Original Research

Iconicity as the key to the poetry of Nelly Sachs (1891-1970)

H. Ester
Literator | Vol 32, No 2 | a13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v32i2.13 | © 2011 H. Ester | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 June 2011 | Published: 22 June 2011

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H. Ester, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Afdeling Algemene Cultuurwetenschappen, Netherlands

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In her poetry Nelly Sachs tried to overcome all obstaclesi in order to speak about the unspeakable. Words that could adequately embody the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps were lacking. Nevertheless, it was necessary to speak about the experience for the sake of both herself and other victims of the camps. Through her poetry Sachs tests the validity and strength of both traditional images and biblical stories about suffering and grace. Words and images enable her to touch the experiences of people. However, she questions the generally accepted meaning of words in German. Her use of language strives to be different and to draw the attention to both the difficulties and risks of writing authentic words with the necessary symbolic strength. Sachs’ mental fragility made her very vulnerable and caused her to walk on the edge of total silence. As a consequence of her vulnerability, she tried with her whole heart to gain Paul Celan’s sympathy for her way of writing and efforts to turn the events in the concentration camps into dignified and true poetry. The relationship between Celan and Sachs reveals that the true meaning of poetry in her life was a manner of survival. The differences between the two poets provide insight into the specific poetic laws at work in the poetry of Nelly Sachs.


Celan; Paul; European History; Shoah; Holocaust


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