Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In Flucht und Verwandlung, in which this poem was first published, the poet muses relentlessly about death, attempting to understand and celebrate its ties with and necessity to life. Some other titles (in translation) from the book are “Death,” “End,” “Far Away,” “This Is the Dark Breath,” and “What darknesses,” which ends “Oh, no arrival/ without death.” Sachs is fond of open-ended poems such as this latter one, because they allow one to stop short of violating a mystery (attempting to convey what cannot be conveyed). “Thus I Ran Out of the Word,” with its peculiar beginning, which is also an end, seems to come from a previous thought. The poem’s insistent energy comes from its effort to describe what one has already admitted cannot be described.

Despite the book’s preoccupation with death, the mood of Flucht und Verwandlung, like the mood of “Thus I Ran Out of the Word,” is not grim. Always thoughtful, and often illuminated by pain, but not fearful, the voice inside these poems is wide-eyed and hopeful. The poetry reaches continually into and through what Hans Magnus Enzensberger called “the speechless horror of the documentary reports [on the Nazi concentration camps].” The poet also wishes to get beyond raw anger and blind sorrow. One must transcend these emotions, however useful they are at first, to learn how to explore the positive side of death. In this poem, Sachs speaks almost ecstatically about acceptance of death.

“Writing is my mute outcry,” said Sachs. Thus, despite its urgency, one finds a quietness approaching silence in this poem. Yet “Thus I Ran Out of the Word” also possesses the strong, clear voice of a person in grace who, until her death in 1970, patiently and lovingly continued to “till [her] acre/ behind the back of death” (from “But perhaps,” in Flucht und Verwandlung).