Paul Celan/Nelly Sachs

PAUL CELAN/NELLY SACHS: CORRESPONDENCE presents the sixteen-year exchange of letters between two celebrated poets of the German language, Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs. Their correspondence, which lasted until a year before both died in 1970, was initiated by Celan in 1954. He wrote to Sachs admiring her “Chorus of Orphans,” a poem that voiced the unremitting suffering of the Holocaust. Both Celan’s parents had been victims of the Nazi’s “Final Solution” and he himself sent to labor camps. Sachs had been forced to flee Germany to exile in Stockholm, Sweden. Celan and Sachs shared not only the devastations of the Holocaust but also a tortured commitment to writing poetry in the language of its perpetrators. Five years into the correspondence, the two began addressing each other as “Brother” and “Sister.”

Their letters to one another constitute a rich and resonant duet. The dominant tone of longing and loss is now and then lightened by self-mocking flourishes by Sachs and whimsical riffs by Celan. In any case, the matter of the correspondence—arrangements regarding publication, plans for meeting, itineraries—is incidental to the leitmotif of ardent mutual support. Mutual, too, are Sachs’ and Celan’s demons, embodied by the world’s persistent anti-Semitism. Sachs’ episodes of hospitalization and shock therapy in 1960 are evidenced in her correspondence, and an introduction written by Celan’s biographer John Felstiner reminds the reader of Celan’s suicide.

Also filling in the context and necessary details are end notes, an annotated index of names, and a chronology. Several etchings by Celan’s wife, French artist Gisele de Lestrange, illustrate the text.