by Paul Celan
Deathfugue War Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (line)
Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink (lines 1-3)
These opening lines are the poem's refrain. They are repeated at the beginning of each new turn of the "fugue." The war experience for the camp prisoners unique (and uniquely terrible) because, unlike a battle that must end at some point, there is never any let-up in the fight for survival. There is no time during the day when they are not forced to drink "black milk."
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he orders us strike up and play for the dance (lines 9-10)
The Jews are forced to do the dirty work for the Nazis. Not only was forcing the prisoners to dig graves considered efficient, but it also wore down the spirit and morale of the prisoners. It was part of the strategy in the Nazi war on the Jewish people.
He shouts jab this earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue (lines 17-18)
The guard is portrayed as more and more inhumane as the poem goes along. Here he is shown beating the prisoners, and his blue eyes are a symbol of cruelty, rather than the ideal that the Nazis hoped for. He is like a musical conductor, ordering one group to dig and the other to play music.