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Nelly Sachs

Und Niemand weiß weiter /

And No One Knows the Way Onward

1957 - part 5


Hieronymus Bosch

Always the same:

how sorcery attempts to rip apart

the navel’s memory.

Always the same:

the way crazed Torture sits astride a swan-bent back

to hone his nightmare skills.

Always the same:

this livid aura

from the peeling stripes of flesh.

Always the same:

wherever graves give birth to buds of longing love

a stone-age finger squashes them to tears.

Always the same:

this hiss

of jerkin-cloth upon the hangman’s back.

Always the same:

the victim’s fantasies

of God – of exodus – of ash.

O Schwester

O nomad


midnight’s mother hen,

the eager brood hatched from your madness cluster round,

you feed them richly.

Cock’s-crow trumpet blasts

distress the sky –

Wings furled, you’ve tumbled

naked from the nest.

The passers-by observe

your shamelessness.

House-proud custodian of nightmares,

here you go

sweeping the meteor-debris

back and forth

before the incandescent gates of paradise …

You dance

with dynamite-desire

along these jagged flashes of redemption.

Answering scars mark your initiation

into all the secret ways

of Cain.

A flock of birds

that nest behind your eyes

bears twittering witness

to the universe’s vast fecundity.

By night

a chrysalis of antique mystery unfolds.

You hold it in your hand:

a little nascent butterfly,

it throbs –

it throbs –

till, with a cry,

you drink its blood.


Hinterm Augenlid blaue Adern

Behind the eyelid

tangled veins of moonstone


Then: cock-a-doodle-doo!

The stricken prophet

clasps his head in vain.

A spiralling


of fiery body-parts

begins to melt the ice:

so many seedlings spread about

for death to fructify –

Welcher Stoff, welcher Nebel

What a who-knows-what

what fog

what secret births

emergent from the grave

what zig-zag lightning:

such inner contradictions –

lid and retina alike fantastical –

such fever-constellations budding everywhere –

Pompeii’s bells ring out –

my blood beats sacramentally –

O such nostalgic

melting-snowflake dreams –

What nights, what stars

to amplify the liturgy,

to frame this little fluting

of a shepherd-boy beside the sea –

So little breath remaining

to rekindle such large mysteries –

But look how small the moon itself appears

beside the white thorn-studded prayers

of a chestnut tree –

Such prodigies of evil,

beetles wriggling on their backs,

the foot’s last cramp

now frozen stiff –

until the sluice-gates open

for the overflow of loss –

And then: the morning-blaze embrace

of Love’s apocalypse –

Das wirft die Nabelschnur

The navel cord is slapped

against the temple wall.

And so Birth’s bloody foam is mixed

into that other foam

which swarms above Death’s coral reef.

O how the silent mountain summits

howl and weep –

Tibet: a shining

magic scar upon the face of God

revealed again each nightfall

to the sufferers below –

Wild conflict everywhere:

so here the dragon

quarrels with the snake –

whilst over there

rams toss their horns,

the separated calf

rebels –

This life is kissed to death –

The sand is restless,

resurrection stirs.

An unsafe darkness orbits round

the troubled earth,

which lifts its waves in prayer.

In zweideutiger Berufung

A questionable calling, this:


in no man’s land,

to probe

the leafy tabernacle of our dreams –

We penetrate the void,

wounds open where there was no wound before,

we sing sea-shanties

to the starry firmament –

the ram’s horn answers,

lightning-flashes speak of final judgement –

Im blauen Kristall

All time all space awaits

in crystal-blue suspense

the shattering of the spell

when grief awakes –

A long-imprisoned longing,

this :

the faded

ever fainter echo of Creation


within my sickly pulse

clip-clop clip-clop

into eternity –

Impelled with wind-extended sail

through sandstorms

to the promised land

I strew

these few night-violets –

these cruciform

fish-fossil sobs –

these lacerated memories –

Und der Perlpunkt der Ewigkeit


a pearl again well hidden in the shell,

a sparkling hieroglyph


in eyes that verge on tears,

sweet traces

of an ancient regime

that used to be above,

before the civil war

that sent these screaming meteors down

upon our streets,

this drum-roll of oblivion.

A migrant’s dream

of ultimate release

from mere mortality:

to find some better place to rest.

Ich habe dich wiedergesehn

I saw you again –  

your face was all smutty with smoke,

you’d cast off

the chrysalis-cloak

of the flesh –

and a sun that had sunk

on a thread of your love

lit the night,

the shooting-star night,

which swelled

with the swerve

of a swallow’s wing-beat –

as I held on tight to the grass –


Here, where I foundered

in the salt,

and where so many other souls

like ocean-swell

lie sucking on

the teats

of moonshine –

framed by starlit dunes,

preserving all the humped


memory of past galactic waltzes –


(it seems reluctantly)

at last appear.

The darkened void around you

is a basket to be filled

with fruit,

the produce of Above,



by love and by lament –

To you I give my breath.

I fall,

a strand of thistle-down

in winter grief –  

Salzige Zungen aus Meer

Each salty wave a calf-lick from the healing sea.

From them I’ve strung a necklace –

Gazing west at dusk

the news is not all bad.

These opening petals

represent a rumour

of new birth –

Like hair that keeps on growing

even after death,

the buried mystery

persists –

Von Nacht gesteinigt

Sleep slipped me

through the starry mob

a refugee

Death’s baton

rose and fell

The music surged

My passport showed the world

an emptied face

Then Love began to sketch

its gospel

on the wiped-out sky –