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Nelly Sachs

Und Niemand weiß weiter /

And No One Knows the Way Onward



Da du unter dem Fuss dir

As you gave birth to these

your dust-winged, constellating cries

of trampled flight, a hand

thrust flames into your mouth.

O locked-in Word of love,

great blaze of sun

behind the circling night –

I mould

your captive sheen

into an earthly token of my answering love.

Yet, I am breathless still –

O, gently counsel these despairing lungs.

My light, be scoured

with all the ocean’s wild assault,

my sails, unfurled to catch

the vernal trade-wind’s surge.

Pressed up against the wall in prayer

my every thought becomes a kiss of death –  

a golden song-seed,

sprouting from the barrier reef.

Wurzeln schlagen die verlassenen Dinge

The forsakenness

of things

strikes root in our bewildered exile-gaze.

A severed voice:

the bedroom door

hangs, mute, ajar.

This soup-bowl is an island

in a flood of howling mouths.

Across a desk abandoned by astronomy

the letters lie unread –

strewn meteor-debris from the dead of night.

And yet, the paperweight, rock-crystal caught by sunlight, starts

to glimmer –

as the writer doodles:


A thousand blazing petals fill the sky,

then fall to ash.

A golden bee with glowing wings

entombed in glass

will beat and beat its head against the pane

still longing for the honey-fire beyond

right to the very end.

Das ist der Flüchtlinge Planetenstunde

Here: the planetary hour of flight,

the rending passage

into foaming nothingness!

The exile’s comet-fall from ordinary enchantment:

threshold, hearth and bread.

The eating of the Eden-apple:

blackest dread! A smoking

extinct sun! The flower of haste

bedewed in sweat! These hunters hunting

just for hunting’s sake.

These hunted, hiding all their dying lives

until they hide in death.

And then: their garlanded farewells.

A quiver in the sand,

the moment of escape,

as faltering breath atones

with heaven’s air.

Einen Akkord spielen Ebbe und Flut

Ebb and flow together strike a chord,

the hunter and the hunted.

Many hands attempt

to grab and hold.

This cloth’s a weave of blood.

Imperious fingers point the way,

well-regimented limbs are then

accordingly deployed.

Shrewd strategy,

a reek of fear –

Dark waves of marching feet.

And overhead

the Spirit’s stifled sigh –

Gebogen durch Jahrtausende

Drawn by starry dreams

of vast millennial scope

we navigate

through tumbled porticos of dust

and still are tempted by the heathen scene

of fierce-competing gods.

This bundle of bright solar truths:

a giant bore it on his shoulder,

gave it into

Abraham’s devoted hand.

His trembling, gold-stigmata hand –

And over there the mother-constellation:


Finger raised on high

through Bible-night

she made her radiant protest.

Heroine of heroines,

she wouldn’t let her sons’ dishonoured corpses

lie untended.

Israel’s Antigone,

this ancient mourner for lost liberty,

arrayed in dust and ashes,

went about her business

just as though

the circling jackals were not there –

In a shady corner, also, shines

the ass.

Sea-grey with eyes of dreamy blue

reflecting Paradise

it snuffles through the hyssop.

Balaam, agent of the night, could only

scratch his head in bafflement.

But woe! O woe! O woe!

The willows weep. The harps. The grieving folk.

The temple burns!

Now Israel’s become a salt-encrusted flag.

All flight’s cut off.

The fugitives run up against the brutal sea


shiver hopelessly

in hiding from the pack.

Escape, escape, escape.

No trace of God

but lines of flight –

Escape from swelling wastes

of cosmic emptiness.

Escape into the sheer distraction

of the storm’s insanity.

Escape, escape, escape

into the sheer obsession of escape.

A frozen moment, merely,

on the run –


Auswanderer-Schritte Pulsreise-Schritte


the rhythm of our dreams.

A settled pulse of rootlessness


by the milestone’s orphan vigil.

Watch them

ravelling our sleep.

Here Adam gasps.

We cannot see the way.

God, grant us un-cracked mirrors to your glory,

mirrors rubbed with cleansing ash.

O grant us Baal Shem eyes!

Beside the gates

inscribed with primal light

are strewn

the singed remains

of ocean-crossing wings.

How cruel the fate

which cast us here in fragments

from the farewell-blackened cliffs of infancy

into a starless sea!

Was suchst du, Waise

What further purpose,

ice-age orphan, is there

left in life for you?

Each night a new blue moon

invites despair.

Death shuffles his black cards

with gleeful speed.

He’s sealed your father’s dried-up eyes

with sea-salt,

and then arched

a taunting fish-scale rainbow


He’s fed

your mother’s kisses

to the lion’s

throaty roar –

The hangman,

hiding from reproach,

delights to twirl his fingers

through the little children’s hair.

It curls


Your orphan hands meanwhile

attempt to reproduce

the skill of nightingales.

Love drives their desperate scrabbling

in heaped sand

of shallow graves

for what was long ago

chewed up

by salivating

cosmic savagery  –

Wer weiß, wo die Sterne stehn

Not being gods, we cannot read the stars,

nor map the road to peace,

nor ever fully comprehend

the tragic symbol of the fish

spread gasping bloody

on the chopping board.

We cannot read the wordless script in which

the constellation of the Silenced Victim

cries to us –

Love, it’s true, has an electric charge

which pierces to the marrow,

its gaze accompanies the dead

the whole way through –

but where Love’s many rivers


we cannot see.

Raspberries hidden in the undergrowth

betray their presence by their scent.

But no amount of hunting will disclose

the last-fruits of the dead –

unless, with sub-atomic stealth

defying all solidity,

their stillness

meshes with the very drumbeat

of our un-stilled hearts.

Erde, Planetengreis, du saugst an meinem Fuss

Earth, King Lear among the planets,

I confess that it’s your loneliness, alone,

detains me here.

Your sea-eyes, holding

all the washed-up stuff of grief

that furnishes a soul.

The silver of your hair, bespeaking

starry madness, after

whole millennia of fiery mayhem.

O, the folly of your children!

It will more than likely be the death of you.

So, blindly following

the wind, your guide-dog,

on you spinning go,

forsaken beggar of the Milky Way.

In einer Landschaft aus Musik

In a place of music,

speaking only light,

in an aureole

of blazing

crimson words,

quite numb,


nothing-doing ,


and unaccountably exposed

to scent of sandalwood,

within a swelling space

of threshold after threshold crossed –

this bull, my outer life, is being lured

by flourished capes of dusky red

to death.

My shadow is a matador

despatched by night.

The hunter strikes

with black design.

A crimson bird shoots up.

Ein schwarzer Jochanaan

‘Behold my messenger whom I send on ahead’.


a shredded night.

The moon’s white-thorn desire

stabs, stabs, and stabs again

in fury

at the dormant sea.

The huskies clamour to the sky.


is a hurtling sled

along the homesick orbit

of our dreams.

Aus der Maske des Schlafes

So the soul slips free:

concealed behind a mask of sleep

it sheds the poisoned garments of its weariness.

The many-eyed, all-seeing Cherubim

have whisked it

from the flames.

They soothe it

with a scattering of stars,

and satirize its mortal fears

in cloud-play dreams,

before at length


an inchoate sense

of restless love.

Behold the singing constellation

of the Shellfish:

scooped from safety

every morning by the rising sun,

as we once more


our crazy roles

within this maelstrom down below –

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