How we cite our quotes:
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Marguerite
your ashen hair Shulamith (lines 15-16)
Marguerite and Shulamith are contrasted against each other, as if they were natural enemies. But, in fact, they are simply characters from literary works separated by thousands of years, and you would never think to contrast them if Celan did not do so here. Marguerite is idealized as "golden" and her blond hair symbolizes a Nazi nostalgia for innocence and purity. Shulamith, on the other hand, has "ashen" hair that reminds us of death. She is an erotic figure in the Hebrew "Song of Songs," but no trace of eroticism remains in this poem.
der Tod is ein Meister aus Deutschland
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith (lines 36-38)
In the last three lines, the poem slows down to a crawl. These lines are all about identity, namely, the fractured sense of identity produced by Nazism and the concentration camps. These images – of Death, Marguerite, and Shulamith – are confusing and do not seem to form a unity. But when you think about it, both of the female figures, and the cultures they represent, are forever linked together by death and the legacy of the Holocaust. Even today, it is hard to think about either Germany or the Jewish people without remembering this connection.