer- tainly the division of the words "Zeit-lose" and "Mutter-blume" to emphasize "Zeit" and "Mutter" in the succeeding lines em- phasizes the mortality of the mother.

This seasonal coherence continues in the following stanza, where embarkation is followed by the lines "bliihte die Windrose ab, bllitterte / ab." 'Windrose" denotes both the windflower, or anemone, which blooms in the spring-the season of Columbus's departure (and, thus, of the expulsion of the Spanish Jewskand the face of the com- pass, which itself faded in glory as the charting of new worlds became complete. The word "-rose," in addition, possesses a doubly complex cultural legacy as a symbol in both Jewish and Christian traditions for, respectively, Israel and the Virgin Mary.23

Celan sustains the ambiguity of these natural and historical allusions from the third stanza to the end of the poem, em- phasizing the death-bringing impulses of modern history, for which Columbus (im- plicitly linked to the diaspora by the events of the Inquisition that coincided with his first voyage) becomes the central icon. The disturbing violence of the phrase "mordete Masten und Segel" forms the background for the lines that immediately follow, a statement which otherwise would seem to celebrate the Age of Discovery: "alles fuhr aus,/ frei,/ entdeckerisch."These lines con- vey the restricted perspective which histori- ography imposes, for the "alles" actually designates only the small groups of in- dividuals who actively initiated the Age of Discovery. At the same time, the stanza breakseparatingUalles fuhr aus" from"frei" in the following stanzaopens the possibility of an involuntary exodus. Thus, in isolation, the phrase "alles fuhr aus" embraces the problematic of the diaspora begun in the late 15th century in Spain.

The fourth stanza intensifies the vegeta- tive metaphors introduced in the second and third ("bliihte ab," "blatterte ab," '8liihte zuhauf und zutag") and associated with the movement of time and history. Here, however, the phrase "im Schwarz- licht der Wildsteuerstriche" signals a change from blossoming and from daylight ("zutag") over into darkness and morbidity (developed here and in the final stanza by the terms "blind," "fastnachtsaugige," "Mardersterne," and "Abgrund"). As the poem enters this different natural realm, the associations evoked by the water- flower-mother imagery of the third verse wane. The word 'Wildsteuerstriche" men- acingly presages this change with its image of the zigzag wake of a wildly veering ship no longer held firmly on course: either no one is at the helm, or the navigator no longer is clearly focusing on "die Zeitlose."

Having moved from the amorphous void of voices and empty forms, Celan has sketched a new Genesis and has separated earth ('Erdteile") from water ('Weltmeer'?. Yet once human history appears, this Genesis gives way to an Apocalypse. The fourth stanza concludes with complex im- agery of the dead awakening: 'Tn Sargen, / Urnen, Kanopen / erwachten die Kindlein / Jaspis, Achat, Amethyst-Volker, / Stamme und Sippen." With respect to Columbus, these multiply suggestive im- ages illuminate the genocide on both the New and Old continents; for the word "Kindlein" echoes designations of native peoples of Central and South America com- mon in early European accounts. These lines also emphasize the links between the age of Columbus and events of later European history, for the three stones men- tioned denote the tribes of while jasper and amethyst, according to legend, were to be part of the walls of the New Jerusalem, the vision to which both Colum- bus and Celan seem to aspire.25

As so often is the case in Celan's poetry, other meanings, particularly the magical powers attached to each gem, come into play Thus jasper, thought to stop bleeding and evil spirits, was often called the 'Waise," a word poignantly appropriate to many survivors of the Holocaust, including Celan. Pieces of agate, a stone considered effective against bad weather and floods, were sometimes called "Achat-Mandeln," a term that morphologically links the poem to Osip Mandelstam, to whom the volume Die Niemandsrose is dedicated. Amethyst

is both the February birthstone, tradition- ally the month of "Fastnacht," and also a gem of a purple hue similar to that of col- chicum.

All these associations with death, or- phanhood, catastrophe, and the end of time climax in the phrase "ein blindes / Es sei." The syntactic simplicity of this construction poses a sharp contrast to the multivalent meaning of the four words. The lines could be read as the decree of an oppressor-in a position akin to that of God--or as the fatalistic acceptance on the part of the vic- tims (''Let it be,"or "So be it"). Although the impersonal "es"fol1owed by the subjunctive echoes the Biblical creation, e.g., "es werde Licht," the modifying "blind" implies dark- ness. The phrase thus designates the help- less response of the children of Israel and of the "childlike" natives of the New World to the oppressive intrusion of European history, for the various terms "Volker, St amme, und Sippen" pointedly avoid using the noun "Geschlecht," the Biblical word for the tribes of Israel, taking up, instead, terms obscenely appropriated by Nazi rhetoric (see also Rolleston 44). The sub- sequent lines in the poem ("einKnoten/und Wider- und Gegen- und Aber- und Zwil- lings- und Tau- / sendknoten") enunciate the tragically complex interweaving of the Jewish (and Indio) response to events with the course of history after Columbus, for the text continues the earlier nautical imagery, now with sinister overtones. The "Frei- / taue," like the dangling lines of historical tradition, appear "schlangenkopfig," a term that echoes the serpentine image of evil and victimization from Celan's'Tbdesfuge."The stars, both aids to navigation and signs of individual destiny (often in Celan's work associated specifically with the Jews), have become "die fastnachtsaugige Brut / der Madersterne im Abgrund."

This last sequence of images has elicited much commentary (cf. Perels and others),*6 but Celan's neologism Mardersterne seems most certainly a response to apoem by Nelly Sachs which in its opening stanza con- siders: 'Wer weilj, . . .ob in der Tragijdie der Erde / die blutig gerissene Kieme des Fi- sches/bestimmt ist, /das SternbildMarter / mit seinem Rubinrot zu erganzen, / mit den ersten Buchstaben / der wortlosen Sprache zu schreiben-.'a7 Celan, casually sub- stituting the voiced consonant d for the un- voiced t, seeks with great effort to move beyond the wordlessness of nature, love, and death Sachs ponders, and toward an articulation of the fate of untold martyrs. While the motif 'Wardersterne" opens up numerous connections between 'Die Silbe Schmerz" and other poems in the final sec- tion of Die Niemand~rose,~~

this individual poem leaves unresolved the question of his- tory raised by the mention of Columbus. The final stammering verb, "buch-, buch-, buch-/ stabierte, stabierte," conveys the problematic of writing modern history in an age when the destructive forces of evil seem to elicit the helpless complicity of their vic- tims. History's vocabulary becomes associated with the pain of the title. This his- tory, at least for the moment in Die Niemandsmse, refutes the apocalyptic visions of a New Jerusalem hinted at earlier in the poem. Celan's "schlangenkopfige Frei-Taue" unifies the image of the seven- headed beast and the "alte Schlange" from Revelation, both of which are deposed and cast down into the abyss. In the poem, they continue to hover free, whereas it is the 'Wardersterne" which find themselves in the abyss. This inversion of height ("Ster- ne") and depth ('Abgrund) suggests that the Judgment has yet to occur. Thus, the constellation fully incorporates a contradic- tory tradition of meanings, uniting the transcendent symbolism attached to stars with the painful associations of the yellow star evoked for Jews.

The distance seems vast between the Columbus constructed by Celan's poem, with its multilayered mystical and histori- cal connotations, and the decrepit old man sketched by Riihmkorf. Yet in all these texts, the earlier paradigms of the dis- coverer of the New World as an exalted

visionary or an individualistic adventurer have not wholly vanished. Twentieth-cen- tury realities have harshly eroded the con- ceptions about heroes, history, and poetic language on which the Columbus legend was once based. Moreover, especially for German-speaking cultures after World War 11, the whole definition of "Old" and 'New" Worlds has become problematic as the com- paratively "old" social and political struc- tures of the continent discovered by Colum- bus came to play a major role in redefining the identities of such Central European countries as West Germany and Austria. At the same time, in the mid- and late 20th century, a poignant awareness of the earth's ecological fragility has brought broadrecon- siderations of the Age of Discovery heralded by Columbus, whether in terms of political consequences or simply in terms of the ex- haustion of new frontiers. Such recon- siderations defined the page heading in Die Zeit for a group of literary texts celebrating Columbus and printed as part of the 1992 quincentennial: "Seeheld, Feigling, FGiuber, Ausbeuter, erster Kolonialist?But while a prose writer like the Austrian Peter Rosei could ask forthrightly, '?st nichts mehr zu entdecken?/ 1st alles schon entdeckt?," and dramatists such as Ehrismann or Peter Hacks could turn the stage into a politicized forum for investigating colonialism, poets writing in German have looked to Colum- bus to define their own quest for language.

The repeated appearance of Columbus as the medium for this endeavor would in- itially seem to suggest a continuing interest on the part ofpoets inconstructingaroman- tic hero cum writer. The German tradition ofa Columbus who renouncesempiricaldis- covery to follow apriori ideals, indeed con- tinues as the unspoken background for these poems, at the center of which there often stands a question, be it about justice, integrity, art, or history. Still, 500 years after the original voyage of discovery, the answers to these questions are by no means simple. The comparative terseness of the poetic works and their idiosyncratic realiza- tion nevertheless accommodate diverse strands of the Columbus legend interwoven with the complexities of recent history, without resolving the many contradictions raised. The preoccupation of all the poets cited with language per se in relation to history constitutes a feature unique to postwar German verse. While it remains to be argued in broader terms whether Ger- man poetry is passing into a phase of postmodernism, and thus simply manipu- lates figures like Columbus as part of a dis- connected pastiche (arguably the direction in which Riihmkorf or, possibly, Arp tends), or whether it still seeks a late-modernist resolution of the many contradictorymean- ings invoked (like Busta, Meckel, and, above all, Celan), the fact remains that par- ticularly German questions about writing and history shape the image of the "Admiral of the Ocean Sea"in these texts, rather than the reverse. Afigure as culturally alien and temporally distant as the great navigator, with his combination of a stubbornly for- ward-looking vision and an unregenerately backward-looking ideology, then, provides postwar German poets with a multivalent signpost for some of the persistent, un- resolved dilemmas of German historical tradition and of the redefinitions of dynamics between Old Worlds and New.


lBoth writers express appreciation to the Na- tional Endowment for the Humanities for support- ing this essay with grants.

20tt, in Chap. 111,"Amerika im Spiegel deut- scher Reiseberichte vor 1900," offers a summary of these shifting views from a more recent perspec- tive. Wetzel discusses a number of obscure works but offers little analysis and is badly tainted by its historical origins.

3Elliot 12.

4Adrian del Caro analyzes the evolution of the Columbus figure in the ceuvre of each of these two poets.

5Wassermann was preceded in this interpreta- tion by Ernil Lucka's Znbrumt und Dusternis: Ein Bild des &ten Spanien (1927),inwhich Columbus,

Cortks, and Pizarro all appear as variants of Don and 'Tndex" n.p.


6For a lucid examination of these eschatologi- cal ruminations and their place in the explorer's biography, see Pauline Moffitt Watts.

7Samuel Eliot Morison's definitive study The Admiral of the Ocean Sea exemplifies this interpretation.

sHamburg: Rowohlt. Reprinted in Kunststuk


%e 19th century produced numerous works in this vein. A 20th-century work which plays inventively with the tradition is Claudel's Le livre de Christophe Colomb (1929; Engl. The Book of Christopher Columbus, 1930).

lome legend is remarkably persistent in 20th- century German works on Columbus. In a short dramatic sketch "Christoph Kolumbus)) by Walter Hasenclever and Kurt T~~cholsky,

Amerigo Vespuc- ci turns up and recounts a variant version whereby Columbususes theeggtrick to quell a mutiny, after his men have declared: "So wenig wie man ein Ei auf die Spitze stellen kann, werden wir jemals Land sehn." Tucholsky 1093.

llThe writers wish to thank Reinhold Grimm for introducing them to this poem. 12Berlin: K. Wagenbach, 1967. Reprinted in Meckel, Werkauswahl 114-15.

13Wiesbaden: Limes.

14Th,s Chris Bezzel interprets texts from Sin- nende Flammen (1961) to show "in welcher Form das Gedicht von Arp asthetischen Widerstand leistet gegen das Grauen der Weltwirklichkeit nach Auschwitz und vor Tschernobyl" (25). Gregor Laschen, in 'Von der griindlichen Grundierungdes Gedichts: Zu HanslJean Arp," argues: "Die Gedich- te Arps wahrend des Krieges und danach nehmen einen anderen Weg: ihr anarchischer, den Bildern der Sprache seit Dada-Tagen ausgelieferter Gestus offnet sich der Wahrnehmung dieses Grauens ringmmbewufit, mahnt, warnt, klagt an" (22). Karl Riha examinespostwar revisions ofArpls Dadaist texts to refute the preconception "wonach die experimentelle Moderne der ersten Jahrzehnte des Jahrhunderts in ihren Wiederaufnahmen und Weitefihrungen nach 1945 im Zirkel ihrer forma- len 'Modernismen' befangen geblieben sei und deshalb auch in ihren Zeitbezugen steril bleiben muate. Das Gegenteil ist der Fall!"(88).

15Brentano's influence, frequently mentioned with regard to the earlier poems (Dohl, Gellhaus,

H. A. Watts) seems to have persisted through Arp's

literary career. 16Enzensberger, see "C. F. (1772-1837)" 6E-69

171, his autobiography, significantly titled Bilanz eines erfolglosen Lebem, Turel notes almost proudly that he is mentioned "in keiner deutschen Biographie, auch in keiner deutschen Literaturge- schichte auch nur mit einer SilbeJ1; ?Lrel, Bilanz


lgJentzsch 97-99. A slightly later work of Eh- rismann's contains poems directly addressing events in Vietnam. Die Gedichte des Pessimisten und Moralisten Albert Ehrismann: Eine Chronik, September 1968-August 1971.

lgPublished in Luchterhand Jahrbuch cler Lyrilz, 1989190. Ed. Chr, Buchwald and RolfHaufs (Frankfurt: Luchterhand, 1989) 90.

20Whitrnan) who himself honored the Renais- sance explorer in the poem "A Thought of Colum- bus," was widely available in translation in the GDR, first through a collection published by Aufbau in 1957 and later in a translation by Erich Arendt published by Verlag Neues Leben in 1974.

21For documentation on the historical impor- tance of this shifc which occurred in German liter- ature as a whole between the mid-17th and 18th centuries, see Jantz 38.

22The writers are grateful to Ingo Seidler for pointing out that colchicum is poisonous.

23See Schulze and Mayer.

24Perels 72, fn. 57, per Peter Mayer, "Paul Celan als judischer Dichter" (Diss. Heidelberg, 1969) 194ff.

25~rockhaus,"Achat," I: 92-93; L'Amethyst," I: 449; "Jaspis," M: 414. Rolleston, in his extensive treatment of the poem, has also noted that jasper's purported curative properties evoke "a sealed-off, protected humanness" ("Consuming History" 44). His reading is predicated on the view that Celan seeks to make history static (39) and at times employs loosely suggestive phrases that do not yield specific thematic connections (41); cf. also Rolleston, Narratives ofEcstasy 150-65. For all the pertinent questions the essay raises about philoso- phy of history, however, close analysis of "Die Silbe Schmerz" reveals a high degree of specificity and interconnectedness among Celan's allusions, par- ticularly with respect to Columbus. Moreover, as the above interpretation seeks to show, Celan's text delineates a dynamic conception of history as it moves through past and present toward a future in which temporal and ideological categorizations no longer hold.

261fone accepts the menacingtones ofAbgrund and Marder-like the snake, a crawling creature, either related to Latin mordere "to bite" or to morden, asPerels suggests (cf.Grimm VI:162)and combines the echoes with Marter, then the festive adjective "fastnachtsiiugige" aeems shock- ingly inappropriate. As with the phrase "er spielt mit den Schlangen" in 'Todesfuge," the attribution of play or a carnivalesque spirit to a threatening figure intensifies its evilness. In his interpretation of this image, Rolleston accepts another possible etymology, put forth by Kluge, connecting Marder to the Lithuanian word for bride (47).

270riginally in Sachs, Und niemand weip weiter (1957); quoted from Sachs, Gedichte, ed. Hilde Domin 55-56. Celan, of course, dedicates another poem from Die Niemandsrose to Nelly Sachs, "Zurich, Zum Storchen," which describes a meeting between the two poets.

28AsBernd Witte 7 9 has suggested in his essay on the poetic cycle Celan created in this colledion, the poems in Die Niemandsrose often serve as com- mentary on each other. Thus "Mardersterne," for all its negative connotations, also seems in a posi- tive way to answer the need expressed in the pre- cedingpoem in the volume, 'T-Iuttenfenster," where the poetic subject searches for a constellation (as a sign or guide in the contemporay world) and "pfliickt / das Sternbild zusammen, das er, / der Mensch, zum Wohnen braucht, hier, / unter Menschen." Likewise, the "Mardersterne" constel- lation seems ultimately related to the stars in Orion, evoked in the penultimate poem of Die Nie- mandsrose, "Und mit dem Buch aus Tarussa," where Celan writes about "drei / Gurtelsterne Oriondakobs-/ stab, du. . . ."(289). Orion, a mythological hunter and yet also, in a sense, a martyr transformed into a constellation, bears three distinguishing stars in his belt, the number of the three gemstones mentioned in "Die Silbe Schmerz." And Orion, moreover, seems to mediate the tentative resolution Celan achieves for "der Verbannte" (the wandering Jew) in the final poem of Die Niemandsrose, "In der LuR." Here, at last, the rich imagery of navigation, stars, and mar- tyrdom coalesces in the mmewhat fragile but none- theless affirmative depiction of a wanderer who carries his own sense of place within (''Mit ihm / wandern die Meridiane" 290) and, despite the horrors of the world, still dares to hope and search for language.

Works Cited

Arp, Hans. "Arnerika."Aufeinem Bein. Wiesbaden: Limes, 1955.

Blumenthal, Bernhardt G. "Imagery in Christine Busta's Writings!' Seminar XIII.2 (1977): 111


Bezzel, Chris. "Lyrik vor Tschernobyl: Zu HansIJean Arp." Tert und Kritik 92 (1986) Hans /Jean Arp: 25-37.

Brant, Sebastian. Das Narrenschiff. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1964. Brockhuus Enzyklopiidie in 20 B6nd.m. Wiesba- den: F. A. Brockhaus, 1970. Busta, Christine. "Die Auswanderer!' Lampe und Delphin. Salzburg Otto Miiller, 1955. Celan, Paul. "Die Silbe Schmen." Gedichk. Frank- furt:Suhrkamp, 1978. I: 28C-81.

Del Caro, Adrian. 'The Columbus Poem of Hdlder- lin and Nietzsche." Colloquia Germanica 21.2-3 (1988): 144-58.

Dohl, Reinhard. "Unsinn der Kunst gegen Wahn- sinn der Zeit: Hans Arp und Hugo Ball zum Hundertsten." Twt und Kritik 92 (1986) Hans /Jean Arp: 66-80.

Ehrismann, Albert. Die Gedichte des Pessimisten und Moralisten Albert Ehrismann: Eine Chronih, September 1968-August 1971. Ror- schach: Nebelspalter, 1972.

. Kolumbus kehrt zuriick: eine dramatische Legende. Zurich: Biichergilde Gutenberg, 1947.

. "Tierra! Tierra!" Schweizer Lyrik des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts. Ed. Bernd Jentzsch. Zurich: Benziger, 1977. 92-93.

. "Der Vagant." Schweizer &k des manzigsten Jdzrhunderts. Ed. Bernd Jentzsch. Zurich: Benziger, 1977.97-99.

, and Kurt Friih. Der neue Kolumbus. Zurich/New York: Oprecht, 1939. Elliot, J.H. The Old World and the New, 1492- 1650.Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970.

Enzensberger, Hans Magnus. Mausoleum: Sieben- unddreipig Balladen aus der Geschichte des Fortschritts. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1975.

Forster, Georg. 'Vorrede." Reise um die Welt. Georg Forsters shmtliche Schriften.Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1843. I.

Fries, Fritz Rudolf. "Kubanische Kalenderblatter." Alle mine Hotelleben: Reisen 1957-1 979. Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau, 1980.

Fritz, Walter Helmut. "Columbus." Die Zuuerllis- sigkeit der Unruhe: Neue Gedichte. Hamburg Hoffmann and Campe, 1966.

Gellhaus, Axel. 'Naivitiit undIronie: Problemeund Ansatzpunkte fir eine 1iteraturwissenschaRli- che Auseinandersetzung mit Hans Arp. Tert und Kritik 92 (1986) Hans/Jean Arp 8-15.

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Deutsches Worter-

buch. Leipzig: Hirzel, 1854-1914.

Hasenclever, Walter, and Kurt Tucholsky. "Chri- stoph Kolumbus." lbcholsky, Kurt. Gesammelte Werke. Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1960.111: 109295.

Herf, Jeffrey. Reactionary Modernism: Teclznology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.

Jantz, Harold. "TheMyths about America: Origins and Extensions." Jahrbuch firAmerikastudien 7 (1962): 6-18.

Jehlen, Myra. American Incarnation: The Indivi- dual, the Ndion, and Continent. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986. 'Kolumbus: Seeheld, Feigling, FZiuber, Ausbeuter, erster Kolonialist?" Die Zeit, 10 January 1992:


Laabs, Joochen. "Ich will Kolumbus sein." Eine Strdenbahn fur Nofretete: Gedichte. HalleBaale: Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 1970. 35-


Laschen, Gregor. 'Ton der griindlichen Grundie- rungdes Gedichts: Zu HansIJean Arp,"Tat und Kritik 92 (1986) Hans lJean Arp: 16-24.

Lyon, James K. 'Tau1 Celan and Martin Buber: Poetry as Dialogue." PMLA 86 (1971): 110-20. Mayer, Peter. "Alle Dichter sind Juden." Germa- nisch-Romanische Monatsschrift, N.F. 24 (1973): 32-55. Meckel, Christoph. "Columbus." Werlzauswahl. Munich: Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung, 1981.114-15. Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. Boston: Little, Brown, 1942.

Ott, Ulrich. Amerika ist anders: Studien zum Amerika-Bild in deutschen Reiseberichten des

20. Jahrhunderts. Frankfurt: Lang, 1990.

Perels, Christoph. "Zeitlose und Kolchis: Zur Ent- wicklung eines Motivkomplexes bei Paul Celan." Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift, N.F. 29 (1979): 47-74.

Riha, Karl. "'Zweite Fassungen': Zu Text-Modifl- kationen in der Lyrik Hans Arps." Text und Kritik 92 (1986) HanslJean Arp: 81-88.

Rlihler, Andreas. "Diesmal kommt Kolumbus nicht zuriick." Luchterhand Jahrbuch der Lyrik. Ed. Chr. Buchwald and Rolf Haufs. Frankfurt: Luchterhand, 1989. 60.

Rolleston, James. "Consuming History: An Analysis of Celan's 'Die Silbe Schmerz.' Psalm und HawcEalah: Zum Werk Paul Celans. Ed. Joseph Strelka. New York: Lang, 1987. 37-48.

-.Narratives ofEcstasy: Romantic Temporal- ity in Modern German Poehy. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1987. Rosei, Peter. "Kontinuierliche Aufzeichnungen iiber Christoph Columbus: Beziehungsweise zur Problematik der Entdeckung neuer und alter Welten."Manuskripte 50 (1975): 122-36.

Riihmkorf, Peter. ''Das Ei des Kolumbus." Kunst- stucke. Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1962.46-47. Sachs, Nelly. 'Wer wein." Gedichte. Ed. Hilde Domin. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1977.55-56. Schulze, Joachim. "Mythische Motive in Paul Celans Gedichten." Poetica 3 (1970): 472-509. Schwarz, Peter Paul. Totengediichtnis und dialo- gische Polarittit in der Lyrik Paul Celans. Diis- seldorf: 'BeihefteJJ Wirkendes Wort 18 (1966).

Turel, Adrien. Bilanz eines erfolglosen Lebens. Zurich: Edition Moderne, 1989. . "Die Maske der Caesaren." Schweizer Lyrilz des zwanzigsten Jahrhunclerts. Ed. Bernd Jentzsch. Zurich: Benziger, 1977. 61-63.

Wassermann, Jakob. Christoph Columbus-Der Don Quiclzote des Ozeans: Ein Portrtit. Berlin: Fischer, 1929.

Watts, Harriet Ann. "Chance: A Perspective on Dada."Ann Arbor: University Microfdms, 1975.

Watts, Pauline Moffitt. 'Trophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Colum- bus CEnterprise of the Indies'." American Histor- ical Review 90.1 (1985): 73-102.

Wetzel, Ernst. Der Kolumbus-Stoff im deutschen Geistesleben. Breslau: Priebatsch's Buchhand- lung, 1935.

Witte, Bernd. "Der zyklische Charakter der Nie- mandsrose von Paul Celan." Argumentum e si- lentio. Ed. Amy Colin. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1986. 72-86.

  • Recommend Us