December 2, 2010

Nelly Sachs

Nelly Sachs' apartment in Stockholm
Nelly Sachs [Germany]

Nelly Sachs grew up in Berlin, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. She was educated privately, with emphasis on the arts, and at the age of seventeen, she began to write, producing a neoromantic poetry, work she later rejected. In 1921 she published Legenden und Erzählungen, which consisted of legends and tales. Her verse appeared in various German newspapers throughout the mid-1930s. But in that same period, her life was caught up in the tragic events of the German Jews, as she watched friends and family sent to their doom. In 1940, she and her mother escaped to Sweden, through the help of Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, Prince Eugene of the Swedish Royal Court, and German friend, Gudrun Harlan Dähnert.
It was while living in Sweden, living in fear and agitiation, that she began again to write. "Writing is my mute outcry; I only wrote because I had to free myself," she observed. Beginning with her verse play, Eli: Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels (Eli: A Mystery Play of the Sufferings of Israel), written in 1943 and published in 1951, she produced several volumes of powerful poetry, each seeking answers for the horrors of the holocaust and a reconciliation with the past. Her masterworks include In den Wohnungen des Todes (written from 1944-45, published in 1947), Sternverdunkelung (1949), Und neimand weiss weiter (1957), and Fluch und Verwandlung (1959). In 1961, upon the occasion of her seventieth birthday, her publisher Suhrkamp collected her poetry under the title Fahrt ins Stablose (Journey Into a Dustless Realm). Other collections, Späte Gedichte (1965), Glühende Rätsel (1965), Die Suchende (1966), and Teile dich Nacht (1971), followed.

In 1966 Sachs shared the Nobel Prize for Literature with Israeli author S. Y. Agnon. She died of cancer in 1970 in Stockholm.


In den Wohnungendes Todes (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 1947); Sternverdunkelung (Amsterdam: Bermann-Fischer/Querido-Verlag; Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1949); Und neimand weiss weier (Hamburg: Verlag Heinrich Ellermann, 1957); Flucht und Verwandulung (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstatt, 1959); Fahrt ins Staublose (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1961); Glühende Rätsel (Suhrkamp Verlag/Insel-Verlag, 1965); Späte Gedichte (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1965); Die Suchende (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1966); Suche nach Lebendam (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1971); Teile dich Nacht (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1971).


O the Chimneys (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1967); The Seeker and Other Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970); Collected Poems: 1944-1949 (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2010)

O the night of the weeping children!

O the night of the weeping children!
O the night of the children branded for death!
Sleep may not enter here.
Terrible nursemaids
Have usurped the place of mothers,
Have tautened their tendons with the false death,
Sow it on to the walls and into the beams --
Everywhere it is hatched in the nests of horror.
Instead of mother's milk, panic suckles those little ones.

Yesterday Mother still drew
Sleep toward them like a white moon,
There was the doll with cheeks derouged by kisses
In one arm,
The stuffed pet, already
Brought to life by love,
In the other─
Now blows the wind of dying,
Blows the shifts over the hair
That no one will comb again.

Translated from the German by Michael Hamburger

(from In de Wohnungendes Todes, 1947)

And we who move away

And we who move away
beyond all leaves of the windrose
heavy inheritance into the distance.

Myself here,
where earth is losing its lineaments
the Pole,
death's white dead nettle
falls in the stillness of white leaves

the elk,
peering through blue curtains
between his antlers bears
a sun-egg hatched pale─

Here, where ocean time
camouflages itself with iceberg masks
under the last star's
frozen stigma

here at this place
I expose the coral,
the one that bleeds
with your message.

Translated from the German by Michael Roloff

(from Und neimand weiss weiter, 1957)

Bewitched is half of everything

Bewitched is half of everything.
Downward wanders the light
into obscurities─
no knife unscales the night.

Solace lives far
behind the homesickness scar.
where a different green speaks with tongues
and the seas abandon themselves timelessly.

The enigmas' trail of comets
erupts in death,
when the soul
gropes home along its railing.

True, cows graze in the foreground,
clover is fragrant with honey
and the stop buries what angel's forgot.

Awakening clangs in the city
but to cross bridges
is only to reach a job.

Milk rattles in cans on the street
for all who imbibe death as their last taste.
The laughing gull above the water
still has a drop of madness
from living-in-the-backwoods.

your landless part
is preserved in our tear.

Translated from the German by Michael Roloff

(from Und neimand weiss weiter, 1957)

Night, night

Night, night,
that you may not shatter in fragments
now when the time sinks with the ravenous suns
of martyrdom
in your sea-covered depths─
the moons of death
drag the falling roof of earth
into the congealed blood of your silence.

Night, night,
once you were the bride of mysteries
adorned with lilies of shadow─
In your dark glass sparkled
the mirage of all who yearn
and love had set its morning rose
to blossom before you─
You were once the oracular mouth
of dream painting and mirrored the beyond.

Night, night,
now you are the graveyard
for the terrible shipwreck of a star─
time sinks speechless in you
with its sign:
The falling stone
and the flag of smoke.

Translated from the German by Ruth and Matthew Mead

(from Und neimand weiss weiter, 1957

O sister

O sister,
where do you pitch your tent?

In the black chicken-run
you call the brood of your madness
and rear them.

The cock's trumpet
crows wounds into the air─

You have fallen from the nest
like a naked bird
passers-by eye
that brazenness.

True to your native land
you sweep the roaring meteors
back and forth with a nightmare broom
before the flaming gates of paradise...

Dynamite of impatience
pushes you out to dance
on the tilted flashes of inspiration.

Your body gapes points of view
you recover the lost
dimensions of the pyramids

sitting in the braches of your eye
twitter to you the blossoming geometry
of a map of stars.

Night unfolds
a chrysalis of enigmatic moss
in your hand

until you hold the wing-breathing butterfly of morning
quivering─with a cry
you drink its blood.

Translated from the German by Ruth and Matthew Mead

(from Sternverdunkelung, 1959)

Line like

Line like
living hair
from you
to me.

Reined in
I bend
to kiss the end of all distances.

throws the springboard
of night over the redness
lengthens your promontory
and hesitant I place my foot
on the trembling string
of my death already begun.

But such is love─

─Translated from the German by Michael Hamburger

(from Flucht und Verwandlung, 1959)


the epistles burn
in the night of nights
on the pyre of flight
for love winds itself out of its thornbush
flogged in martyrdom
and with its tongue of flames
is beginning to kiss the invisible sky
when vigil casts darknesses on the wall
and the air
trembling with premonition
prays with the noose of the hunter
blowing in with the wind:

till the letters have come home
from the blazing desert
and been eaten by scared mouths
till the ghostly geology of love
is torn open
and its millennia
aglow and shining with blessed pointing fingers
have rediscovered love's word of creation:
there on the paper
that dying sings:

It was
at the beginning
It was
My beloved
It was─

Translated from the German by Michael Roloff

How many blinkings of eyelashes
when horror came
no eyelid to be lowered
and a heap of time put together
painted over the air's humility

This can be put on paper only
with one eye ripped out─

You painted the signal
red with your blood
warning of destruction
moist on the borders
but still without birth

When suffering settles homeless
it expels superfluity
Tears are orphans─expelled
in one bound we follow
that is flight into the Beyond
of the rootless palm tree of time─

(from Glühende Rätsel, 1965)


“O the night of the weeping children!” “And we who move away,” “Bewitched is half of everything,” “Night, night,” “O sister,” “Line like,” “Vainly,” and [“How many blinkings of eyelashes’]. Reprinted from O The Chimneys (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1967) and The Seeker and Other Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970). Reprinted by permission of Green Integer

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