Fleeing Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Fleeing” is, paradoxically, a poem of discovery. The poet locates home in the very becoming of the world, seeing herself in its evolving face. Life finds its reality in the act of metamorphosis; this genius for transformation is life’s justification—and its only redemption.

Nelly Sachs, a Jewish poet, alludes to Jewish ritual and mystical tradition in her work. The word is sacred in Judaism; the spoken word—prayer—and the written word—scripture—culminate in a revelation of the nature of creation—that is, of its transformative power. Flight, then, in the ultimate sense, is part of the re-creation that vitalizes the world.

Sachs herself was a refugee from Nazi Germany. As cowinner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966, with Shmuel Yosef Agnon, a Jewish fiction writer, Sachs commented, “Agnon represents the State of Israel. I represent the tragedy of the Jewish people.” In 1940, Sachs emigrated to Sweden, and during and after World War II, she wrote the poetry upon which her reputation largely came to be based. Like other Jewish writers, such as Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, she assumed the role of witness. As such, she neither rationalizes nor moralizes.

Rather, as a mystic, she gives voice to the questions, and articulates the visions, experienced by her people, Israel, in pangs of suffering. Individuals may have disappeared, but not without a trace. Sachs’s poems serve as inscriptions of their lives on the soul, and these inscriptions can be illuminated to read the meaning of the world.