Page 70 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
5 0
We orphans we lament to the world:
World, why have you taken our soft mothers from us
And the fathers who say: My child you are like me!
We orphans are like no one in this world any more!
O world
We accuse you!
Translated by Michael Roloff
It was Goethe who spoke of his work as “fragments of a great
confession.” I believe this to be true of all creative artists, and
Nelly Sachs indubitably belongs in such authentic company. The
meaning of “confession,” however, is to be understood as it
applies to the Confessions of Jeremiah, greatest exponent of the
faith of the prophets. When he poured out his soul to his Maker,
a sense of communion permeated his whole being and sur-
charged his thinking.
Miss Sachs captured this prophetic identification in a pro-
foundly moving lyric which sings like a psalming hymn. It is
the twelfth poem in the
Sternverdunkelung
group; four of its
stanzas begin with the refrain:
Wenn die Propheten einbrachen
/
durch Tiiren der Nacht—
“When the prophets break in /
through the portals of night.” Like Jeremiah’s lamentations,
her jeremiads for her doomed people are a
cri de coeur.
And
just as travail of spirit led Jeremiah closer to God, so Miss Sachs’
pangs solidified her sense of mission for “the good dream that
wants to be realized.”
One sullen note emerged out of the veritable ocean of accolades
which greeted the selection of Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Nelly
Sachs as Nobel laureates. According to a report in the
Jerusalem
Post Weekly,
Jose Maria Gironella, a Spanish writer in Barcelona,
asserted he had never heard of the two prize winners. He said
he hoped “the prize was given strictly for literary merit and not
for political or racial reasons.”
The wording of the Nobel Prize citation provides an un-
equivocal reply to Gironella’s questioning. It states that the
78 year old Agnon was selected for the prize “for his deep
narrative art, so full of character, with its themes from the life
of the Jewish people.” The 75 year old Nelly Sachs received
the award “for her magnificent lyrical and dramatic poetry,
which with poignant power interprets the fate of Israel.” Both
have now moved into the focus of international recognition, a
status each of the eighteen professors of the Swedish Academy
believes Agnon and Sachs have fully merited.