Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
In Nelly Sachs’s mature poetry, one finds echoes of her childhood passion for the fossils and insects that she studied as keys to nature’s secrets. Later, as she tried to understand a distorted world which had engendered the Holocaust, she returned to this realm and found a rich source of symbols and metaphors. Her poem focuses on natural phenomena that emphasize constant flux and the potential for transformation, making it an especially poignant statement in the light of the historical background against which she wrote.
Sachs, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966, was known as the “poet of the Holocaust.” This particular poem appeared in a volume of poetry dedicated to commemorating its victims and understanding their suffering. The butterfly is a recurring image in this collection, where it serves most often as an icon for the souls of the innocent. In this poem, however, the individual’s metamorphosis through death is placed in the context of the earth’s life cycles: The butterfly symbolically embraces a phase of transformation lasting eons (the planet’s core is constantly creating) and one lasting a single day. Each end leads to a new beginning. The pain of leavetaking, of death, is not erased, but is mitigated by the promise of renewal. Thus did Sachs attempt to come to terms with the senseless deaths of her people during the Holocaust.
The metaphor is the poem’s formative poetic device as well as its...
(The entire section is 379 words.)
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