Overview (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Nelly Sachs’s O the Chimneys contains several collections of loosely connected free-verse poems, some preceded by quotations from the Old Testament, written to give voice to the horror and tragedy of mass murder. Each collection is set off by a thematic title, such as “In the Habitations of Death,” “Eclipse of the Stars,” or “And No One Knows How to Go On.” As the series continues, titles indicate a progression toward tired, wistfully sad resignation and recognition that profound tragedy can never be explained. Representative titles are “Death Still Celebrates Life” and “Glowing Enigmas I, II, and III.” Within the larger units, individual poems, usually eighteen or twenty in each group, carry descriptive titles indicating their content. Also included in the book is the verse drama Eli: A Mystery Play of the Sufferings of Israel, which was first produced in 1962.
The collection, which begins with the title poem “O the chimneys,” includes such thematic designations as “O the night of the weeping children,” “Even the old men’s last breath,” “A dead child speaks,” and “Chorus of the Unborn.” The poem “O the night of the weeping children,” for example, is divided into two parts deriving their effectiveness from paradox and contrast. The poet speaks of the night, but one in which sleep is impossible, and of nursemaids who do not foster life but sow death, suckling the children on panic instead of...
(The entire section is 1569 words.)
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