My main touristic goal in coming to Paris was to visit the grave of the poet Paul Celan, who was buried in the city’s vast Thiais cemetery after his suicide by drowning in 1970. Such a miserable fate, and unexpected after the increasing lucidity (even optimism?) of his last work, as in ‘Give the Word’ (English translation by Michael Hamburger):
Ins Hirn gehaun — halb ? zu drei Vierteln ? —,
gibst du, genächtet, die Parolen — diese :
Es kommen alle, keiner fehlt und keine.
(Sipheten und Probyllen sind dabei.)
Es kommt ein Mensch.
Weltapfelgroß die Träne neben dir,
Durcheist — von wem ?
»Passiert«, sagst du,
Der stille Aussatz löst sich dir vom Gaumen
und fächelt deiner Zunge Licht zu,
Cut to the brain – half? by three quarters? –,
nighted, you give the password – these:
All come. Male or female, not one is missing.
(Siphets and probyls among them.)
A human being comes.
World-apple-sized the tear beside you,
roared through, rushed through
Iced through – by whom?
“Pass” you say,
The quiet scab works free from off your palate
and fanwise at your tongue blows light,
If you ever visit this cemetery, be aware that the entrance is in the northwest and, if you are walking from the Choisy-Le-Roi train station, it is best to go around the north side. I choose to go around the south side, which is a pedestrian-unfriendly labyrinth of motorway onramps where I wasted a lot of time.
Celan is buried in division 31, which was unmarked when I visited, though you can find it next to divisions 30 or 32 which are marked. If you have GPS, the approximate coordinates of the grave are 48.76379°, 2.37555°.
The poet is buried under an unassuming black headstone together with his first son François, who died in infancy, and his wife Gisèle de Lestrange. The grave does, however, stand out for its lack of a cross among the multitude of Roman Catholic-decorated headstones, as well as for the many stones left on it that show it is frequently visited. The latter is a encouraging sign — when a number of people could only assume I was going to visit the grave of Jim Morrison when I mentioned a Paris cemetery, evidently some still appreciate Celan’s uncompromising verse.