About

These are my translations into English of Nelly Sachs’ poems, for which I claim the copyright. A selection of these versions was commended in the 1998 Literary Translation Competition of the British Comparative Literature Association. I mention that, not to boast, but to confirm that I am indeed the author/translator..  

I discovered Nelly Sachs’ poetry quite late, in the 1980s, through a short poem in an anthology, and then bought a small book of her work. When the patchwork country of Yugoslavia started falling apart in the early ’90s, these poems seemed to me be extremely relevant and I began translating those relating to refugees, followed by the rest. Refugees and some form of holocaust – like the poor – are sadly always with us.

This is not food to everyone’s taste and may prove indigestible to some. However, as a Jewish woman who escaped the Holocaust by the skin of her teeth, Nelly Sachs wrote poetry that – in my view – is as relevant today as it was when first published. I feel it should be available to those who don’t understand German, and hope that some of you will appreciate her work in these translations. I offer them only as translations and not as interpretations: those who do understand German may prefer other words that present a different shade of meaning. If you want interpretations, please look at the many commentaries available elsewhere.

The Italians say “tradurre è tradire”. I have endeavoured to remain as faithful as I can and not to betray the original, but words and phrases  in one language never coincide precisely with those of another. Invented words reflect the original ones coined by Nelly Sachs. Some of my thoughts on translating poetry in general and Nelly Sachs in particular can be found here.

This is my homage to a great poet. 

Deutsch: Unterschrift der deutschen Dichterin ...

All helpful comments are welcome and please don’t stay anonymous – I can take criticism, especially if it’s constructive, and am pleased to enter into dialogue with you. You may have some interesting interpretations of these poems that can be so mystifying and I’d love to hear them.

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22 thoughts on “About

  1. First of all: thank you very much for the hard work you have been doing over the last years. German is my mother tongue and I read Nelly Sachs poems for a decade now. Translation is always a risky business, but poetry is sometimes impossible to translate and the translator has to choose if the spirit of the poem has to be maintained or its exact language. Nelly Sachs writes poems that evoke strong pictures in the readers mind: colours, glances, moods. To maintain these pictures is the translator most important task, at least in my point of view.

    As far as I am concerned you did a great job until, and I want to express my deepest respect for your decisions.

    Keep up the good work!

    • That is very kind of you, Jurek. Herzlichen Dank! You may have seen that one of my translations was used in the catalogue for an exhibition in Vienna earlier this year (In der Flucht) – maybe you saw that exhibition?

  2. I am sorry to say that I missed it.

    But since you are an expert on Nelly Sachs I have a question:

    In her poems that deal so painfully with the Holocaust, the terms “Jew” or “Jewish” never appear. At least the ones I know, never contain a phrase. Her reference is “Israel”. Like in the wonderful “Voice of the Holy Land”, where the line “Malte Israel rot an alle Wände der Erde.” finishes the first verse.
    Do you have an explanation for this?

    Greetings, Jurek Molnar

  3. Hello,
    I am a writer and would like to ask for permission to use a poem or excerpt of Nelly Sachs that you have translated. If you could email me I can tell you about my project, which is a book about the experience of a Holocaust survivor.

    Best,
    James

    • Hello James – certainly you may use one of my translations, provided of course that you give me credit for it. I would be very interested to know more about the book you are working on in due course.

  4. What a tremendous thing you are doing here!

    I have been book blogging for about 7 yrs now and one of the mini-challenges I have is to read as many of the Nobel winners as I can.
    After Bob Dylan’s recent win, I have became more determined to track down the 14 women who have won the prize and do a post on them.

    Which led me to you!

    I would like to copy and credit, with your permission, three or four of your poems in my Nelly Sachs post. I was hoping to use You’ve Lost Your Name, O the Chimneys, Always and Whoever Comes from the Earth, as being a good representation of her themes.

    She is not an easy poet to grasp. So much imagery and so many layers. As a poetry novice, I want to try and improve my own understanding as well as bring poems, within the context of the poets life, to my readers.

    My blog is here if you’d like to see what I do – http://bronasbooks.blogspot.com.au/

    Thank you
    Brona

    • Hi Brona
      I’m honoured and flattered! It will be good to give exposure to something more of Sachs in addition to ‘O The Chimneys’ which is often as far as most people get.I looked at your blog and will give you a mention on my other blog http://www.catterel.wordpress.com, as you cover such a wide area of literature.Thanks for giving me credit for the translations and a link to my Nelly Sachs blog.
      Best wishes
      Catherine

  5. Thank you do much for doing your translations and keeping alive the living testament of a truly great poet, whose work we should never forget.

    I first read her translated poems as a teenager, and remembered the old Penguin book that had an introduction by Stephen Spencer, and which also included the poems of Abba Kovner.

    I remember that Spender talked of the Jews as a people who survived owing to their single conscience and the eternal dream of what is is to be Jewish. When Sachs talks of the little children painting Israel red on the walls of the world, it is the epicurean language of Saul Bellow’s intellectual Herzog, yet it is also the shocking brutality of the insect in Kafka’s Metamorphoses.

    Sach’s could see that the Jewish collective conscience was akin to what Ralph Waldo Emerson arrested to when he said that the private life of man is greater than any majesty in the world. For indeed, anyone who cares for the little children who were murdered in their sleep are also the most important people in the world.

  6. What a gift to find your translations of Nelly Sachs. I would like to quote your translation of THERE WAS ONE WHO BLEW THE SHOFAR in my monthly column on Jewish poetry for my synagogue newsletter, the TIKVAH TIMES. (I would give full citation and links to you & Catterel.

    I would love to know more about your background and other writing beyond what is on the blog. Are there other links you could recommend? Thank you!

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