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Nelly Sachs

Und Niemand weiß weiter /

And No One Knows the Way Onward

1957 - part 3

In der Morgendämmerung

At dawn

the fresh dream-minted currency of night

is squandered.

Ribs, skin, eyeballs

re-enact their fatal exit from the womb.

The white-combed cock crows thrice,


our whole history

of God-abandonment –

a drum-roll, madness on the march –

a wound re-opened, once again –


Chassidim tanzen

Night, banners

flapping, snatched from death.

The sable hats

God’s lightning-rods

a stir of sea.

A lullaby

a lullaby –

a plunge upon the strand

between the stabs of light  

the great black wounds.

Upon the tongue

a taste

of spicy song

a breath of the beyond.

This candelabra

has become the Pleiades at prayer –

Nicht nur Land ist Israel!

Israel, you’re no mere land.

More, a thirst for soul-strife!

Here volcanic midnight

surges through the opening grain, towards

a sky-blue distillation.

Your Sphinx-shoulders flap

prophetic wings.

Your soul’s

attuned to fierce night-storms.

Your mountains gallop through.

They toss their blinkered heads

and puff eternity.

Their flanks are milky white

with children’s prayers.

Your wastelands hide a dream of paradise,

preserved in salt-trek memories

of leaving Eden, lost.

And God’s original


still lingers in the feathered air –

Später Erstling

Late firstborn!

Back with spade in hand

to excavate

and to construct,

to realise at last the dreams

that point the sacred way

through death

to life.

Back home amidst your sands,

your mirage memories,

beneath the lowering warfare

of the angel hosts,

and fiery night-skies

eloquent of God.

Late firstborn,


garlanded with dark

entangled tendrils

of a myriad vintages to come …

Dieses Land

This land,

God’s signature-


Here it lies, the apple’s core.

Sleep sinks its starry fangs

into our dreaming flesh.

But, come what may, the psalm-buds dance

to resurrection-rhythms.

This land

and all its paths:

blue-blossoming eternity.

This radiant source –

volcanic promise,

ram’s horns

tossing up the sand

impatient for that promised day

when all the dead like dandelion seed

will float out on the breeze,

and prayerfully wing their way

back here once more –

Abraham der Engel!

In a nimbus of light, surrounded by the dark, the four matriarchs shared the mikvah with his mother. So it was that she conceived him, from the star-power of the Maggid

  Hasidic Writings

Abraham the Angel!

Master of extremity,

God’s terrible intransigence

has catapulted him across the night,

with nothing but a smouldering palm leaf

crumpled in his hand.

He owns the dream.

Then he breaks through it –

as a meteor –

spiralling to God.

He circles round his own eternal calling

like an eagle round a golden prize.

And yet, what torment, too:

so much is left behind!

The silver loveliness

of possible domestic bliss –

The bronze attractions

of ancestral piety:

its glittering enclosure of the skies –

But now, O Abraham the Angel,

now – your blood is truly up!

Your mikvah is a plunge

into the mystery of mysteries.

You step out to the very rim.

The watching crowd begins to stir

as you prepare to leap, to somersault, to fly –

Confronted by a world of glassy artifice,

again, you rub and rub until, behold!

a living rose appears

which, with a flourish, bowing you present to God –

Immer noch Mitternacht auf diesem Stern

Still midnight on this star

under the martial law of sleep.

And few indeed among the great despairers

ever loved enough

to crack night’s granite altogether open

with the slicing antlers of their lightning.

One such was Elijah: up, out of the juniper, he sprang,

who for his people’s sins

dragged bloodstained chunks of yearning in his wake,

so many ripped-out roots, whole forests full.

An angel-finger

like a moonbeam shining on his weary frame

sustained him as he toiled

to sweep the shallows home –

And Christ! Head bowed

upon the incandescent cross –

the rock of ages

with a sagging jaw:


Daniel mit der Sternenzeichnung

Daniel, who knew infinity,

was raised

amongst the stones of Israel,

His homeland

was a land at home with death.

He gathered relics

from the ruined angel-past,

and so restored

his people’s sense of destiny.

Daniel could sense the dreams

concealed in slagheap-dust.

Daniel, to teach the Babylonian king to read,

employed a script

of running blood and leaping flame.

Daniel knew all the labyrinthine intercourse

of torturer and damned.

Daniel, we need your inspiration now –

to guide us through

the looming dark.


(prologue to Abram im Salz)



reduced to salt and skeletal remains:

beneath the silver stairway

of the moon

in Ur

a pillar still commemorates

the lost Chaldean hordes –

their hapless sleepy


drift into the blue –

And in the dust

an archaeologist will find

rich patterned cloth

of royal weave,


sudden glint

of golden

chains –

The neck for which

this lavish splendour was devised

is now amongst

the dingiest

of phantom memories –

But there in Abram’s ear

the music of the spheres

swilled round and round –

and dizzied him

until he dropped –

the victim of a death

that is in fact

the very breath of life –




Da schrieb der Schreiber des Sohar

His pen, his scalpel cut.

The writer of the Zohar surgically drew blood,

pulsing, from the unseen circulation

of the stars, gathered in a cup

the words, the homesick sparks.

The grave split open, the alphabet arose,

each letter was an angel, each a crystal shard,

each held refracted droplets dating from Creation.

These sang. And there, within, glowed

ruby, jacinth, lapis lazuli,

so many scattered seedlings

not yet stone.

And night, the blackest tiger,

roared; and wounded day

lay writhing there,

in pools of light.

The shining was a mouth tight shut.

An aura, only, showed God hid within the soul.

Und wickelt aus, als wärens Linnentücher

Then she unwraps, as if from linen sheets

enfolding life and death,

the lettered body, chrysalis

of multi-coloured fire,

to swaddle it once more, in love-grief,

just as mothers do; whose grief is luminous.

Is this a summer’s child? Or winter’s? Either way,

rough waves of boundless hope keep rolling in.

Und klopfte mit dem Hammer seines Herzens

And then each heart-beat was a hammer blow,

and then she stripped great strands of ivy off the Bible monuments,

and then she saw the world reduced to fire and water, sand and air,

and saw the empty sea from star to star:

vast solitudes; and then she saw

in every pleading eye the urge to fly,

in every leaf that fell a fond farewell,

and then she saw the falcon’s flight

that ages past had set this world alight –

Und Metatron, der höchste aller Engel

And Metatron the highest of the angels

five hundred miles in height

just wafts his wings

of feathered fire

and out the all-sustaining music pours ,

the oceanic flood of love!

And then, from that, the measured

doling-out of words, until

the brightness breaks – the words begin to bleed

and life is born –

Und aus der dunklen Glut ward Jakob angeschlagen

And Jacob after he had wrestled in the blazing gloom

could only limp: a dingy tale from long ago.

And we, alas, have darker tales.

No one breaks through to God without a fight,

but least of all from this black swamp –

‘Let there be light’: the constellations’ intermittent pulse portrays

our dislocated, bruised – and limping – gait –

Go to Part 4