Page 63 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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S
t e in b a c h
— N
e l l y
S
a c h s
: N
o b e l
L
a u r e a t e
4 3
Professor Harry Zohn of Brandeis University terms her “a poet’s
poet,” and he compares her craftsmanship with that of a Holder-
lin, Novalis, Rilke. How poignantly she verbalized the sufferings
and the scars inflicted upon her beleagured people is reflected
in her lyric, “Chorus of the Rescued,” taken from a sequence
“Choruses After Midnight.” The following excerpt emerges as
a structured scream upon whose every word sorrow and anguish
hang like leaves on an ivied trellis:
W t, the rescued,
From whose hollow bones death had begun to whittle his
flutes,
And on whose sinews he had stroked his bow—
Our bodies continue to lament
With their mutilated music.
We, the rescued,
The nooses wound for our necks still dangle
Before us in the blue air—
Hour glasses still fill with our dripping blood.
We, the rescued,
The worms of fear still feed on us.
Our constellation is buried in dust.
We, the rescued,
Beg you
:
Show us your sun, but gradually.
Lead us from star to star, step by step.
Be gentle when you teach us to live again.
Translated by Michael Roloff*
Nelly Sachs was born in Berlin on December 10, 1891, the only
child of a successful manufacturer. The family lived in the
Tiergartenviertel, one of Berlin’s finest neighborhoods. The
family’s affluent economic status permitted her to enjoy private
tutors and to study music and dancing. At the age of seventeen
she began to write poetry, leaning towards neo-Romantic verse,
sonnets, and the conventional rhyme forms. In deference to her
wish, none of this poetry came to be included in her collected
work.
There was no augury in her early efforts of the Olympian peaks
she would attain in later years. Nor did her first volume,
Legends
and Stories,
published in 1921, foreshadow her crowning literary
triumph climaxed by Dr. Anders Oesterling, Chairman of the
Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee, reading the citation which
* Translations by Michael Roloff are from the volume
Selected Poems and
Plays
by Nelly Sachs, to be published in November, 1967, by Farrar, Straus &
Giroux. Reprinted by permission.