August 28, 2022

Nelly Sachs (Germany) 1891-1970

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.

Nelly Sachs’ apartment in Stockholm

It was while living in Sweden, living in fear and agitation, 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); Glowing Enigmas, trans. by Michael Hamburger (2013); Flight and Metamorphosis, trans. by Joshua Weiner and Linda B. Parshall (New York: Macmillan, 2022).



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 branches 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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