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Nelly Sachs

In den Wohnungen des Todes /

In the Habitations of Death



O die Schornsteine


And after my skin has been thus destroyed,

then without my flesh I shall see God. – JOB


O the chimneys

On the artfully contrived habitations of death,

As Israel's flesh floated in smoke

Through the air -

A star, there, received it, a blackened, a

Chimney-sweep star -

Or, could it be, sunbeam?

O the chimneys!

Jeremiah and Job, their dust, their release -

Who contrived you, who built, stone on stone,

For fugitives, this path of smoke?

O the habitations

Of death, so lovingly made ready for

The master of the house, the guest turned host -

O you fingers,

Laying down the threshold

Like a blade to sever death from life -

O you chimneys,

O you fingers,

And Israel's flesh floating in smoke though the air!

An euch, die das neue Haus bauen

There are stones like souls - RABBI NACHMAN

When you make yourself your new house -

Stove, bed, table and chair -

Don't let the wet rot

Of your grief for those who'll never come home

Seep into the stonework -

Keep the wainscot unstained -

Build, for your remnant of sleep,

A watertight shelter.

Bed-sheets needn't be shrouds.


The sweat of the dead

Overwhelming your dreams.

Oh, the walls and the furnishings

Twang like harps in the wind.

They're a harvest of sorrows,

So well they know you, your kinship with dust.

Build, as the sand in the hourglass sifts.

Don't clog time with your tears, but wait

For the light that will, after all,

Give its shifting grains glint.

O der weinende Kinder Nacht!

O night of the children's grief!

Night of the children branded for death!

Sleep will never return.

Terrible nursemaids

Play mother,

Their claws are full of the deadliest falsehood,

They sow it onto the walls, and onto the beams -

Nests full of horror, hatching all over.

The little ones wail, want milk, suck mortal dread.

Yesterday Mother drew sleep towards them

Like a white moon,

In one arm

The doll with the pink of her cheeks kissed away,

And there, in the other,

The stuffed pet

Magically loved into life -

Death, now, is a great gust of wind

Billowing clothes up over hair

That no one will comb.

Wer aber leerte den Sand aus euren Schuhen

But who then emptied the sand from your shoes

After your moment to die?

All that heaped sand

From Israel's long wanderings?

Burning Sinai sand,

Sand mixed with nightingale throats,

Sand mixed with butterfly wings,

Sand mixed with snake-dust yearnings,

Sand mixed with all that was shed by Solomon's wisdom,

Sand mixed with the bitter enigma of wormwood -

O you fingers,

Which emptied the sand from the shoes of the dead,

Tomorrow you too will be dust

In the shoes

Of others to come.

Auch der Greise

Even the old men's

Thin breath -

That slight flutter of air, gently


The final sigh of relief

With which earth's abandoned -

You seized!

Out of the old men's

Parched eyes, also,

You squeezed

The uttermost salt of despair -

Sprinkled it over your planetary pile,

Your collection

Of twisted pain-treasure,

Worm-dungeon plunder -

But, O you thieves, who thus stole

Even the chance of a good peaceful death,

Make no mistake:

What you discarded

The angel now gathers.

And out of the old men's premature midnight

There'll be loosed

Such a wind of last breaths

As to drive our untethered world

Right into God's hands!

Ein totes Kind spricht

My mother held my hand.

Then someone raised the parting-knife:

My mother loosed her hand from mine

So that it should not strike me.

But then she lightly brushed my side -

Her hand was bloody -

After that

I ate and drank knife-thrusts -

Each day the knife was waiting for me with the sun -

It ground itself sharp in my eyes -

Soft wind and water murmurs were its twisting,

Every word of comfort was a further stab -

When I went to my death,

Once again, at the end, I sensed the unsheathing

Of that great knife.

Einer war

And the sinking is for the sake

of the rising again - THE ZOHAR

One there was

Who blew the shofar -

Threw back his head,

As deer do, as the stags,

Before they drink from the spring.



Death exhaled in the sigh -


The seed falls -


The wind speaks of a light!

The earth spins and the stars circle

In the shofar

Which someone blows -

And round the shofar burns the temple -

And someone blows -

And round the shofar falls the temple -

And someone blows -

And round the shofar rest the ashes -

And someone blows -



Of the death-gardeners,


That took cradle-camomile death, a plant known to thrive

In steep rocky places

And forced it, made it a greenhouse-monster,


That, like tigers' teeth fastened on all that is sacred,

Defiled and destroyed the temple of flesh -

O you hands,

How was it

When you were small?

Did you hold a mouth organ aloft, did you clutch at a rocking horse mane,

Did you cling to your mother's skirts there in the dark?

Did you point to a word in a children's primer -

Was it 'God', perhaps, was it 'Adam' or 'Eve'?

O you strangling hands, what went wrong?

Did your mother then die,

Or your wife, or your child?

Were you left with nothing but death to caress,

Nothing but death, in your white-knuckle grip?

Schon vom Arm des himmlischen Trostes umfangen

Already held within the arms

Of heaven's grace, she

Stands, demented, rent apart.

Her ashen soul a-glimmer,

She commits her child, her light, her loss,

To earth.

Her twisted, twining hands become an urn -

She fills it

With the airy body of her son,

His airy eyes, his airy hair, his fluttering heart -

Then kissing her air-infant she at last

Gives up the ghost -

Welche geheime Wünsche des Blutes

What secret blood-cravings,

Dreams of madness and thousand-fold


Brought into being the vile puppeteer?

Who, with his foaming grin, took to the stage

Only in order

To blow up the theatre, so laying bare

The infinite, ash-grey horizons of fear!

O the washed-up flotsam and jetsam, the moon-cult tribute

Those killers deposited:

Arms up and down,

Legs up and down,

The setting sun of the Sinai folk

Rolled out, red, as a carpet under their feet.

Arms up and down,

Legs up and down,

Filling the infinite, ash-grey horizons of fear:

That deadly parade, a vast constellation, going


Lange haben wir das Lauschen verlernt

    Before it breaks from the bud, I let you hear of it


Our souls have gone wilfully deaf.

We've always rejected the wisdom

Of dune-grass,

Bent to the endless, holy roar of the sea.

We've much preferred ploughing, spade-work and walls.

Yet, although

We have business

That lures us

So far astray, and although

The tap-water we drink

Is now so remote

From its source,

Although we walk pavements

Beneath which the Earth is so

Utterly silenced,  

Still, God forbid we should at last

Barter our ears altogether!

For many a trader in dust

Has managed to mount the high tightrope

Of longing.

These, hearing something, sprang

From their dusty affairs

And listened intently.

Come the day of destruction,

Press your ear to the ground and listen, you also!

Then, through your sleep (listen!) you'll hear

The same song:

Of how, out of death,

New life may shortly arise.

Ihr Zuschauenden

You onlookers -

Before whose gaze the killing proceeded -  

Just as one sometimes feels watched from behind,

So you, in your flesh, must sense

The gaze of the dead.

How many broke eyes must yours now encounter

When, say, you pluck, from its shady concealment, a violet?

And how many supplicant hands

In the age-old torment of oak,

How many prayers for release?

How much blood-red remembrance

Staining each sunset?

O, and the unsung lullabies

Lost in the turtle-dove's call -

So many souls that might have held starlight, a gift

Now confined to the depths of the well!

You onlookers

Never, it's true, yourselves raised a murderous hand,

Yet you still stayed unshaken,

Your souls' longing enveloped in dust,

You just stood there - unmoved -

Where he was transformed into light.

Lange schon fielen die Schatten

The darker shadows slowly gathered.

Quite unlike

Those quiet strokes

Of natural time -

Quotidian leaf-fall from the tree of life -

A series, this, of dire apocalyptic


Revelations -

Stifling black forest depths devoured

God's midnight singer Israel.

She was lost in deepest darkness,

So abandoned.

O, in all the woods of this whole world, you nightingales!

You feathered comrades of the dead,

You native guides to broken-heartedness,

Sob, now, from your tear-cisterns, sob, sob out

The throat's shocked silence,

Faced with such un-natural crime.


Auch dir, du mein Geliebter

There, in the pile, my love,

Your shoes lie also.

Two hands will have torn them off

Before you were killed.  

Two hands born to reach out, which

one day, themselves, will reach out in death.

Your shoes were of calfskin.

Tanned, dyed, cut to shape,

The sharp awl had pierced them  

(Though who's to say when the last fading trace

Of a breath has been lost?)

Dust to dust,

And ashes to ashes,

Those shoes, at the last, were an hourglass

Filling with death.

Your feet!

The thoughts raced before them.

Your heart ran so swiftly

To God,

It made your chasing feet ache

To keep up.

But the calfskin

Over which, once, the warm licking tongue

Of the mother had passed,

Before mother and child were parted,

Has been parted once more -

From your feet.

O my love -

My departed!

Du gedenkst der Fußspur, die sich mit Tod füllte

   From eternity you remember all that is forgotten

You remember how the footprint filled with death

As the slaughterman approached.

You remember how the lips of children shook

When they learnt that their mother would never return.

You remember the woman who scratched, with her hands, a grave

For the one that had starved at her breast.

You remember the words of the bride

To the bridegroom she'd lost, her lost speech to the air.

Qual, Zeitmesser eines fremden Sterns

The garments of the morning are not

the garments of the evening - THE ZOHAR

Torment, time-measure of an alien star,

Colouring each instant with yet further darkness -

Torment of your smashed-in door,

Your broken sleep,

And your departing steps,

That countdown to the end,

Your trampled steps,

Your dragging steps,

Your steps that I at length no longer heard as steps,

Torment at the stopping of your steps

Up against the bars,

Behind which then, for us, the floor began to yearn and surge -

O now, as time prepares my own encroaching end,

How easy, after such a long rehearsal, death will be.

In Morgengrauen

In the grey of dawn

A bird is trying out a tune -

Abandoned by death

All that's of dust starts to yearn.

O hour of births,

Of labour pains, in which the first rib

Of a new self takes shape.

Beloved, I hear your dust's yearning

Roar through my heart.



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