The Analysis of Paul Celan’s “In Front of a Candle” in relation to Ezra Pound’s Modes Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: May 21st, 2019

Being discussed as one of the most famous poets in whose works the Jewish topics and motifs are combined with the private feelings and emotions, Paul Celan remains to be the controversial figure in the literary world because of the significant literary heritage written in the German language during the post-war period which is discussed as the Jewish one.

To focus on the topics and devices used by Celan in his poems, it is necessary to discuss the poem “In Front of a Candle” in relation to Ezra Pound’s modes such as melopoeia, logopoeia, and phanopoeia. Usually, all these modes are presented in a poem, but one of the effects can dominate and contribute to determining the specifics of the poet’s style.

Paul Celan’s “In Front of a Candle” can be characterized by the significant impact of the logopoeia and phanopoeia effects when the melopoeia effect is not intensive. The logopoeia effect is observed in “In Front of a Candle” with references to the vivid metaphorical and symbolic language used when the phanopoeia effect is produced with the help of the great imagery presented in the text of the poem.

The taxonomy of poetry can be described with references to Pound’s three modes. According to Pound, logopoeia employs “words not only for their direct meaning, but it takes count in a special way of habits of usage, of the context we expect to find with the word, its usual concomitants, of its known acceptances, and of ironical play” (qtd. in Ma 52).

Logopoeia is also “a play in the shading of the words themselves” (qtd. in Ruthven 121). Thus, the play of words controlled by the poet provides the unique effect and helps accentuate the idea of the work.

In its turn, phanopoeia can be discussed as “a casting of images upon the visual imagination” (qtd. in Ma 52-53). Moreover, melopoeia organizes and influences the words “over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning” (qtd. in Ma 52-53). As a result, the effects of these modes are so intensive that the poem can be characterized by one dominating mode, and the other effects can be not so vivid.

In his work, Celan plays with the religious meanings of words used and symbols in order to discuss the controversial topic of the Holocaust and commemoration of the dead. The poem is presented in the form of dialogue, meditation, and praying while providing the large context for the meanings’ play.

Thus, the author states “I shaped the Candlestick, out of which / she darkens for me in the midst of / fracturing hours, / your / Being-Dead’s Daughter” (Celan). The reader is expected to think about the menorah, the ritual of commemoration of the dead, and about the consequences of the Holocaust. These associations are hidden in the text of the poem’s first lines.

The poem is divided into two parts in relation to the content. The words of the first part are correlated with the Biblical messages when the second part of the poem is the character’s blessing which is spoken in front of the candle. The candle is the important symbol in the poem which role is intensified with references to using the opposite verb ‘to darken’ in relation to the candle in order to break the associations with light. As a result, the concept of shadowiness is accentuated in the poem.

The second part of the poem which is the blessing includes the Biblical words and produce associations. The central meaningful part of blessing is built round the meaning of the word ‘Amen’ to state the definite protest and refusal, “In the name of the Third, who piles white stones in the middle – / I pronounce you free / of the Amen that overpowers us, / of the ice-filled Light at its rim” (Celan). In this context, the idea of the unfairness, despair, pain, and darkness is more emphasized in the blessing.

The visual images associated with the phanopoeia effect are presented in all parts of the poem, accentuating the products of the character’s consideration and dreaming in front of the candle.

Thus, the products of the character’s imagination are the female figure and the dancing figures produced by the candle’s flame, “Slender in Form, / a thin, almond-eyed Shadow, / Mouth and her Sex / danced round by Slumber-Beasts, / she drifts from the gaping Gold / she rises up, / to the Summit of Now” (Celan).

The next stage of the visual image produced is the association of the “almond-eyed Shadow” with the form of the flame. The more general visual effect is the complex association of the described images with the play of the candle’s flame.

In his poem “In Front of a Candle”, Paul Celan’s focused on the combination of logopoeia and phanopoeia effects. As a result, the poet’s work is extremely expressive, and the author operates a lot of meanings and images to produce the necessary effect on the audience.

Works Cited

Celan, Paul. In Front of a Candle. n.d. Web. <>.

Ma, Ming-qian. Poetry as Re-Reading: American Avant-garde Poetry and the Poetics of Counter-method. USA: Northwestern University Press, 2008. Print.

Ruthven, Key. Ezra Pound as Literary Critic. USA: Routledge, 1990. Print.

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