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"Most writers strive for variety in their use of syntax; for example, striking effects can be created from varying long, complex sentences with short, simple ones (Hamilton 191)."

I'm a huge fan of syntax, as dorky as that sounds.  I honestly believe that the writer has the composition in mind as they are writing, and that it never happens on accident. For my American Lit class, and for the English Club's Genocide Poetry event, I picked the poem "Deathfugue" simply on the basis of its unremitting syntax. 

For those that have never read "Deathfugue" it is a poem about the Nazi soldiers making the Jews dig graves and sing while they watch their loved ones being slaughtered. The poem has no punctuation at all, making it into one, big run-on sentence. Why would the Celan do this? One reason could be that seeing that it was written in such a heightened state of terror, the author was franticially writing it and trying to get all of his thoughts down. He was so scared and breathless, that he simualted that in his writing.  Not only does it provide for an interesting read, but it also opens the door of his emotions to his audience. 

For a more elaborate read into how syntax effects writing, I'm going to quote a few paragraphs on "Deathfuge" that I wrote for my American Literature course:

"Universally, syntax is seen as a means of conformity and culture (Rosen). The rules of the human language were written by humans and therefore can be broken to reveal stylistic qualities and to convey messages. Celan applies a ceaseless syntax to this poem to exhume unpalatable emotions from his readers, and to present the scene through fast paced speech and broken structure. These entities are intertwined within to represent an unending nightmare for the Jews, as well as their broken faith and shattered conformity (Wytovich 1)."

"A fast paced speech is instantly recognized when reading the first stanza. The reader will notice that it, along with the entire poem, is one large run on sentence. Because of its structural complexity, it causes the reader to use a quickened speech combined with short breaths. Rosen’s lecture sparked my belief that Celan did this to show his audience the fast paced lifestyles of the workers, the era, and the event of the Holocaust itself. Everyday people were being thrown into the crematories, tortured to death, and abused on a regular basis. They lost a sense of time because they were in such a constant state of awareness and shock, that their time figuratively became a run on of each and every day (Rosen). There was no longer a Monday, a Tuesday, or a Wednesday. It was only morning and night, with little time in between to breath. Syntax conveys this picture to us as we read straight on through the poem (Wytovich 2)."

"The broken structure allows the audience to feel the emotional attachment that we get to the words. By not giving us the chance to pause when we read, it makes us pay greater attention to the word choice and plot. We feel the need when to yell and whisper even though there is no exclamation point or period. We can almost hear the song that is being sung through the lyrical repetition in the poem. At Dr. Rosen’s lecture, I pointed out that the absence of syntax allows us to feel and to visualize, but most importantly, it allows us to understand (Rosen) (Wytovich 2)."

The above was written for Dr. Patterson's American Literature 1915-present course / February 18, 2008 / Titled: Every Civilian Discourse Hides Behind a Mask of Identity



Greta Carroll said:

Wow Stephanie, this blog entry was amazing! I would definitely put it in the category of depth for the next portfolio. I had never read “Deathfugue” before; it certainly is a powerful poem, laced with meaning, feeling, and death. “Deathfugue” was an excellent example of syntax and your explanation drives home the importance of it. Your analysis of the strength behind Celan’s choice not to use any punctuation proves how planning pays off. Syntax is yet another tool found in an author’s toolbox used to create emotion and deeper meaning not just from the words themselves but from their positioning and their use of punctuation. I will certainly not forget the power of syntax demonstrated by “Deathfugue.”

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