“And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God”
O the chimneys
on the carefully planned dwellings of death
When Israel’s body rose dissolved in smoke
through the air –
To be welcomed by a chimney sweep star
Or was it a ray of the sun?
O the chimneys!
Paths of freedom for the dust of Jeremiah and Job –
Who dreamed you up and built stone upon stone
The path of smoke for their flight?
O dwellings of death
Set out so enticingly
For the host of the house, who used to be the guest –
O you fingers
Laying the stone of the threshold
Like a knife between life and death –
O you chimneys
O you fingers
And Israel’s body dissolves in smoke through the air!
O die Schornsteine
„Und wenn diese meine Haut zerschlagen sein wird, so werde ich ohne mein Fleisch Gott schauen“
O die Schornsteine
Auf den sinnreich erdachten Wohnungen des Todes,
Als Israels Leib zog aufgelöst in Rauch
Durch die Luft –
Als Essenkehrer ihn ein Stern empfing
Der schwarz wurde
Oder war es ein Sonnenstrahl?
O die Schornsteine!
Freiheitswege für Jeremias und Hiobs Staub –
Wer erdachte euch und baute Stein auf Stein
Den Weg für Flüchtlinge aus Rauch?
O die Wohnungen des Todes,
Für den Wirt des Hauses, der sonst Gast war –
O ihr Finger,
Die Eingangsschwelle legend
Wie ein Messer zwischen Leben und Tod –
O ihr Schornsteine,
O ihr Finger,
Und Israels Leib im Rauch durch die Luft!
This has been translated so many times, I hesitate to include it.
But it is one of Nelly Sachs’ best known poems, and my challenge was to bring something new but authentic to the English version. A very moving audio version can be heard here
25 thoughts on “O The Chimneys”
I am a lot younger than you and even I know that “comment” is spelled with two m’s.
Thank you – corrected! Lucky you – still young and no cataracts yet! Hopefully I will soon see more clearly.
spelling genius is rude…. catterel, great job on this piece
Spelling genius is obviously very young and still a bit tactless! I appreciate constructive criticism, and thank you for your appreciation.
[…] https://nellysachsenglish.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/o-the-chimneys/ […]
Thank you for the link to my Nelly Sachs translations. I hope your readers find something to stimulate them there.
Thank you for posting all these poems of Nelly Sachs, Your translations must have taken a long time (that’s what we one-language people often believe – labor in translation!) Thank you for all the hard work,
Thank you for your appreciation. It’s a labour of love – and a personal challenge! And thank you for commenting – I get plenty of hits, but very few comments.
Since you get few comments I must write one; I think I already owe that you from just four poems!
I’m planning a short trip to a wedding in Israel, leaving this Friday (27th June). I have one and a half precious days in Tel Aviv and, meaning to make the most of it, have been laying my plans.
I know a bit of early Jewish history and, as a child in the mid 40’s, was weaned on the modern stuff. So I wanted to explore something in Tel Aviv that had not come my way before. I decided I should read something Israeli and S.Y.Agnon turned up on a website or two. From there, it was only a step to Nelly Sachs’ poetry.
I refused my early British education because my teachers would/could not teach me how to make sense of the Holocaust. I was in my late 20’s before I came across anyone who could, and then mainly through referring me to Thomas Mann. After that, I have felt myself better furnished and have made do but now, in Nelly’s poems and your translation the heart of the matter may be starting to open up. I don’t know how much you have translated, what other translations are ‘out there’, what she has written but it’s a path I shall be wanting to travel. It’s a difficult preoccupation. The world doesn’t much approve of the Holocaust as a study, I find. I shall probably keep it pretty much to myself. I may try to share a little, at times, depending on the sort of response I get. But from first encounter I find it possible that the language, the imagery will enter me and become part of how I think and that’s hopeful.
So thanks, Catterel. Sorry that your eyes are troublesome but from where I’m reading you probably see pretty clearly anyway.
Thank you, Peter, I too learnt nothing about the holocaust in school in England during the fifties, and only became aware of anything to do with it when I saw the film of the Nürnberg Trials in the early sixties, Then I made Jewish friends and.discovered more … I have 100 poems on this blog, see the index, i appreciate your interest.
[…] Na beira da escultura, versos de um sombrio poema de Nelly Sachs. […]
[…] (O monumento traz os versos de um fortíssimo poema de Nelly Sachs. […]
[…] plays inspired by family members who lost their lives in concentration camps — the 1947 poem O the Chimneys is a clear inspiration for Monday’s Doodle (by German/Finnish artist Daniel Stolle) and […]
Thank you so much for this fine translation. How can I be so old and be just coming to these poems now? Thanks for them, though. I will share your page and hopefully bring other readers to this work.
Thank you for your kind words-
Spanish Version 🙂
Oh las chimeneas
En las viviendas cuidadosamente planificadas de la muerte.
Cuando el cuerpo de Israel se levantó disuelto en humo
a través del aire –
Para ser recibido por una estrella fugaz de chimenea
Se volvió negro
¿O fue un rayo de sol?
¡Oh las chimeneas!
Caminos de libertad para el polvo de Jeremías y Job.
Quien te hizo soñar y construyó piedra sobre piedra.
¿El camino del humo para su vuelo?
Oh moradas de la muerte
Salió tan tentadoramente
Para el anfitrión de la casa, que solía ser el invitado –
Colocando la piedra del umbral.
Como un cuchillo entre la vida y la muerte.
¡Y el cuerpo de Israel se disuelve en humo por el aire!
Just as moving in any language, I think. Thank you. is this your translation?
Like you said no matter the language this touched my hearth. I use google for the translation. Thank you!!!
great work Catterel.
[…] and a bit overwhelmed to see that so many people had followed the link to my translation of O die Schornstein (O the Chimneys). This is probably the easiest of Sachs’ poems to grasp, but I was very pleased to find that […]
Dear Catherine, I admire your moving translation of this poem, and request your permission to include it–with accurate attribution and adequate noice of your copyright–in a volume of essays celebrating a renowned rabbi and Holocaust scholar. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Ed Gaffney, Editor, Building Bridges Among Abraham’s Children
Dear Ed, I would be honoured for you to include this translation in your essay. If you are interested, this is one of the poems discussed and analysed in my contribution to the Confluence Conference last year – see https://www.montgomerycollege.edu/events/confluence/past-conferences.html.