Page 69 - 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 9
you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the
heaven and the sands on the seashore”? The symbolism of dust
goes back to another biblical allusion (Genesis 13. 16): “I will
make your offspring as the dust of the earth . . .” The dust of
the earth has become the couch for many Jewish graves. History
has saddled the Jew with a tragic fate, and yet it is a noble fate
with intimations of immortality. It stems from a divine design.
Wind is the image for turmoil, storm, the heart's howling and
sobbing and moaning. Sometimes it is a whisper, an organ-like
note echoed on the lyre of the spirit. But more often it is the
hurricane of cruelty the Jew was constrained to buffet. A straw
thrown into the air is at the mercy of every wind; likewise, the
Jew has been like falling autumn leaves clutching at lean air
as they finally sink to the earth mound upon mound—like the
mounds of skeletons piled up on hills of death.
Ashes: the remains of the cremated; smoke: the chimneys of
the crematoria; night: the darkness which, like the plague in
Egypt, can be felt as well as seen. These images are skillfully
and cogently woven into Miss Sachs' verse. They are attuned to
the mourning for the tragedy of her people, lamenting for the
victims, deploring the suffering not only of Jews but of all who
are mired in the furnace of agony.
She remembers the victims and identifies with them as though
sharing in their fate. She remembers also the executioners, but
not a word of hate does she carry to them. She explores the
labyrinths of the human spirit and finds a plethora of darkness,
of brutality and death, but she believes man may yet kindle new,
stronger tapers of a humanity that will quench the midnight
blackness of the mountainous evil prevalent in our world.
This hope is conveyed in a sensitive verse: “We, the mothers
/ are rocking the heart of the world / the melody of Peace.” The
hope is genuine, not prompted by a saccharin sentimentality.
She does not use the term forgiveness for the horrors and the
inhumanities that inundated our apocalyptic era. Nor does she
draw a veil over the appalling catastrophe which saw so many
hacked into death long before their normal time. We find the
echo of Emile Zola’s
J’Accuse
in her “Chorus of the Orphans”
(from the sequence
Choruses After M idnight):
We orphans
We lament to the world:
Our branch has been cut down
And thrown into the fire—
Kindling was made of our protectors—
We orphans lie stretched out on the fields of loneliness.