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Nelly Sachs

Sternverdunkelung / Star Eclipse

1949 - part 2

Geschirmt sind die Liebenden

None but lovers are immune

when heaven’s all walled up.

A secret mixture in the air

confers a blessing

on the very stones along their path

and on whatever grows between the cracks.

None but lovers are immune.

They, only they, still truly hear

the nightingale’s lament;

they, only they, still truly share

the roe-deer’s trembling joie de vivre.

None but lovers are immune:

with eyes to see the sunset’s hidden grief

reflected on a willow branch –

and with the necessary grace

to practise dying

like a mountain stream.



O you

ex-citizen of moon-sealed Ur

who found

in dunes still draining from the Flood

the seashell humming with the voice of God –

O you

to whom we owe the rescue of authentic life

from Babylonian star-spun servitude –

who followed heaven’s ploughman with the seed

the progeny of which is still ablaze tonight.

O you

who broke the future open with a ram’s horn blast

that worked the very corners of the world into a cry of homeless grief –

O you

who having nailed to heaven’s gate

your manifesto of intransigence

drew down the angels to this realm of night –

and who prepared the flower-beds

that now run rank with bright prophetic growth –

O you

whose dreams were the cocoon

from which the watchword soul first fluttered free

towards the still unknown –

O you whose influence is like a ripple from Chaldea’s starry straits

still pressing through our veins with poignant force

towards a truer sea.

O Abraham

you’ve set

all sun- and moon-determined clocks

to point towards eternity –

Your aeon burns with mysteries

that mortal flesh has yet to enter into and complete –

where lastly ripeness falls!


O Israel,

you battler, your priority’s

decreed in blood

across the grey of dawn.

O butcher’s knife of cockcrow

thrust into the heart of humankind,

O cicatrice-memorial

of morning’s civil war with night!

Great pioneer, you haunt

our sorrow-laden sleeplessness

beneath the dark contortions of the sky,

much like a bird’s beginning of lament.

O Israel,

the blessing came belatedly to you –

yet come it did

in lovely grace of morning dew upon your head –

Not so to us, not yet.

We groan

enslaved in our remoteness –

floating, still, through Lenten floes of ice –

only, twisted God-wards

by the heavy angel’s grip on us,

like you!

Wenn die Propheten einbrächen

Say the prophets came,

knock-knocking on the doors of night,

heads wreathed in horror, circled

by the zodiac

of demon-gods,

the secrets of the mutant sky

weighed, rocking, on their shoulders –

to those who, long since, fled in panic –

Say the prophets came

and hammered on the doors of night,

the pathways of the stars engraved

in shining gold upon their palms –

to those long sunk in sleep –

Say the prophets came,

say they burst swinging through the flimsy doors of night,

and then began to slice with sickle-words

the nodding grain,

to harvest star-lit dreams

of justice for the poor –

who’d, long ago, lost hope and turned aside –

Say they exploded

through the doors of night

in search of fellow-listeners to the word –

O you,

nettle-patch ear,

what chance of a hearing?

Or say the prophets

fashioned flutes

from slaughtered children’s bones,

or say they

crammed the air with ash –

or say they piled up, high, a bridge of sighs,

a rainbow-message from the veterans of the camps –

O you addict

to chatter,

then would you hear?

Say the prophets swept in,

riding the tempest, from heaven,

smashed through your defences,

and clamoured: Beware, lest, warring with Nature,

you’re trapped, in new ways, by what threatens all!

Say the prophets arose

in our midnight,

like lovers intent on their loves –

O midnight,

have you the heart to respond?


O you wind-rose on the map of grief!

A tower-top weathervane

tempest-twisted, every which way;

even your south is sheer solitude.

Where you stand is the navel of miseries.

Your eyes, sunk deep in your skull,

are doves, scooped up at midnight,

caught blind by the hunter.

Your voice has gone,

from so much asking, Why?

Your voice has joined the worms, the fish.

Job, you’ve wept through all the watches of the night.

And yet, one day, the constellation of your wounds

will far outshine the rising sun.


Daniel, Daniel –

all the many places where they died

have woken in my sleep –

the broken stone

shows where

they shed their torment with their withered skin –

the trees whose roots reached down

and felt

the transformations of their flesh

have flown, screeching, to the haven of my dreams.

Their stifled cries tore down

the dungeon walls,

their dumb despair gave birth

to a new haunting of the night –

the knowledge of their death

still trickles

through the hour-glass of my mind.

Its hieroglyphs remain unread.

O, those unburied sighs commingling in the breeze

we breathe –

Daniel, Daniel,

dream-boy, how we miss your kind!

Too much, to us, is still obscure –

O, we without resource,

unable to discern

the subterranean stir

of new-sown seed –

Daniel, Daniel,

shining there, I see you:

seer of life and death,

beside you on the kitchen slab, outstretched, a fish

with ripped out purple gills lies limp –

imperious image of our present pain!

Aber deine Brunnen

But your wells

enshrine your history,

O Israel!

How many are the mouths

you’ve opened in that dry expanse

of lifeless

tyrant rock?

How many are the loads of gleaming hope

you’ve lifted from the depths,

how many mirrors made

for constellations to display

their dowry-dreams of grief and joy?

Here, indeed,

your history’s


When he’d been digging in Beersheba,

father Abraham, with seven oaths,

then set the place apart

for God alone.         

So, likewise, may

the simple act of drinking

be, for you, a sacrament –

behold, the saviour-angel bending

over Ishmael’s mother

when her waterskin

ran dry –         

behold, the rocks at Marah:

how they echoed with the people’s fear,

before the bitter curse

was lifted from the water there –      

O Israel,

your history’s enshrined

within the shining eyes

that punctuate your desert wastes!

Dowsing-stick remembrance

stirs towards

the bowls of night –

the vast inverted wells

which overhang

your milk-and-honey land,

containing all that you,

O great Rememberer,

raise up in thanks –

your fervent challenge

to the prospect of a God-less world,

without such wells!

Warum die schwarze Antwort der Hasses

Israel, why

the black answer of hate to your very existence?


sprung from a star one farther out than the rest.

Sold, then, to this earth

to propagate being-alone.

Your birthplace a tangle of weeds –

your horoscope’s promise

lost to the moth and the worm –

your calling, a moon-river flow which inscribes

its transient path through soft sand-drift dreams of renewal.

In the choir of the nations,

always, you’ve sung

a little


Come the end of the day, you bask

in the gore of the sky, pain sharing pain.

Your shadow’s grown long,

how could you fail

to be tired?

You’ve travelled so far from the blessing,

an aeon of tears,

to that bend in the road

where you fell to ash

and your enemy,

writing in oven-smoke

over the sky,

called God a deserter!

O such a death!

Blood and feathers

of ministrant angels

strewn in tatters

along the barbed wire!

Israel, why

the black answer of hate

to your very existence?


Night-sky ark, remembrance-box,

to crack you open

would reveal such treasure –

such abundance there of momentary

loving glances, whispers, laughter –

glory upon hidden glory

codified in stone decrees.

God flipped the hour-glass, whereupon

the vital obsequies began –

the fossil dragonfly bears witness,

in blood-ironstone, to what transpired –


from your summit

Moses carried down

the opened sky,

its impress veiled, and slowly cooling

in his chastened eyes –

until the eager crowd beneath

could, trembling, bear at last to have him back.

And yet, who now remembers

awe like that?

O God,

redeem us from the stoned oblivion

of the modern herd!


Sharp-eyed Samuel saw

the hidden truth –

Samuel saw

the constellations blaze and wink,

and heard the quickened music of the spheres

announcing heaven’s choice.

He watched the stars,

like bees in search of honey, circle round

the shepherd-boy –

The expedition found him

dancing in a dust

of trampled lambskin blankets.

When he stopped,

his shadow fell upon a ram –

The age of kings had just begun –

But in the year he came of age

already, patriarch of poets, David


to find himself so far from God,

and started building caravanserais

of pilgrim-psalms.

He died with greater burdens

on his wormy conscience

than had any of his forebears –

For it is in weeping, only, that

the angel deep within one’s soul

may wriggle free!


Saul the king, abandoned by the Spirit, splutters

for a moment, like a taper –

comes one night and waves a sheaf of questions

at the shaggy-booted witch –                

she stomps her answers in the sand.

But Samuel, conjured by her magic, has

the weary air of one

whom Saul has rudely dragged from far away –

who hears the iridescent voice of heaven

as a constant summons home, a bee-like buzz.

Above the king there hangs a crown of fiery death –

the woman folds, as though defeated by its glare –

his power has dwindled to a little puff of wind,

the faintest twitching of a single fallen hair, across the sand.



just another people once,

ensnared by common mortal weeds,

in you eternity went secretly to work.


you climbed night’s magic spiral staircase,


for some savage constellations –

the sacred muteness of the Fish,

the bouncing fury of the Ram.

But then a crack began to open up above.

And you,

sleep-walking hapless acrobat,

as heaven fell to smithereens,

sprang tumbling into endless light –

Israel, archetype

of homeless sick desire,

amazement’s stacked

in storm-clouds over you,

electric agony upon your hills.

Gently though at first,

like birdsong

or like troubled children’s prattle,

the glinting life of God runs down from them

to us who wait.

Go to Part 3