Page 68 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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Her Graphic Symbolism
Miss Sachs employs graphic images saturated with Jewish
symbolism. Her theme of death and Jewish destiny is illumined
by metaphors which transcend literal word meanings and create
vivid tone pictures. There is a special frequency in her usage
of such words as
butterfly, wind, dust, smoke, ashes, dogs, sand,
Since the motif of pursuer and pursued, hunter and hunted,
is seldom absent from Miss Sachs’ poems, it is not difficult to
understand the use of
as a symbol of the perennial chase.
Beaten and battered and broken through the centuries, hunted
and haunted by ruthless persecutors, the hapless Jew, cornered
as defenseless prey in a manner reminiscent of Egyptian servitude,
turns and leaps in a final act of desperation to bite his pursuer.
The butterfly image—“Butterflies / around the flaming bush
/ sensing the heaviness of life / and death /o n their wings”—
is profoundly effectual. There can be no butterfly without death.
Its liberation becomes possible only when the wormlike larva
which is the caterpillar ceases to be. I t is a sort of resurrection,
a rebirth, an optimistic vision for a happier tomorrow. Not
“battles” but “twinkling stars” will be the lot of the bleeding
people. In her “In the Land of Israel” Miss Sachs says:
I w ill not sing you songs of battle
brothers and sisters, abandoned at the world’s gates
heirs of light’s redeemers who out of sand
tore up the buried rays
of eternity.
Who held in their hands
twinkling stars as trophies of victory.
Translated by Hebe R. Mayer-Bentwich*
The allusion to sand in the above excerpt is repeated over and
over by our poet. Sand limns a mental picture of the numerous
deserts the Jew has been forced to traverse in his long, chequered
history, hoping to reach the Promised Land. Alas, the last crossing
has ended in Auschwitz, Belsen, Treblinka; and others are yet
to come. Poignantly Miss Sachs bewails this sorrowful destiny:
“O you fingers / you emptied the sand from your shoes of death
/ By tomorrow you will be dust / in the shoes of those coming.”
But do not surrender hope! Did not God promise our Patriarch
Abraham (Genesis 22. 17): “I will bestow My blessing upon
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* Reprinted from
Th e Jerusalem Post
with permission.