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.
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.