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Nelly Sachs

Teile dich Nacht /

O Night, Divide

(1971) - part 1


Steigt einer aus den Steinen

Say instead of throwing stones

one proffered to the foe a solar disk

and so began –


a lovely batting back-and-forth  

of interwoven sorrow-riddles.

Ever since the days of Cain resentment

like a pride of lionesses has been hunting down

whoever’s branded thus:


Abel’s blood however pleads forgiveness

likewise in a symbol so:


Weiss im Krankenhauspark



In the snow

the woman’s halting gait


her secret


a budding and yet broken branch

surrendered to the powers of Night

She stands there

in the snow


with crazy wonderment

at how the nothingness comes pressing in –

yet also

very secretly

still plotting magic schemes –


The Easter truth consists

in silence

soaked with blood and then absorbed

into an answering martyrdom –

Besessen von Hingabe

Obsessed with sheer devotion

kissing iron

fallen to one’s knees in love –

A little broken daylight now

goes scouring through

the mortuary

for dream-material

This lumpy pane of glass

displaces mountains

There’s a sunset in the blood

a wealth of grief

The castle’s key

admits one to its heart

What’s written wants to be erased

There are no seasons

in the dungeon’s


The past is driven

into constant flight

To fancy that you glimpse the future

is at once

to lose all trace

Here’s Marja in flames

the mortuary in flames

ice and key and silence vanished


without a trace –

Vor den Wänden der Worte

Before the wall of words – is silence –

Behind the wall of words – is silence –

See: the silence swells and sweats

Observe the glacier drip

Reach out and touch the hidden battlements

around the void


there’s dancing up in heaven above

the wounds of life are registered on high –

So hingeworfen

So deep cast down

deep deep and ever deeper yet –

how deep’s the deepest deep?

The clammy-silent soul

goes spinning

spiralling to death –

Dein Auge so leer

Your eye is hungry

for lost heaven

So what next: if Mars and Venus fail

if nothing in the solar system fits the bill

then what? You stare

and ponder pure eternity –

Im Krankensaal

Spirit squats here

on the ward

though bloodless now – a matter of

rock-crystal memory – and blind

and lacking any movement in its earthen limbs –

Was ist das Andere

At what offence

did you decide to throw these stones?

Was it

my people’s grief?

A rose that’s growing wild upon the dunes –

seen from eternity

your salty tempest-rage will have no more

than brushed its rustling leaves –

Das Gebrause der Stadt

A shaft of evening light –

the roaring of the city fades away as though a blood-stained knife

had sliced right through

the tumbled stream of lonely souls returning home from work

Then darkness – laden with its

bitter-sweet relief to us bereaved –

Jeden Tag

To take just one more step

each day

into the unseen

miracle of life

from sunset into night

and so again to dawn

To fondle silence

with my witless words

To live with nothing

but the burden of my loss

and track the ever-shifting exit till

at length

the longed-for door appears

Nicht immer im Abendrot leben

The glory of the dusk affords

no resting place –

one dreams of flowing blood

alarums fill the night

And so we clambering penetrate

the cave of mysteries

where death concludes the plot and we

all unrehearsed forget our lines

We fumble through the dark

The soul can only wriggle in its winding sheet

A monster

gobbles up the starry sky

We settle slowly underground

Der Jäger

The murderous constellation

of the Hunter



from moon-lit Ur

the crowning splendour of those death-cult towers

where sumptuous banqueters would pick apart

the sacrificial auguries –

it sprang aside

from one young man who

turned his back upon the moon

then made Himself

a channel for the crack of lightning

to ignite our souls –

but sprang back once again

into this age’s last extremity of black

where it enshrines a secret glint

of answering white:

the martyrs’ crown –



playing with a grain of sand

sought out the very blackest black with which

to show what resurrection

might in principle

redeem –

Der Abend und die Töter

The evening and the dead conceal

their common fire

the river

bears its flames

Beginning from a simple green

the painter lets obsession


until a thousand thousand suns

have set Invisibility itself

ablaze –

Das Flötengerippe der Toten

Suddenly the dead strike up their flute-bone music  

and the boundary dissolves

a shining silence spells it out:

this ashen legacy is all that’s left –

So leuchten zwei Hände in der Nacht

Two hands shining in the moonless dark:

your hands –


by the agony

of death-embracing love

reality at uttermost intensity

The blue veins swollen

like that imprint on the Shroud

which dates from just before

the universe was born again:

such signs

of hope!



peeps through

the desert wastes

the crumbling majesty

of measureless immensity –

The clouds evoke a presence –

from before

the fiery fall

of Lucifer –

a waiting readiness

already there

in the Abyss

to hear

our blood-choked cry for aid

and come

with wounded hands

outstretched –


Sie schreien nicht mehr

These no longer clamour

when it hurts

Each tramples still upon the other’s woundedness

it’s true – and yet they form a climbing cloud

the gathering moisture

of God’s grace –

Schmerzen singen

Affliction sings

as here it herds the living with the dead

A living voice declares:

the world throbs in my pulse – with eager thirst –

Another voice replies:

what throbs – what thirsts

is all we left behind –

Tod – ich sehne mich weiß nach dir

Death – I yearn for you

to swallow up in sanguine nothingness

this lingering distractive light

which hides the vast beyond –  

that I may rise again –

Go to Part 2