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Nelly Sachs

Sternverdunkelung / Star Eclipse

1949 - part 4

Am Abend weitet sich dein Blick

At evening your gaze expands

to midnight and beyond.

Let me present myself:

a green bud springing from a shrivelled shoot.

Within these walls two worlds collide.

In you I see the dead

of every age,

and honour all that ever curled out free

from twisted human bark.

The light upon a foetus’ brow


the vast expanse

from star to star.

So every ending ends in swan-song:

let’s begin again!

This sickness will not last.

Angelic hosts patrol the night.

Aber in der Nacht

But in the night,

when dreams with gust of wind

remove the walls and ceiling,

there begins the visit to the dead.

Amidst the stardust, then, you seek them –

First, in answer to your prayer, your sister comes –

from where they hide

you draw her in

until she breathes beside you in the bed –

your brother’s just gone round the corner –

and your husband, who’s upstairs, you can’t quite see –

yet still you don’t complain –

Until – who is it interrupts the journey? –

time’s up, you must return –

your utter lostness

here on earth

is like an orphan child’s –

the ceiling’s back, and with it, too, the death

of all who’ve died –

I lay my head upon your heart, to interpose

the shelter of my love –

So comes the dawn,

this cruel scatter-seed of red,

and night, at last, has wept

its store of weeping out –

Wohin O wohin

Where to, O, to what true end,

this universal restlessness

of dark-enchanted wings

already outspread in the chrysalis,

of fins forever churning up the waters,


at depths that

only true familiarity

with grief

will ever plumb?

Where to, O, to what true end,

this universal restlessness?

So many dreams of Eden lost –

the body politic a pumping wound –

the soul a foetus

still unfolding

under death-mask ice?

Hasidic Writings

It is said: the commandments of the Torah equal the number of a man’s bones, its prohibitions the number of the arteries. Thus the whole law covers the whole human body.

Everywhere hints of salvation:

as forth the Word sped,

the creative breath,

masks facing every which way, and screen-hidden night

stretched writhing in star-birth.

Everywhere hints of salvation

and, somewhere down in the mulch,

a bubbling-up

towards prayer.

Names formed

like pools in the sand.

Everywhere hints of salvation:

dry bones sprung together with sinews of Law,

severed arteries sobbing,

all the disorderly

spillage of dusk.

Everywhere hints of salvation

in bitter remembrance

battling for life.

There are moments when nature is partnered with grace,

as when the ark of the covenant drove

its attendants over the Jordan!

You must sink deep shafts

and negotiate quicksand

to open the chamber

where lightning is stored.

And Israel dreams:

of conquered horizons, star-seed,

all manner of pilgrim’s burden!

Zuweilen wie Flammen

Flame-like, at times,

it presses through our flesh –

as though lacing this moment together

with star-birth.

But how slow, to ignite, Truth truly is –

O, after how many light-years, at last,

have these hands finally folded in prayer –

these knees bent –

this soul been abandoned

to grace?

Wie Nebelwesen

Like creatures of mist

we float through dream after dream,

and sink through

walls of seven-coloured light –

only to arrive in Death’s own

colourless, wordless

crystal-bowl containment –

suddenly wingless and, O, wide awake!

Engel auf den Urgefilden

Angels of the thinnest place,

entrusted with the first,

most elemental revelation,

tasked to make

the constellations bloom

and calibrate the lunar

harmonies of death –

Before all else, thus, teaching

us to fling our arms out

wide and cry

to God on high,

in fervent hope of answer

from the violet dark –

Angels of the thinnest place,

how many tracts of torment

must we clamber yet

to track you to your home?

Wer weiß, welche magischen Handlungen

Who knows what magic’s

secretly enacted here?

How many roses yet may sprout

from rifle barrels, as a sign of hope?

What nets love may have knotted

over sickness?

Many at the crossroads

hear a call

to go and join the company of saints.

Consider all those wells, dug deep into the sky,

that give prophetic words for drink, where one long lost

in dust may, of a sudden, choose to stop.

What sproutings from the wilder constellations,

what grief-harvests.

And the martyrs’ shining vintage –

ramparts raised against the very worst of deeds.

The graveyard-respite, even, granted to those victims

scraped down to the very inmost God-core.

Cities never seen by day,

to which in sleep we may escape –

And, yes, you sighing, verdant poems also –  

who knows what you’ll amount to, in the end?



of such distant prospects,



to the blazing innards of the earth,

waving veil, weaving together all our farewells:


good night!

All the weight of life and death

is borne upon your failing wings.

So the rose wilts, so the sun sets.

And so we, too, must make our long way home.


of such distant prospects,

what majesty is signalled

by your little flight!

Musik in den Ohren der Sterbenden

Music in the ears of those who’re dying –

when the rolling drum of daily life,

like a departing thunder-storm, begins to fade,

supplanted by the wild desire of flying suns,

of aimless planets

and forgotten moons –

so many overflowing pitcher-loads of song

that splash their sorrow in the dust –

These poems splash their sorrow in the dust –

which is a state of being-lifted –

kicked up, raised at length to mingle

in the blazing conversations of eternity –

the glorious re-ignition

of a blacked-out sun!

All returns to God,

both star and apple-tree alike,

and after midnight there is

only reconciliation –


In the Land of Israel

I’ll not sing you battle hymns, my people, but I’ll stand

and knock where all those locked-out generations knocked before.

I’ll search, with them,

for sparks of heaven

buried deep within the drifts –

I’ll celebrate, with them,

the constellations they exposed.

No, I’ll not sing you

battle songs,


Rather, simply, dress a wound.

My hope: to help to thaw the tears that froze

when Death took charge.

And to elicit other memories –

the whiff of prophecy

that sleeps within the rock

from which dream-flowers grow,

and where the Jacob’s ladder stands

which, climbing, leaves mere dying finally behind.

Völker der Erde

Peoples of the earth,

who wrap yourselves around with power

of unknown stars like rolls of thread,

who sew, and then unpick again,

who climb your Babel towers

like beehive-builders, to patrol

the sweetness,  

swarming stingers –

Peoples of the earth,

do not destroy the universe of words.

Beware of knife-thrusts to the throat, endangering

the voice, the very breath of Spirit.

Peoples of the earth,

O, never dress up death as life –

and sing no lullabies in praise of murder –

Peoples of the earth,

do not forget what words are for,

but let them nudge our gaze around

to heaven.

Let them shape and ornament the screen

behind which gapes the night.

Let them delineate the constellations.

Wenn im Vorsommer

When the moon in early summer sends out secret signs,

and lily-scent is eloquent of heaven,

one with ears to hear

may catch, beneath the crickets’ symphony, a murmur

of the spinning earth, and Spirit stepping out again.

In dreams the fish can fly,

and trees are growing through the bedroom floor.

But always, then, the irrepressible, disruptive voice of shocked astonishment:

O world, how can you just

continue, eyes averted? –

World, they murdered little children.

‘Butterflies with blazing wings’ – I dream, I dream – but no less dead!

And look! Your earth survives, it wasn’t

thrown away, a rotten apple, to the depths of hell –

and sun and moon go circling on –

two idle passers-by, who never saw a thing.

Wir üben heute schon den Tod von Morgen

Mourning our old negotiated settlement with death,

we practice dying now anew –

O, judgement day, how we have always dreaded you –

Here, though, seeping into every dream, you come,

here night’s anatomy dissolves,

here a bone-moon sifts the wreckage –

how we have always dreaded you –

O, where are they, the gentle dowsers, now,

the rest-in-peace angelic guides, to lead us

to that hidden source

where sheer exhaustion babbles of release?