Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Iconicity as the Key to the Poetry of Nelly Sachs (1891-1970)/ikonisiteit as Sleutel Tot Die Digkuns Van Nelly Sachs (1891-1970)

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Iconicity as the Key to the Poetry of Nelly Sachs (1891-1970)/ikonisiteit as Sleutel Tot Die Digkuns Van Nelly Sachs (1891-1970)

Article excerpt

Abstract

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 or both herself and other victims of the camps. Through her poetry Sachs tests the validity and strength of both traditional images and biblical stones 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.

Key concepts:

Celan, Paul

European history

iconicity

Jewry

religion

shoah/holocaust

Opsomming

In haar poesie poog Nelly Sachs om die struikelblokke in haar pad te oorkom en oor die onuitspreeklike te praat. Woorde wat na behore die gruwels van die Nazi-konsentrasiekampe kon beskryf, het nie bestaan nie. Nietemin was dit noodsaaklik om namens haarself en ander slagoffers van die kampe oor die ervadng te praat. In haar gedigte beproef Sachs die geldigheid en kragdadigheid van tradisionele beelde en bybelse verhale oor lyding en genade. Woorde en beelde stel haar in staat om mense se ervarings weer te gee. Sachs bevraagteken egter die algemeen-aanvaarde betekenis van woorde in die Duitse taal. Haar taalgebruik poog om anders te wees en die leser se aandag te vestig op die probleme en die risiko's verbonde aan die skryf van opregte, pretensielose woorde met die nodige simboliese krag. Sachs se psigiese kwesbaarheid het haar besonder broos gemaak en veroorsaak dat sy byna in totale swye verrai het. Haar kwesbaarheid het ook tot gevolg gehad dat sy met haar hele hart probeer het om Paul Celan se simpatie te wen vir haar manier van skrywe en haar pogings om die gebeure in die kampe te verwoord in suiwer en waardige poesie. Die verhouding tussen Celan en Sachs toon dat poesie vir haar wesenfik 'n manier was om te oorteef. Die verskille tussen hierdie twee digters verskaf insig in die spesifieke poetikale opvattings van Nelly Sachs se digkuns.

Kernbegrippe:

Celan, Paul

Europese geskiedenis

godsdiens

ikonisiteit

Jodendom

shoah/holocaust

I. Introduction

This article consists of two parts. Firstly, the basic elements of Nelly Sachs' poetry are introduced, with the focus especially on the iconicity in her poetry. With iconicity is meant that the words, sentences and metaphors in Sachs' poetry are not restricted to their function as referential signs. The author's interpretation of her work is based on Juri Lotman's (1972) ideas about iconicity.

Recognising that words are referential can be regarded as the first stage of understanding by the reader. The second stage is the necessity to understand the poems by following the cues to their intrinsic characteristics. The most important characteristic of Sachs' poems is her reluctance to express definitive meanings and her endeavour to create new meanings by structuring the language of poetry towards an interdependence of poet and reader, so that this poetry is done justice only by reading it aloud.

In the second part of the article the dynamics in the letters between Sachs and Celan is discussed. …

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