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Nelly Sachs

Sternverdunkelung / Star Eclipse

1949 - part 3


Geheime Grabschrift

Secret epitaph

How to read the rune that Mother Nature

here inscribes: these tortured oak-tree branches

etched upon the anxious sky?

Old man in a caftan –

in a caftan cut from centuries of wind-blown

wandering, and smoked with psalms –

I hear you murmuring to God, who seems not to be here –

The iron soldier binds you to the tree.

The pain comes, wave on wave,

a twister, reaching for the blue beyond.

Zenith of despair!

I hear the tree-top’s sigh, and

listen to the clamour

of the hungry crows –

The darkness seethes, the lid begins

to wobble on the pot –

a vast accumulation

coming to the boil –

whilst all eternity awaits!



When your forms turned to ash

and were lost, swept out on the tide, the wash

into which primordial Night

spills life and death –

there arose numbers

(once they were branded, merciless,

onto your arms)


spanning those spaces

where light-years

are arrows, and planets are born

from the magical substance

of pain –

numbers – plucked root and all

from the murderers’ brains –

now, they’ve been rendered

an integral part of the blue-veined, vast

starry round –  



in the star-folds, they stand.

They’re wrapped with shreds of night.

They wait, no longer knowing why, on God.

A thorn has sealed their bloodied lips.

Their eyes, though,

are as lucid as a well

in which a corpse has drowned.

O ancient, ancient eyes –

besides such boundless loss,

they say, we’ve nothing further to declare –

Verwelkt ist der Abschied auf Erden

The earthly act of parting, once

so glorious a bloom, looks faded now, root-sick.

What happened to the stalk, the stem, the way,

the stream that seeks the sea?

The evident mortality of new-born life:

earth, therein lies your glory –

yet one’s pleasure even in a petal’s fall is marred

by thought of falling bombs.

Consider great Elijah’s solemn parting from Elisha, with that

seven-coloured bow of grief, an arch outstretched

from Gilgal to Beth-Él –

outstretched from Jericho to Jordan –

there indeed you see a truly heart-felt exit,

leading straight to God.       

The echoes of such parting fill the mountains –

and its grief, the clouds –

such parting turns mid-day itself

to midnight.

So to part: for one, the dew of earth upon their lips,

there comes the day of paradise –

whilst the abandoned other hurls bereavement out

into the void

as seed-corn for the future!

Welt, frage nicht die Todentrissenen

No! Don’t ask those newly snatched

from death about their future destination now.

For us, it’s chiefly still the grave.

These foreign city pavements fail to match

the hard percussive rhythm of our exiled thoughts –

the windows of these houses, framing

child-like fantasies of paradisal heaped-up plenty,

dazzle exiled eyes

dilated still by vivid memories of terror.

You must know: our smiles were ironed out.

We’d love to share

your lovely-seeming lives.

But cut flowers wither

far too fast.

One comforter indeed

remains: the evening sun.

The cosmic pageant of its solitary grief

invites us in.

It murmurs in our exiled ears  

a psalm of night –

Wir sind so wund

We are so raw,

at any angry word the street may throw at us

we think we’ll die.

The street is unaware,

and, never having known Vesuvius erupt

within its midst, it cannot bear

so great a burden of responsibility.

It lost all memory of darker things

when artificial light began.

And what else, now, can angels do but play with birds and flowers

or smile at children in their dreams?

Auf den Landstrassen der Erde

The children lie

uprooted from their mother earth

along whichever road

the wind has blown them.

Wind fills their empty hands,

from which the lantern of forgotten love

has dropped.

Evening, father of all orphans,


on their behalf,

the shadows stage

a dumb-show

of their terror –

each night’s a nose-dive

into death itself.

The resurrection of the day, to them, means only

that their parents' death once more

irradiates the sky.

O die heimatlosen Farben des Abendhimmels!

O the homeless colours of the evening sky!

Sick pallor of the infant clouds,

death’s silent bloom!

O the swallow-riddles

without answer –

O the gulls’ shrill dream

of how things were before humanity –

And how could we survive the stars’ eclipse?

Or who can read extinction’s shadow-play

enacted on us from above?

Time like a seashell sighs

in sympathy.

Yet, nothing but the earth’s-core fire

can comprehend –

Wir Mutter

We mothers

gather what is sown

in oceanic night,

we labour to restore

the scattered good.

We dreamily

commune with all

the infinite expanse

of time and space,

but with the baby,

if we can,

within a little circle,

quite alone.

We say to Death:

‘Come, blossom

in our blood.’

We say to sand and stars:

‘Come, be transfigured in our love.’

We rock dark


of all that’s been

since God first blessed the light –

our lullabies are like the songs

that Eve first sang –

Into the heart of all that is

we mothers plant

the melody of peace.



at a scene of childhood death

the quietest things are rendered strange.

Skies are dissolved into a cloak of scarlet pain

within whose folds the blackbird hides

and does not hide its apprehensions –

shifting whispers in the grass

and shadows

spreading –


at a scene of childhood death

the fiery faces of the night

seem lost in shivering loneliness –

whilst down below

the morbid signs accumulate:

a wafted fragrance from the Tree of Life,

enchanted cock-crow,

summer suddenly transposed to autumn,

clocks that stop –

dark waters lapping on the shores of deeper darkness,

murmuring dark mantras –


at a scene of childhood death

the mirrors in the doll’s-house dream

mist up,

the dancing finger-puppets

dressed in child’s-blood satin

dance no more,

the world’s a distant telescopic prospect,

it’s another moon.


at a scene of childhood death

stone and star

are rendered


Trauernde Mutter

Grieving mother

Dusk –

a brief oasis-station.

And a bridge –

sweet anguish arching over to the other world.

Your murdered son steps onto it.

The blackened fragments

of your castles in the air

encircle him –

the shining songs and prayers of days gone by

rise like a shattered fortress,


His milky lips,

his hand outstretched to empty space,

his shadow on the wall:

a ghostly wing-beat

back to nothing when the light went out –

echoes of the child’s amen,

memories of the kiss with which he went to sleep,

like crumbs to feed the birds

you fling these God-wards now –

O mother, minder of the past,

it’s disappeared,

it’s there –

the tumbled star-seed

cast from heaven

seeks your beating heart

to sprout

in utter devastation.


‘Gone’ –

the word is doubly wounded.

Yesterday still salty,

with the sign of shipwreck

like a sword-thrust down the middle –

still alight,

with shooting-star élan –

a nightingale’s concealment

kissed by midnight –

But today – two dangling shreds

and tufts of human hair

clutched in a clawing hand –

And we, whose life-blood bubbles

still from open wounds –

we hold you cupped within our hands.


of the darkly parted –

Death would have us hide our grief –

but no, we say, no, no, bleed on!


Land Israel

O Holy Land,

first mapped by sages

tracing ways into the Infinite.

Your morning air, fresh oxygen for pioneers,

your bushes blazing, mountains raring up

to meet the terrible approach

of Mystery.

O Holy Land,

the Universe’s

God-kissed lips!

O Holy Land,

now, when your people, seared

by fate, come running back, your valleys echo

glorious, benedictive

invocations of the past:

declaring where, at noon, Elijah found Elisha ploughing –

yet, also where, for purposes of common liturgy,

the garden-hyssop in a corner grew,

and where a little alley-way

wound past the graveyard wall.

For Death, back then, was just a small-time farmer,

not in any need of highways for his harvest loads!

O Holy Land,

now, when your grief-struck people

come, from every corner of their exile-world, in hope

to write new psalms of David in your sand,

and then, at last, the great community-Amen

completes their harvest home –

perhaps another homeless Ruth

already stands outside and, wondering, cradles

what she’s gleaned?

Nun hat Abraham die Wurzel der Winde gefaßt

Now Abraham attempts to tame

the centrifugal winds of his long-promised land.

For Israel has learnt enough

about the wider world,

its dark back-yards and slamming doors.

The elders seem entrapped,

like waving sea-weed in the salty deep –

their garb no longer seems to fit –

in frantic dreams

they cram towards the wailing wall.

But youth, it seems, has other thoughts –

assembled round a flag, a swirl of hope, a plan

to slake the desert’s urgent thirst

and build a house

that faces out, under the sun, to God.

And this indeed is, surely, what it means to have come home:

one’s life enfolded by the gentle violet-blue of God’s

‘good night’!

Aus dem Wüstensand

From the desert sand you have retrieved your home.

It re-emerges from millennia, ground to sandy gold.

From sand your new plantations start to surge,

the constellations wink, the trees wave back –

they wave, where Israel in ages past

lay dreaming

dreams thick wrapped in silver wool.

With Bible lore as guide,

you dig in search of buried thunder,

excavating prayers from stone.

You probe the deep enchanted slumber

of Beth-El

for traces of the angels’ ladder –                  

and, behold, the sky’s a shrine of dark eternal blue,

the wells are Rachel’s shining eyes,

melodious memories are everywhere.

Whilst, high above, the zodiac’s a vast celestial

investiture, proclaiming the Creator’s glory

to the sleeping peoples of the world.

Frauen und Mädchen Israels

You daughters of this Holy Land,

Your dreams have driven universal

song-lines through its scrub.

Who knows what’s just around the corner?

Think of Sarah, laughing!      

Learn the ancient recipes,

and weigh, into your baking mix:

a pinch of starlight, quantities of folklore,

all the earthly spices that you know.

The magic mandrake in the cornfield,

Reuben’s find,        

but since then rarely seen,

now reddens with your love again.

And fine-grained desert sand, memento

of so many deviations on the way to God,

begins to fill the dark, up-ended glass –

it sifts into the pilgrim footprints –

everywhere, the soil is freshly watered,

turning green.

You daughters of this Holy Land,

your shadow falls across its blazing topaz face

in golden benediction.

Űber den wiegenden Häuptern der Mutter

A candelabra-bloom of flame

above the mothers’ rocking heads

illuminates nocturnal flocks.

In warmly cradled dreams the angels chant

the changes on the climb to God.

They chant millennial grief, and trace the

dust-storms in the hour-glass of exile

dating from the temple’s death by fire.

But now, behold: another generation!  

Fresh-blossom branches

after winter –

Die ihr in den Wüsten


You, scanning the desert

for veins of life –

bent double to listen, wrapped

in the sun’s wedding-light –

you, all alone with the One, your Creator –

Your footprints are indeed a trail

of dreamy yearning through

the parted waves –

your body is the flutter

of a shadow-petal’s fall.

Yet, here is also blessed!

So now the spinning zodiac may

slowly start to speak again –


O meine Mutter

O my mother,

we who live upon an orphan star

can only sigh, right through, the sigh

of those thrust into death –

how often, now, the sand subsides beneath your

unsupported steps –

Reclining in my arms

you taste the mystery

through which Elijah went –

where silence speaks

where birth and death occur

where all the elements are recombined –

My arms now hold you

as a wooden chariot the heaven-bound –

this weeping wood, so battered

by its many transformations –

O, as you return,

the mystery’s entangled with forgetfulness –

yet, even so, I sense

the new abandon in your love –

Du sitzt am Fenster

You sit beside the window

and it snows –

your hair is white

as are your hands –

but in the double mirror

of your whitened face

high summer still persists:

bright meadows rising out of sight,

dark places for the hidden deer to come and drink.

And, grieving, I sink down

into your snow –

from which, a prayer

recited to the end, life gently melts.

O in your snow to fall asleep,

with all my worldly woes elsewhere ablaze.

Whilst, through night seas,

the gentle furrows of your brow bespeak

another sinking – to new birth.

Wenn der Tag leer wird

As the closing day

empties itself of colour and of shape

and solitary voices

start to intertwine –

the beasts are now

no more than predator or prey,

and flowers, reduced to scent –

when everything grows nameless –

as you descend,

and come to your own entrance to the catacombs –

where soul-salt grows upon the walls –

as you decline

towards dark inwardness –

close to the draft and ready to go through –

then: a shiver


For there, to meet you, is

a sudden starry presence

in the sky –

Go to Part 4