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Nelly Sachs

Sternverdunkelung / Star Eclipse



Wenn wie Rauch der Schlaf einzieht in den Leib

When sleep like smoke invades the flesh,

and memory, fresh-cratered by

alarms and loss, goes spinning off into the void,

the chase subsides.

The mind, that old whipped nag,

rears up

and throws its cruel rider to the ground.

The secret tapping in the well-shaft stops.

Wide-winged destruction flaps back home

to blood-smeared nests.

When sleep like smoke invades the flesh,

the stilled child sighs, moon-trumpet tight in hand.

Tears cease. Now, after all adventures,

love’s called home.

The new-born calf

explores its mother’s body, licking.

There can be no error, only one key works.

Out on the heath, far off, the knife lies rusting in the dark –

until, at length, forgetfulness

begins to fade –  

it slowly turns (alas!) to frightful, early-morning hues of red –  

and sleep like smoke, once more, departs the flesh.

The rider, with a curse, remounts.


of riddling dreams!

Fire-breathing memory reclaims its place.

Death stirs in every bud of May.

The child caresses stone.

All starlight is eclipsed.

Engel der Bittenden

Angel, patron of the praying –

this sunset-fire’s fury

levels every last homestead, lowers each into the night,

walls, gear, stove, cradle, all the junked ballast

that held back our deepest desire –

see how it billows, the blue sail’s surge!

Angel, patron of the praying –

out of the fertile white ash, the collapse,

there now grows a forest.

So many arms are outstretched, so many supplicant hands, branches

clawing the fastness of night, reaching out for a blanket of starlight.

And fields, newly ploughed, hold great clods of death-enriched soil.

Angel, patron of the praying –

here, translucent, lost love’s grief

lies scattered on the ground as seed.

A haunted silence still prevails.

Moon-struck mothers, tempest-gripped,

rise, ripping up loss-blighted roots.

Dry wood cracks with an old man’s cry.

But the children –

still warm

from their metamorphosis,

the children play on in the sand.

They playfully mould fresh things from the night –

Angel, patron of the praying –

I pray you, bless that sand!

And teach us, too, to play in very truth.

A truly child-like spirit might, perhaps,

help mend this ruined world.  

Nacht, Nacht

Night, night,

your creaking walls, I pray they hold

against the turmoil

of these savage sinkings in your seas,

this sunset-butchery,

the tug-pull of these moons,

the heavy pressure looming in your silence,

all this blood –

Night, night,

time was when you were known

as the lily-scented Bride of Mysteries.

In your glass glittered the Fata Morgana

of those who were homesick.

Love took its bearings

from your boundless promise.

You were the mirror of heaven,

the oracular mouth of the dreams that seduced us –

Night, night,

now you’re nothing but the nightmare

shipwreck-graveyard of a planet.

Time, rendered speechless, submerges in you

with two signs ascendant:

the toppled stone and

flag of smoke!

Auf daß die Verfolgten nicht Verfolger werden /

That the persecuted should not become persecutors


Where, in which of Echo’s grottoes

are you stored,

who once alerted ears

to death’s approach?

Footsteps –

Not now the oracular warning of death

from inspection of entrails, a flight of birds,

or Mars sweating blood –

now only footsteps –

Footsteps –

The primeval game of hangman and victim,

bully and bullied,

hunter and hunted –


signalling the wolf-pack’s

urgent appetite,

swallowing the fugitive’s last hopes

in blood.


marking time in shrieks and sighs,

the pump of blood until it clots,

the death’s sweat running hour by hour –

Footsteps of the killers

over footsteps of the victims,

what black horror-moon impels

the ticking circuit of these booted seconds?

How does this squeak fit

within the music of the spheres?

O du weinendes Herz der Welt!

O you weeping heart of the world!

Twofold seed –

of life, of death.

God’s will it was to be discerned by you,

seed-pod of loves.

Where are you hidden?

Here, perhaps, behind this orphan-girl’s

unsteady gait?

Housed – with the runaway starlight –

in a soul like hers?

O you weeping heart of the world!

One day

you, also, will ascend.

For there’s no house on earth

can, to the end, contain the surge

that constellates the stars!



they’ve tuned the strings to elegise your death.

Rehearsing their bereavement

they’ve kissed your sand

so hard, they’ve turned it black.

Are they so set on this?

That Sun should lose her lovely child?

And Moon, the ardent horseman

of the azure waves,

forever be denied

the foaming satisfaction

that he thirsts for?


they’ve now inscribed so many wounds upon your crust

in efforts to decode the secrets of your star-script!

Yet God has hidden it in layers of night.

The little deaths are like a fungus

that infests the hands

by which your lights are quenched.

The cherub-sentries can no longer see what lies ahead.

So too, the weeping hindsight-angels, who once panned for gold

in every river known for mortal pain, are lost.

Those flowers of the human foliage

lie buried now,

beside the bestial gods.


suppose their love at length be altogether exiled,

all their blazes burnt to cinder,

leaving empty silence, only –

nothing but a blankness, even, out of sight,

where other stars, like bees perhaps,

attracted by the scent of what has been, begin to shine –

yet may some memory of your nameless dust, which they now name,

to which they give so many nomad-names,

by them be minted, even so, to golden coin

for God’s eternal treasury.

O ihr Tiere!

O you animals!

Whilst our kind of life

proceeds from hour to hour,

your fate’s a circle of seconds.

Its simple attunement

to night-fall and cock-crow

remains, unattainably,


High-piled cairns

of human indifference

hide the despair

in the steam-filled stall,

where calves are wrenched

from their mothers.

What does the utter writhing silence

of the landed fish say?

How much creeping and winged dust

clings to our shoes, discarded

like open graves at dusk?

O, consider the war-horse carcase,

alive with mindless stinging flies,

and the wildflower sprouting through its empty eye!

Not even Balaam, the astrologer,

knew your secret;

whose ass

beheld the angel!

Golem Tod!

O, golem death!

A scaffold stands prepared.

Its carpenters, a pack of


shadow-hounds, are sicked

to run an ever-tightening course.

O, golem death,

the navel of the world!

Your fingers are outstretched

in bony parody of blessing:

token of your global


O, golem death!

Four cherubim attend

the sleeping orphan child,

wings folded forward,

faces hid –

whilst, out of doors,

as ugly weeds of dispute spread,

the ripened Eden-apples rot

in scenes of lunar desolation!

Yet, up above, the old man

with the starry scales

weighs up our various griefs,

from cloud to worm –

O, golem death!

Eternity eludes you now,

and always will –

you live on borrowings,

your mighty armour will dissolve

with all the other debris of your wars

to dust!

But in the ruins love will rise again.

The stone will shroud itself in moss,

and starwort hide within the grass,

and golden suns on stems ascend.

The desert holds

a distant beauty too,

and the bereaved

are not alone, for nothing

that once was is ever altogether lost –

And every star that’s gone astray

will, in its falling, find at last

its long-appointed way back home.

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