Home Links The Poems Index - German Index - English Readings Essay

Nelly Sachs

Und Niemand weiß weiter /

And No One Knows the Way Onward

1957 - part 2

Eine Windschleppe

Wind, a rustle

full of dead folk’s breath.

The angler hooks and hoists his salmon up

into the company of angels.

Benediction of the blood-soaked gills!

The ladies, though, continue sweetly dozing

through the service, mindless

of the lavender, and letters

bursting into sudden flame

before their very eyes –

Ein Licht über dem See

   All that departs out of death

   has invisibly completed its life  

Sun-filled mist above the lake.

And here this arrow carved into a timber wall

perhaps denotes

the ache of resurrection –

Darkly, a seditious robin

twitters at the window –

Over at the silver-mine

a knuckle-bone array of rocks –

and then the barking of a dog.

What does it all portend?

Thank God: the code lies wrapped

in old phylacteries –

their tattered admonitions

even now preserved, against all odds –

Als der Blitz

When lightning struck

and set alight the edifice of faith,

feet walked on water,

arms began to flail the air like wings.

And there was wine

intended also for the softening

of the hard-heart angels.

(“Let tomorrow be a day of rest!”)

But that – I fear – was spurned.


Cain! Because of you we’re plunged into these nightmares:


Why, when love had failed,

did you dig up your brother’s garden?

Why did you decree

the slaughter of the Innocents?

The silver of the wings

on which they flew

into eternity

was grubby with your fingerprints!

What animates

such martyr-making energy?

How were you called

to this?

From what abyss

did it come pulsing forth?

This wilful


of all Nature’s gifts?

Your heavy-handed



Our brother – no one’s brother any longer – Cain –

Hier und da ist die Laterne der Barmherzigkeit

Here and there

the hooked and suffocated fish

may find

compassion scattering the dark.

Here, for instance, it stands written in the stars:


Or over there –

where lovers grieve for one another –

love draws further energy

from death.

In der blauen Ferne

In the blue beyond

a rambling row of apple trees:

so many spatters,

blood-red Jacob’s-ladder surges,

distillations of the valley-dwellers’ yearnings.

Here the sun is lounging by the wayside.

It operates

a magic roadblock.

Cased in glass

the fugitive is trapped.

A cricket scratches

at what can’t be seen,

the stone dissolves,

its dust begins to dance.



by the echo of a songbird

down a dark

and dripping well-shaft –

Evening- or morning-star?

The pale

and spiky seed of Death

re-enters Life.

Cow and calf

penned close together

steam in sticky dread of separation –

all the golden-nimbus glory

of creation

here roots


within their pleading gaze –

Und wir, die ziehen

We’ve dragged

our heirlooms off

to every compass point.

And I, for instance, here.

This polar

blanked-out place.

This pile of shrivelled nettle-leaves,

in layer on layer of dead-white silence.


home to wary elk.


a sun-egg rises pale between his antlers –

Where ocean-time

now largely wears the mask of iceberg-time,

beneath the last star’s cold


it’s here

I trace again the freshly bleeding


of your news.

Sind Gräber Atempause für die Sehnsucht

Are graves a respite for our yearning grief?

Whilst we go spinning with the planets for a while?

Between this nightmare

and the trumpet-call

when all ascend,

the rotting seeds at last restored?

A gentle interlude

whilst worms devour

our constellated, staring eyes?

Hindurchsterben wie der Vogel die Luft

O, to die right through, as birds fly through the air,

right through, to penetrate

the forest’s soul, the violet’s bloom,

right through,

to where the angels sing their requiem for fish –

through to the time-before,

beyond this capering insanity,

to where

the caverns open on another,

infinitely safer place –

Bereit sind alle Länder aufzustehn

Enough, you lands, of being on the map,

it’s getting-up time now.

It’s time to wipe the stardust from your eyes,

to bundle up the blue along your shores

and sling it from your shoulder.

Take your fire-veined mountain summits,

stick them as a cap upon your smoky head.

And then, be sure to pack a suitcase full

of all you’ve lost along the way:

a chrysalis, the stuff of angel-wings,

equipment for the flying, at the end –

Hier unten aufgestellt

Here below: this weaponry,


under the bright star-sign of defence,

hieroglyph of great preparedness.

So vast the span of birth- and death-miles

way beyond our comprehension,

separating earth from heaven.

But the arrows of atonement

fly both ways:

great quiver-fulls of war-gear

for the gladly defenceless.

Haar, mein Haar

Hair, my hair,

erupting in an efflorescent

gorse-flare-flashpoint wilderness

of memory –

Hair, my hair,

what vast potential ball of fire

lies buried

in your night?

Your tips, the dying of a world!

God lets them gently go,


by a lifetime’s flow of tears –

yet, also


by a slow-maturing sheer extravagance

of pyrotechnic



Wenn nicht dein Brunnen, Melusine

O Melusine, without the wellspring

of your mischief

and your wistfulness

we’d have had nothing left

but Easter Island

high pomposity –

But when you show us who we truly are –

an image framed

in floating petals, flaring Sabbath-sun,

whatever is most delicate and frail –

our hearts pump healing memory up

from sources deep, deep down

beneath the surface

of the ever-anxious soul –

Vergessenheit! Haut

Oblivion: pelt

for swaddling clothes

and shrouds,

a ghostly gift passed

down the generations.


Here an intermittent foghorn pulses

from the last extremity.

It mingles with the shanties of the drowned.

Faint traces of a labyrinthine writhing

run across the sand.

A trail of snail-shell fragments


to burdens shed –

Behind the dawn

a blackbird sings.

The dead are dancing to the tune:

‘All flesh is grass’ –

Verwunschen ist alles zur Hälfte

Everything is half-bewitched.

The sun sinks

gently down –

into your mermaid-world.

The dusk is scarred.

We’re lost.

Can only fantasize of Eden,

dream of seas

that lap upon eternity.

My soul,

on its way out,

goes groping home along the rails.

And yet I leave this comet-trail of riddles

in my wake.

Meanwhile, the cattle wander through the buzzing field,

and there are asphalt roads to everywhere,

no actual angels spinning in distress.

The city clangs awake,


stream across the Styx.

Milk churns go rattling by

for those who suck

upon the teats of death.

But still

the laughing gull above the quay

retains at least some drop

of backwoods-madness.


we share

your undomesticated woe.

Immer hinter den Rändern der Welt

Beyond the edges of the world they wait,

outcast: the lady Genoveva

with her son Prince Pain.

Her longing’s luminous.

And one can also call her ‘Shekinah’,

the holy mourner,

crowned with dust.

At one with every other wounded beast,

she’s dear to God,

for whom

she ever aches.

The hunters’ yellow bonfire has inscribed

its terrifying mark

into her rainbow eyes.

A question mark.

I also meet it

as I stumble up

towards the ash-horizon.

Here, a piece of shrapnel

on the way.

A pharaonic hieroglyph:

the lightning flash

and then

the swan-song lamentation.

Love’s outcry –

Go to part 3