Page 65 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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4 5
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
From the old men’s premature midnight
A wind of last breaths shall arise
And drive this unloosed star
Into its Lord’s hands!
Translated by Michael Roloff
Miss Sachs’ incomparable lyrics abound in biblical allusions
and in imagery derived from Jewish mysticism. Her religious-
mystical poetry, permeated by a mystique with a charismatic link
to Hasidism, seldom deviates from man’s ubiquitous question:
Why is there so much evil in the world? If, as we are admonished
in the Bible (Genesis 8. 21), “The imagination of man’s heart
is evil from his youth,” may we not hope that it might also be
remediable? Miss Sachs recognizes the reality of evil; she accepts
its ineluctability and the incalculable mischief it wreaks as an
endemic component in the human condition. But she does not
believe the solution rests in harboring vindictiveness and plotting
retaliation against the evildoer.
This is clearly revealed in her pronouncement to the young
German generation in Octoer, 1965, while accepting the peace
prize awarded by the
Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels
(German Book Publishers Association): “In spite of all the
horrors of the past, I belive in you . . . Together, full of grief,
let us remember the victims, and then let us walk together into
the future to seek again and again a new beginning—maybe far
away, yet ever-present; let us try to find the good dream that
wants to be realized.”
The citation that accompanied this peace prize depicts Miss
Sachs not only as a superb poet, but also as a sublime person. It
reads: “The poetic works of Nelly Sachs are a testimony to Jew-
ish destiny in times that were inhuman, and they represent a
reconciliation . . . Her lyrics and plays are works in the German
language at its best; they are works of forgiveness, of deliverance,
of peace.”
This human component cannot be ignored in assessing Miss
Sachs as a poet. She possessed the strength to write about the
unspeakable misery of the victims in the extermination camps,
about the mass graves littered with corpses, about the brutaliza-
tion of hearts which became unsentient as stone, about the
outside world which sank to a plane lower than caveman moral-
ity. But these monumental evils could not transpierce her
beatific sensitiveness out of which burgeoned an invincible
redemptive power. She retained the will to write about resur-
rection, not in some distant Elysium but in the heart of man
trapped on this hate-pocked planet. Her words are lances hurled
against evil, but never does the word itself become evil. She
created devastating lyric poetry, but only to build and to heal,