A Reading of Paul Celan’s Todesfuge
Dein Aschenes Haar
Charcoal on paper
Paul Celan’s poem, Todesfuge, describes the fate of the two women. To describe the first, Celan writes, “…wenn es dunkelt nach Deutschland dein goldenes Haar/Margarete…” It is implied that the woman’s golden hair will save her because the light hair must mean she is German Christian. On the contrary, he continues, “Dein aschenes Haar Schulamith wir schaufeln ein Grab in den Lüften/da liegt man nicht eng.” Shulamith’s brown hair indicates that she is Jewish. He states explicitly that she will die. Celan defines his characters by their appearances to emphasize the trivial traits that led to one’s fate.
Celan, Paul. Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan. Translated by John Felstiner. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.