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 4


Die Stunde zu Endor

A point may come

when you will purse your sticky lips in vain,

the empty air, then, full of pressing mystery:

your being judged,

my being judged,

a lurid show of worry-lines and folds and sweat.

The circulation of the stars

draws energy transfused

from our free waywardness.

And Samuel in the hour at Endor

prophesied catastrophe.

Saul’s ruby-prayer lay buried

in the terror of that magic night,

his ruby-schemes of murder,

all the gem-stones of his wild imagining.

And round and round she went, the witch,

elaborating traps

of airy nothingness

until the eerie face appeared.

And Samuel gave sightless Saul to see

his death-mask there.

Saul saw himself devoured,

down to the very last singed hair

by David’s providential lightning-bolt.

Indeed – how sad it is that such should be our legacy:

this world of smouldering forest fire!

God’s judgment maps

its constant secret spread.

How sad that we so seldom

heed in time the nightmare-warnings we receive!

King Saul, that melancholy hunter, wore a shadow-crown

of fear and fire and thorns.

He sought to grasp the world,

bite through its riddle-rind,

and kill the boy who sang of things beyond.

That hour at Endor!

Here’s the twisted hunter’s torment

when confronted

by the truth he still denies –

that last extremity of anguish

where the dead

return to intervene –

Sheer loss,

sheer cockcrow-guilt,

such muddy turbulence of soul

as may well drive one mad

in one’s impatience

to retract the past –

No reassurance will avail

when all one sees on every side

is pure apocalypse.

His heart was choked to death,

as any heart would be.

Sick king!

Encompassed by the stormy echo of your coming requiem,

the funerary flutter of the shadows throbbing close.

Surrendered to the moon-lit harp,

a fugitive, pursued to God!

Your policy it was

which stained the sky

with hues of deadly nightshade,

sowed the land with blood-ruff mint.

A constant fine-tuned predator,

you laid your ambushes

right, left and centre,

never showed a glint of mercy for your victims.

Now the witch is whispering secrets

in the kitchen, look, and now

she’s dicing with the eyeballs of dead fish:

they’re meant as tokens

of blind godlessness.

She blows upon the ground

to drive away all thought

of God.

So she prepares

to summon up

cruel Baal instead.

Resurgent from the lurid dark

the rose-quartz ghost of Samuel

has raised a storm

of terrible reproach –

O Saul – whom God rejects –

O troubled night,

O cherubim in raggedy black plumage

pricked with diamond flames –

A skeleton with fiery magic wand

tip-taps the royal robes.

A bat flaps from its cavern-eyes.

It sighs.

A sulphurous dawn spreads doom across the skies.

That hour at Endor: O now hear!

A conquered warrior prepares to die –

His soul reduced to mighty pain

before the face of God.

The very graveyard worm

is touched –

A melody to ease the spectacle of death’s decay,

a jewel to decorate the lethal blade,

a dream to mask an oceanic grief –

we live in hope, remembering the ark, afloat

above the lumpen generations of the drowned.

And Jonathan, who represents

the airy grace of David’s love –

The Spirit blows where e’er it will –

And here’s a chastened worm

from out the fire

who weighs on cosmic scales

the workings of our God –

Landschaft aus Schreien

Tonight it seems that every seam has frayed,

the gag’s been ripped,

the world begins to scream.

Above Moriah, on the dizzy road to God, there floats

the flag emblazoned with a sacrificial knife:

here Abraham is screaming for his darling son.

The Bible echoes with the sound.

O hieroglyphic screams

engraved upon the lintels of the underworld.

These shattered throat-flutes: coral wounds.

O these hands, these finger-vines of fear

dug into wildly rearing manes, to elevate the sacrifice’s neck –

the screams shut tight in shredded mandibles of fish,

the tendrils of small children’s grief,

the dragging anguish of the very old,

so many fiery slashes in the heavens’ blue, with plumes of smoke.

The dungeon walls of martyrdom,

all papered over with a nightmare-patterning of throats.

This dog-house is a seething pit of madness,

here we’re held in rattling chains –

A screaming landscape!

Screams ascendant

from the rib-cage armies,

screaming arrows, drawn

from deep-scar quivers.

Job’s scream, north south east and west,

the Mount of Olive’s scream,

as from an insect overwhelmed.

O knife of cut-throat dusk, this momentary rush,

Hiroshima, Majdanek,

such vast scene of blood and bones:

dry bones, dry bones –

O ashen scream from blinded visionary eye –

a tattered sun’s eclipse,

blood mixed with tears.

God hangs his washing on the line,

where all is still.


Mit Wildhonig die Hinterbliebenen

With wild honey

once upon a time

their mourners

nourished those that lay embalmed.

With dollops of date wine,

a pulse of exile-life

out-poured into the


of mysteries.

And here the stiffened wasp

of danced-out time

is laid enclosed

in crystal shards of night –

But you,

but you,

how shall I nourish you?

Love overleaps

all dust-realm milestones,

as the throbbing sun


its crimson downfall.

May my downfall

nourish you –

Nachdem du aufbrachst

Your departure

renders all this gaping world

your grave – a place of all-consuming


round a cradle of despair –

The world that you no longer see

has rolled away.

It’s lost to sight.

It lies beneath the waves –

Their rise and fall becomes your requiem.

A sudden breeze announces change –

and zombie hosts

begin to gather in the dark.

The once-imprisoned lightning dances crazy

down the street.

These verses rear and foam –

it’s hard to bridle them!

Was stieg aus deines Leibes weissen Blätter

What then ascended from the crinkled parchment of your flesh

once you had ceased to breathe

whom I still called my mother?

What lay – void of longing – there upon the linen sheet?

That open wound, your soul:

how will its dissonances merge

into the symphonies above?

Where is the wreath of your embrace?

And your translucent whisper, where?

The smile

that punctuated

what your weaving fingers said?

That lyric trail of loss you left behind

in your escape –

how shall I follow it?

How shall my feet break free

from clinging gravity

to hurtle up the stairs to death?

There were indeed

some moments

when we sensed the rising sap beneath the bark,

some moments

when we pushed aside the elemental curtains

that reveal eternity –

But now:

my love is spent redundantly

considering how monumental stone relates

to shorn hair,

or to this constant

breathing-in and –out

of Death –

Wieviele Meere

So many seas soaked into sand,

so much sand prayed hard into stone,

so many hours wept away in the sea shells’


so much of being abandoned to death

in the pearly eyes of the fish,

so many morning trumpets in coral,

so many star-patterns in crystal,

so much burgeoning glee in the gull’s throat,

so many threads of homesick desire

criss-crossing the night-net of the stars,

so much fertile soil

all for the root of the word:


behind all the tumbling screens

of the mysteries:

You –  

Nur im Schlaf haben Sterne Herzen

Behold the power of dreams:

investing passion into starlight.

Dreams help souls to breathe

as they approach

the judgement-seat.

In dreams the dripping rocks

that rise and fall amidst the waves

are whales.

They’ve been harpooned, they toss, they yearn,

they represent our selves, they are aflame –

But when we wake,

what will have been accomplished

for the work of Love?

No fetters

can withstand such urgent energy!

Wie aber, wenn Eines schon hier

But take a something

Give it eyes

spin rocks around it

let them shine

and make them

teeth of fire

to chew away the dark.

Then scratch in blood a coded message

on the cooling sky –

Write screeds in starlight

watch them fade –

Inhale the musk

of death,

absorb the epileptic aura

of sea-onion grief.

And then at last,

all railings left behind –

deploy the safety-net

that is your Covenant.

A pounding rhythm marks this dance’s end!

Alles weißt du unendlich nun

O mother,

now you know the meaning of it all for evermore –

There in the prophets’

flaming-anguished vision of the end

you also walk.

Your ghostly sorrow

merges into

Esau’s unkempt grief.

In me

it starts to bud.

O mother,

now you know the meaning if it all for evermore –

the tattered wonders of the Milky Way,

whatever God has done


with your memories of hell!

O mother,

now you know the meaning of it all for evermore –

as Rachel sings for evermore –

a song of stone-reduced-to-sand,

a whispering of the waves,

a star-lit lullaby:

this ever-turning wheel –

these ever-rising waves –

you know –

Go to part 5