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Die Verschwundenen/The Vanished

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For Nelly Sachs

It wasn't the earth that swallowed them. Was it the air?
Numerous as the sand, they did not become
sand, but came to naught instead. They've been forgotten
in droves. Often, and hand in hand,
      
like minutes. More than us,
but without memorials. Not registered,
not cipherable from dust, but vanished—
their names, spoons, and footsoles.
      
They don't make us sorry. Nobody
can remember them: Were they born,
did they flee, have they died? They were
not missed. The world is airtight
yet held together
by what it does not house,
by the vanished. They are everywhere.
      
Without the absent ones, there would be nothing.
Without the fugitives, nothing is firm.
Without the forgotten, nothing for certain.
      
The vanished are just.
That's how we'll fade, too.


* * *


Für Nelly Sachs

Nicht die Erde hat sie verschluckt. War es die Luft?
Wie der Sand sind sie zahireich, doch nicht zu Sand
sind sie geworden, sondern zu nichte. In Scharen
sind sie vergessen. Häufig und Hand in Hand,
      
wie die Minuten. Mehr als wir,
doch ohne Andenken. Nicht verzeichnet,
nicht abzulesen im Staub, sondern verschwunden
sind ihre Namen, Löffel und Sohlen.
      
Sie reuen uns nicht. Es kann sich niemand
auf sie besinnen: Sind sie geboren,
geflohen, gestorben? Vermißt
sind sie nicht worden. Lückenlos
ist die Welt, doch zusammengehalten
von dem was sie nicht behaust,
von den Verschwundenen. Sie sind überall.
      
Ohne die Abwesenden wäre nichts da.
Ohne die Flüchtigen wäre nichts fest.
Ohne die Vergessenen nichts gewiß.
      
Die Verschwundenen sind gerecht.
So verschallen wir auch.

Source: Poetry (Poetry Foundation, 1998)

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This poem originally appeared in the October 1998 issue of Poetry magazine

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Die Verschwundenen/The Vanished

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  • Hans Enzensberger is a German translator, editor, author, and poet. Born in Bavaria, he was just 15 years old when the Third Reich collapsed. After studying German literature, philosophy, and language at the universities of Erlangen, Freiburg, and Hamburg, Enzensberger earned his doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris.
     
    Enzensberger writes in both English and German. In addition to novels, he has written more than five volumes of poetry, including collections for children. Poet Charles Simic, quoted in the Guardian, praised the large scope of Enzensberger’s writing: “[H]e has the largest range of subject matter, employs a variety of styles.… Almost every one of his poems, be they lyric, dramatic or narrative, has a polemical quality."
     
    His various awards and honors include the Georg Büchner Prize, the Heinrich-Böll Prize, and the 2002 Prince of Asturias Award for Communications and Humanities. In 2009, he received a Griffin Poetry...

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