At some point tomorrow afternoon, you'll hear a knock at your door, and when you go to answer you will find a friendly anthropologist, and he will have brought you a parakeet.
Forgive me. I never meant to send a parakeet. I meant to send you this lovely little edition of Nelly Sachs's Glowing Enigmas, translated by Michael Hamburger & newly released by Tavern Books. Written in a tiny apartment in Stockholm in the 1960s, Glowing Enigmas is a modernist long poem (echoes of H.D.'s Trilogy, say: "Job was swaddled/in the life-bearing body of the stars/Someone shakes the blackness/till the apple Earth drops/ripened to its end/A sigh/is that the soul--?" (101)) penned in exile. So we get the biblical Song of Songs:
"Rich I am as the ocean
of past and future
and wholly of mortal stuff
I sing your song--"
but the spiritual longing is braided into the fabric of a post-war elegy:
"and then my Thou
who was kept a prisoner
and whom to release I was chosen
and whom in enigmas I lost once more
until hard silence descended on silence
and a love was granted its coffin--"
It's a gentler Wasteland, less critique & more loss. Sachs : Wolfe :: Oppen : Eliot. Or something like that. It's a challenge to Adorno, a poetry of pure witness:
"My love flowed out into your martyrdom
broke through death
We live in resurrection--"
& more than that it's an object, at once earthly & human & lost:
"If I close my eyes
suns push their time
leaving golden homes
yet inhabiting them
Mineral knows the way
to saved-up eternity
no longer passable
save unconscious in love--"
The long poem is grounded firmly in postwar Europe, where, it reminds us, "You heard/something new" (93). & it's the combination of novelty & elegy--a combination that occasions the occasional foray into figurative lepidoptery--that glows through the translation.
So when I opened to the first page ("You are beyond!" (11)), I knew I had to read the poem all the way through before I sent it along to you. And so, because I don't often have a messenger, I sent you a parakeet in its place.* Will you feed it pink melon? Will you read it Jane Yeh? Will you play it Waxahatchee? Will you drop me a line?
*Not a real parakeet.