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by Paul Celan

Stanza 4 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 28-30

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink

  • The poem circles back one more time to give us a final variation on the fugue.
  • We get the same bit about the "black milk" as before, but this time Celan splices in the line that "Death is a master from Deutschland."
  • The poem is beginning to fragment and split apart, like a Merry-Go-Round out of control.

Lines 31-32

this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true

  • The guard is explicitly compared with the figure of Death. Death's eye is blue, and so are the guard's eyes, as we learned back in line 18.
  • The guard begins to execute some (or maybe all) of the Jews. He shoots them with his lead bullets.
  • Someone (maybe the guard himself) ironically praises the guard's marksmanship, as if we should be happy that he can shoot "level and true."
  • The Nazis cared much more about skill and efficiency – and here shooting is an example – than they did about the results of this efficiency, which were often devastating.

Lines 33-35

a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams

  • The poem has exploded into violence and death at the end. The guard has finally loosed those menacing dogs on the Jews.
  • The speaker notes ironically that he has "granted" them "a grave in the air."
  • "Granted" usually has positive connotations, like when your wish is "granted" or some formal request is "granted" by the authorities.
  • It's as if the guard thought he were doing the prisoners a favor by "granting" them death. He's like, "What's the problem? Now you have a grave in the air. Isn't that great?" He forgets that they had no choice in the matter.
  • We are left with the lingering image of the two sides of the guard – his cruelty and his culture. He daydreams like a thoughtful adolescent, but he plays with his vipers like a madman.

Lines 36-38

der Tod is ein Meister aus Deutschland
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith

  • The poem concludes with three separate phrases. In our translation (Felstiner's), all of these phrases are in German.
  • First, "Death is a master from Deutschland," which takes on new resonance now that the Jews have been killed.
  • Next, the contrast between Marguerite and Shulamith. The idealized and erotic images of these two fictional women stand uncomfortably against the real-life violence that has just been described.
  • Celan wants us to think about the role or art and literature in the Holocaust as we finish reading this work of art.
  • The contrast of "gold" and "ash" is like the contrast of the Nazi ideal (in their own minds) with the reality it produced.

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