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Nelly Sachs

Noch feiert Tod das Leben /

Death Still Celebrates Life

1961 - part 2

Aber unter dem Blätterdach


within the tangled foliage

to die a perfect hermit-death.

Unseen by any stranger –

still refusing

even love –

you gaze into the strangeness of the wind

north south east west

sole sovereign of hidden worlds.

These words the corpses’ teeth

surviving where all else has turned to dust.

These chitter-chatter


strung from their abandoned life –

Und die blindgewordenen Leiber

So step by step

the night escorts us


through our exile-world

but then – bewilderingly – ups and ups

the tempo till – at length

reduced to utter dizziness –

the childlike band

falls plumb into the catacombs of Ur!

And here indeed lies buried treasure

flickering by candlelight

prophetic whites

and blacks and amen-reds –

Nor can one ever

just retrace one’s path

And yet there are ways out

No cures

but openings nonetheless

within the wounded rock –

And here’s the light of dawn

sweet answering promise

of another night –

Zeit der Verpuppung



When one who’s sprawling face down in the dust

begins to sense the shoulder-ache of wings –

the planetary whirlwind of their mind acquires

an easier field of gravity

With urgency their blood flows otherwise

locked doors fly open

love assumes command

Their muttered prayers spontaneously

adapt themselves to the beatitudes –

Die beiden Alten

An aged couple

sitting hand in hand on high

twin constellation

still surrounded by the lambent cinder-music

of the past

in which they loved and died –

this grief of mine bewitched

into a paper-puppet dream of chivalry

this dazzled residue upon the retina

this crude insomniac growth

of failing memory –

Wer ruft

Who’s calling?

Your own voice!

Who answers?


What hope for friendship

in the barracks of our sleep?

None whatsoever!

Why does no cock crow?

The cock is waiting till the rosemary-kiss

goes floating rootless by!

What’s this?

It’s time abandoned by eternity

the prime catastrophe


What’s this?

It’s that there’s nothing left to say.

Sie tanzt

She dances –

as if heavy laden –

why so heavy laden?

She desires no consolation.

Sinuous she conjures up her lover

from the billows of the deep –

The air is troubled –

She extends her arms for rescue

There’s a fish

it’s flopping helpless out of reach –

But suddenly

sleep supervenes.

She bows her head.

To be released

 is life –

 is death –

In ihren Schlafleibern

The trauma of the tribe

still dwells within their sleeping flesh –

betrayed perhaps

by sudden flinchings

as their dreams

deliver them

to trophy-hunting cannibals.

The wider world forgets.

But then at dusk these haunted ones

discover that their teeth are clenched.

Their mouths are filled with latent jungle-screams.

The mask that’s meant to hide their being-lost

begins to ache.

Most poignantly they sense

their Mother’s love once more ablaze

behind the cruelties of playful fate –

Die Urkunde vor mir aufgeschlagen

Biblical tradition:

like a limestone floor

a fossil-ocean

stairway to eternity

Great slabs of salty life compacted  

sternly into stone

its thunder loiters where

preoccupied with

all our latest

little sins

we also heedless tread –

And then

the lightning speaks

It tells its tales of exodus

A sudden host of ghostly fingers

points the way we ought to go –

Und wundertätig


how that which brooded once

upon the primal waters of the deep

now broods again within our blood

The little acorns tremble

in the wind

which sings

of further anarchy to come

O to participate

in what the swirling angels know

and to exchange this cloud of dust

for galaxies

This dust

this crumbling of the cast-off cornerstone

this drumbeat terror of encroaching night –

Soviel Samenkörner lichtbewurzelt

So many seeds of light

which, planted in the grave, extract

its secrets, cast them on the breeze,

these Pentecostal riddles, tongues of crowning fire,

accumulated truth, bereavement-fuel

for the dazzling pyre –

the body lies not far away,

the air still bears

its rattled parting breath –

we’re iron-locked in loneliness

with all eyes fixed upon the dark –

Schon will Äusserstes auswandern

Extremity will surely make a shift

A stirring like the sparkle of baptismal water


the wild demonic face of fire

the earthy surge of spring

melodious sudden airs

The Spirit

is a soaring-pouncing eagle

which will rip its prey apart

and hungry bear it home –

Aber die Sonnenblume

But the sunflower

is a blaze upon the wall

its straightness

stemming from

a dark interiority –

An angel with a fiery mane

bears vivid witness to eternal life –

And here are finches singing!

Glory walks abroad

as once in Eden


the human eye –

whilst – hidden in its cask –

the blood-red wine of infamy

continues to mature –

Da um die Ecke


turn the corner

and it’s midnight whispering:

satanic phantoms

vile phantasmagoria.

Dolls and still-birth larvae

ripped apart and hung upon a tree.

Kaleidoscope of crimson human pelts

Gloved night

And beryl eyes that bulge

to swallow down.

I’m down the well alone –

 I’m lost –

Scene from the play ‘Nachtwache’

Eyes shut

and then –

the wound begins to bleed again

and then –

The thunder baits its hook


the mysteries of blood


the wriggling fish

The air’s a yawning pit





Now the coffined infant paints

the navel of the world as dust –

The hangman has the final word

a curse through picket-teeth –

 So what?


A shrill voice,

blind –

reviewing all her ninety years.

At length she’s back at mother’s milk

and hovers teething and ablaze

above the infant’s Land of Nod –

feeling past us

fumbling for the lost cocoon

the dusty cradle –

then she strokes me –  

charms the very soul out of my flesh.

It seems she knows my voice.

I answer her

in measured fashion.

Lilting litanies of loss –

the ante-chamber of the great transition –

Eine Negerin lugt

Peeping from behind a veil – black skin, bright eyes –

the promise of eternity –

Still universal strife persists –

A dog runs howling from the world –

A frightened ghost

takes shelter in the Wailing Wall –

The earth’s ablaze

it wrinkles up its coal-black face –

The nightmare builds

and yet I do not want to wake –

I want to hide my eyes

within the ivy-dark –

Hängend am Strauch der Verzweiflung

Hanging from the bush Despair

yet clinging on

to what the blossom-saga had foretold –


All at once the hawthorn’s magically beside itself.

Behold: it has arisen –

Was tut ihr mir

What will you make of me

when with a parting flicker

I’ve departed?

Say: she sought to represent

the universal

molten iron

of life’s delivery from darkest night.

Wound-healing dreams.

Flowers, snowflakes,

momentary shafts of light,

these little sketches.

Caged-bird song,

all sorts.

But death is destined for us all.

This dying psalm

is also, if you listen, yours.

Go to part 3