[If someone comes]
If someone comesfrom afarwith a languagethat maybe seals offits soundswith a mare’s whinnyorthe chirpingof young blackbirdsorlike a gnashing saw that severseverything in reach—If someone comesfrom afarmoving like a dogormaybe a ratand it’s winterdress him warmlyfor who knowshis feet may be on fire(perhaps he rode inon a meteor)so don’t scold himif your rug, riddled with holes,screams—A stranger always hashis homeland in his armslike an orphanfor whom he may be seeking nothingbut a grave. [Kommt einer]Kommt einervon fernemit einer Sprachedie vielleicht die Lauteverschließtmit dem Wiehern der Stuteoderdem Piepenjunger Schwarzamselnoderauch wie eine knirschende Sägedie alle Nähe zerschneidet—Kommt einervon fernemit Bewegungen des Hundesodervielleicht der Ratteund es ist Winterso kleide ihn warmkann auch seiner hat Feuer unter den Sohlen(vielleicht ritt erauf einem Meteor)so schilt ihn nichtfalls dein Teppich durchlöchert schreit—Ein Fremder hat immerseine Heimat im Armwie eine Waisefür die er vielleicht nichtsals ein Grab sucht.__translated from the German by Joshua Weiner with Linda B. Parshall
“[If Someone comes]” from FLIGHT AND METAMORPHOSIS by Nelly Sachs.
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on 15 March 2022.
English Copyright © 2022 by Joshua Weiner & Linda B. Parshall.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Dramatist and poet Nelly Sachs was born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1891. Her father was a manufacturer, and the family lived a comfortable, middle-class life. Sachs studied dance and literature and began writing when she was an adolescent. During that time, she also began corresponding with the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf, a contact who would later help her escape Nazi Germany. Sachs published her early poems in magazines in Germany. She and her mother escaped to Sweden in 1940, where she worked as a translator and became a citizen in 1952.
In 1966, Sachs and novelist Shmuel Agnon received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Sachs also received the Droste-Hülshoff Prize, the Prize of the Swedish Poets Association, and the German Publishers Peace Prize. She died in 1970.
Joshua Weiner was born in Boston and grew up in central New Jersey. He is the author of three books of poems, The World’s Room (2001), From the Book of Giants (2006), and The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish (2013). He has also written a book of prose about the refugee crisis in Europe, Berlin Notebook: Where Are the Refugees? (2016). His most recent book is his translation of Nelly Sachs’s Flight & Metamorphosis (2022)
He is the poetry editor of Tikkun magazine and is also the editor of At the Barriers: On the Poetry of Thom Gunn (2009). His poems and prose have appeared in Best American Poetry, the Nation, the American Scholar, New York Review of Books, Chicago Tribune, Threepenny Review, TriQuarterly, Chicago Review, Boston Review, Yale Review, Slate, and elsewhere.
Weiner is the recipient of the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Larry Levis Award from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a Whiting Writers’ Award. He has served residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and spent a year in Berlin on an Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, and was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.
Weiner is professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park, and lives with his family in Washington, DC.
Linda B. Parshall’s publications include scholarly articles and translations focused on German literature, landscape theory, and art history from the medieval to the modern period. Most recently, she edited and translated Letters of a Dead Man by Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau (Dumbarton Oaks, 2016).
"Full of shifting surprises, mysteries and depths . . . [Sachs arrives] home as if longing is itself home, a domain of night, of oblivion, terror, also solace. The longing that Sachs diagnoses and expresses derives from the kind of violence and politics that many Americans can witness but may not know firsthand. Still, that longing, cloaked in existential darkness with glints of light and stripped of explicit context, has everything to do with our common humanity."
— Daisy Fried, The New York Times Book Review
“A more complete expression of what new generations of English-language readers will discover to be a great visionary poet . . . With an abstract, lyrical style, Sachs probes the limits of meaning in a universe where God has contracted ‘into Himself in order to create the world’ . . . The timeless lyricism of Flight and Metamorphosis may be what we need as war, atrocity, and exile return to Europe.”
— David Woo, Poetry Foundation
"This book is divine. Sachs’ poems are exquisitely crafted in German and in Weiner’s English, but they are also divine because Sachs and her latest translators are aware of a higher power in language . . . there are poems in Flight and Metamorphosis that express a mellow rapture and a poise that can only be called wise . . . Weiner has rendered the powerful, haunting poems of Flucht und Verwandlung in accessibly magisterial English. Flight and Metamorphosis will stand as a crucial contribution: the definitive English translation of this collection, one of the most powerful Sachs wrote."
— Stephan Delbos, B O D Y