Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437
“End” is from the collection Flucht und Verwandlung. It is available in English in the collection The Seeker, and Other Poems. It was written when Sachs was in her late sixties, in delicate health, and living alone in exile. The end she is referring to is death. The word “end” is not only the title of the poem but also the only word in the first line. Typographically, it has no continuation. The poet is solemnly examining the fact that soon she too will have no continuation. Her anxiety about this is reflected in a number of qualifying statements. The second line attempts to soften the absoluteness of the first by asserting that the end is “only in one room.” The thought is left hanging, since the one room is the only room she has.
The remainder of the first stanza deals with a painful fact of the poet’s past. Speaking to a second person, she is overwhelmed by a sense of loss. The end has already come in the room, but “it is not your face/ which looks over my shoulder/ but . . . / a mask from beyond.” Someone who was once or could have been a significant person in her life is dead. There seem to be two likely candidates for the person she is addressing: Sachs’s mother, who died in 1950, or the man Sachs fell in love with when she was seventeen, who was killed in 1940.
The second stanza makes clear that the reference is to the passionate love of Sachs’s life, the man she did not marry. Repeatedly in her life Sachs backed away from intimacy. She was able to relate to people only at a distance, not because she was unfeeling but because of her need to protect herself from intense feelings. Thus it is that she remains attracted to or is perhaps even more attracted to the man after his death, when there is no danger of carnal desire. The poet hears a “summons/ encircled by halo made only of blessing/ and not too close/ to flammable reality.”
When the summons sounds again, though, at the beginning of the third and final stanza, the butterfly who got dangerously close to the flames in this life faces the fact that the next metamorphosis is death. The opportunity that was not grasped in this life will not present itself again. All that is left is memory, a regressive process, a “creeping/ back into the chrysalis,” and then the ultimate dissolution. Tragically, the only union she will consummate is with death. She sees herself “being finely sieved/ a bride/ into the thirsting sand.”
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