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Nelly Sachs

Noch feiert Tod das Leben /

Death Still Celebrates Life


Der versteinerte Engel

In the women’s ward

the angel,

turned to stone,

still drips with melting memory

of what precedes all time.

A voice from far away

is locked within the amber light.

It sings

of Eden

celebrates that long-forgotten dawn –

The others comb their hair

and weep.

Outside, the ravens

spread their midnight wings.

Vor meinem Fenster

Outside my window in the sand:

stones – moss – a strand or two of rotting greenery –

a rope that looks as if

some crazy songbird’s beak

has savaged it –

a broken mirror representing all our hopes betrayed –

How should one read this Orestes?

O all those fathers

all those mothers lost!

And all those blood-bespattered sons!

So many refuse-heaps.

Let me confess:

the mindless handiwork of humankind en masse

gives me the creeps –

Wunder der Begegnungen

How wonderful

the conversation of two orphan minds

freed for a moment

from their normal lumpen individuality:

a tip-toe joy

of grief-filled recognition.

To wash and dress: our funerals begin this way.

A sudden breeze, a door that slams –

our myths are many-timbered barns in which we store

the windfall of forgotten dreams.

Our destitute communion’s

born from thunder-storms.

Yet even when, all homesick longing past,

the corpse is wrapped

and laid out limp upon the slab,

there’s still a deeper truth

which death in vain may seem to veil:

beyond the silence

of the very darkest night, our shared

reception in the promised land on high.

Hinter der Tur

Concealed despair:

an operatic mime.

The dark-possessed take to the stage

their anguish flames in vast nocturnal silence.

Sleep can only half dissolve it

as a magic tablet

on the tongue.

Wild arias expiring in their breath.

An ooze

of blackened blood –

And yet – hosanna!

Hear the cock-crow from behind the door

as late enlightenment

at last cuts through –

Diese Schneeblume

See this snow-flower

propped upon her old companionable stick

this homesick bloom

of near a hundred years

these lips still smacking

on the mother’s milk of night

these blue eyes blindly piercing to the depths

A flock of final fluttering farewells

now congregate around

the veiled

and eager bride –

Eine Schöpfungsminute im Auge des Baalschem

Mid-century – the year mounts,

fugitive, into the air – unblinkered, see,

a stallion dragging at his chain of days, one fired

with obsession lifts up hands in prayer, alight,

to where – yes, even now – the borders of delirium

are open to a man of peace.

Here, in these high Himalayas of his anguish,

on the child’s-dream meadows, mingled blood

of both sides

fills the sky, a proper blush

to ornament the mornings and the evenings to come.

All wreathed in oven-steam, an old crone blinks,

and, as the moon’s propitious, conjures up,

from fallen acorns, coffee –

whilst the mountain opens for the saint,

who tucks his coat-tails up

and, to combat the shadows, sticks a star or two upon his hat –

his aim to stoke the ghetto-fellowship

of scholar and of fool

into an ever-fiercer blaze –

The year is doubled up in labour.

Long-settled geometric order starts

to sizzle in the comet’s tail,

its flayed days trailing, drifting from

reality, and down, into the mass grave, sleep.

The landlord in his peasant boots,

who hears the panic-heartbeat of the hideaways,

one moment’s running up to heaven, and,

the next, is down again to serve his guests.

Whoever wants asylum looks to him, he makes himself

available – his soul expands, absorbs eternity.

And lo, it’s night – night laden

with explosive wakefulness and

shameful ticking fear – yet still

the Baal Shem can outface it, as

his steadfast gaze sews life and death

together with a thread of grace.

The nothing-colour, where the martyrs are,

outdoes the dark

and, dancing now, the saint takes up the song

that spread and sprouted in their blood,

the solar incandescence of their pain.

To all with faith enough to look

beyond the standard astral measurements of time

he offers visionary moments,

twinklings of a practised eye,  

truths captured in a place of tears.

Sehr leise im Kreislauf

She glides in melancholy orbit

Saturn’s daughter

crowned the queen of various Milky Ways –

so in the mouth

of one who’s blessed above the cross

the letters wage their murderous civil war –

or she descends upon a golden thread of sunlight

with her weeping smile a gift

to penetrate the shadows of this barred-up place of sleep.

Auf der äußersten Spitze der Landzunge

On the utmost tip of a spit of land:

life under curfew.

Here beneath our addict-feet there opens an abyss.

Saint Francis – and Baal Shem – transgressive hungerers

forever shining in the void –

The mount of Olives is a single cry

a prayer that wrenches rocks apart

an agony

that stains the very music of the spheres.

In every human dialect

the Holy Spirit bleeds –

Niemand unter den Zuschauenden

We bystanders hang back

our feet are dry

we hear the prayers of the plungers-in

go floating by upon the wind.

The weaver here is Oceana

goddess of the night:

she’s launched her racing shuttles on their way.

The waters rise

the vein of gold goes under.

Holiness has sunk beyond our sight.

How should one diagnose

the sea-shell’s rhythmic roar?

Is this perhaps that regal theme:

‘How blest are they who’re minus everything’?

Im eingefrorenen Zeitalter der Anden

Princess, ice-coffined

relic of the Andes:

cosmic Love

has rendered you a sign of resurrection

dream-world witness

to the complex inter-twinéd-ness

of History –

an undissolved initiate

into the Father’s dark domain –

Here – yet also there –

you are –

remote as flesh can be –

a coral


evoking all that’s fathomless –

In your immunity

from all the ordinary ills of time

you are

symbolic inspiration

for the nightmare-haunted refugee –

As emissary to this suicidal modern world

these new-build towers of Babylon

and twisted pyramids

you are

a mute yet cogent victim-advocate

of thawed-out final Truth –

Noch feiert der Tod

Death still celebrates

the life in you:

its hapless sheer careering twistedness

blown ever further from your childhood world

of ticking clocks

and out beyond all thought of remedy –

A strange disquiet starts to spread

and chair and bed fall victim to an oceanic swell –

the key

begins to jiggle in the lock

the door unbolts itself –

with great éclat

the starry sisterhood proclaims

that Holy One

who floods our veins with fresh-spring thirst

and toils to irrigate our fevered dreams –

Wortlos spielt sie mit einem Aquamarin

Betrothed before the world began

she wears her limpid silence as a ring –

a kiss of her beloved dwells in this blue sky.

Her omega-embrace affords him space – a medium – a tomb –

Her veins a trawler’s net,

she sweeps the depths.

Her wordless love ascends the scale.

She is the jack-o-lantern’s glimmer.

One who when abandoned

loves enough for both –

a citizen of heaven come what may –

Her frayed wounds let the sawdust run

yet she remains unmoved.

She eats the Sabbath left-overs,

she twirls the ring.

Its gemstone speaks of light-years past  

in sparks of oceanic swell.

And in the swell so many souls

are swept up, sharing in her being-saved, her being-blessed –

Anders gelegt die Adern

Unique already

even in the mirror-script-configured

still unfolding space

of womb-existence –

then, the grand detour through warring dogmas,

dust to dust –

and heart-beat hammerings against the dark,

to smash the shadows,

hold the nightmares back –

A child is playing in a meadow, there’s a box-tree

in the corner there, which somehow smells of death.

So creativity begins, right from the start,

in self-defence.

Beyond the basic practicalities:

intoxicating visions,

lurid alchemy of dreams –

O little sister –

me as I once was

remembering my childhood horrors

Punch and Judy and the scarlet Hangman,

now, as I draw near to actual death –

observe – my prayers sink into a dawning void –

Rückgängig gemacht ist die Verlobung der Heimgesuchten

Insanity: a cancelled


waves ascending

undivided –

winds uprooting all that stands –

a crystal room of mirrored make-believe

reflecting night

in multiple refracted images –

no maps but such as serve astronomers

and no way out

unless the weeping cherubim descend –

Im Park Spazierengehen

A stroll around the park –

to leave behind the restless hospital routine,

its constellating numbers, names and arrows,

all its purgatorial ways,

negotiated settlements with death –

and out into the open air –

with something of a skipping motion almost –

miming my participation

in delirious spring:

the whispered stir – the scents – the show –

My feet have learnt the dreamy art of loitering

from nightmare memories of panic-flight.

Thus David danced

in answer to the miracle

enshrined within the ark –

A stroll –

to ruminate

upon the secrets of the gathering tempest-gloom:

vast emptiness of endless possibility

before God spoke

now marvellously re-created

in this bubbling-up of blood.

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