Rose Ausländer did not become recognized as a major poet until the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when volumes of her poetry appeared in rapid succession. At the same time, various German newspapers and magazines printed some of her poems, and her work appeared in anthologies as well. Because of the outbreak of World War II and her Jewish background, her early writings had never reached a sizable audience beyond her hometown. Not until her visit with Celan in 1957, when she became acquainted with his elliptic Hermetic style and that of his European contemporaries, did she adopt the curt, laconic manner of her mature poetry. In this style, she vividly expressed the horrors of the Nazi persecution and her total desolation and despair, which continued even after the war, in her exile in the United States and later in Germany. Although the trauma of her persecution and exile was not diminished, she was able to transcend the pain of these experiences to reach a level beyond despair, a new affirmation of life and its riches—each object of which becomes the motif for a poem. Perhaps her hard-won message of consolation and redemption explains the increasing recognition of her achievements.
The titles of Ausländer’s collections, such as Blinder Sommer (blind summer), Ohne Visum (without a visa), and Aschensommer (ash summer), like the images and motifs in the poems themselves, such as “ash,” “smoke,” and “dust,” clearly reveal that Ausländer’s poetry is directly linked to the Holocaust. She deeply identified with the suffering of her people. Even her first volume of poetry in 1939, however, reflected a troubled outlook on life. Here, nature, homeland, and love provide a refuge from a threatening reality, as the danger of national socialism loomed on the horizon. Despite their harmonizing prosodic elements, these early poems are characterized by a beginning awareness of the general crisis during these years. This awareness is put into the cosmogonic perspective of the world’s fall from its original godlike state. Poetry became to Ausländer the only means of renewing this divine state. This concept is in direct accordance with Spinoza’s philosophical theory of harmonizing microcosm and macrocosm. As acceptable as the harmonizing prosodic elements may be in this idealized conception, however, they are self-contradictory in the poems from the underground, appropriately titled Ghettomotifs. They first became available to a wider audience in volume 1 of Gesammelte Werke, containing the poetry from 1927 to 1956. The English poems written from 1948 to 1956 in the United States continue in this style, which Ausländer abandoned when she was confronted with the modern development of poetry during her 1957 visit to Europe.
Holocaust and persecution
Aside from the departure from rhyme and classical meters, her change in style can best be seen in the inclusion of the Holocaust into the cosmogonic process and in the reduction of the imagery to key words or constellations. The images of sun, stars, and earth lose all their divine characteristics, and references to the Holocaust are so explicit that they evoke the absolute perversion and denaturalization of the human calling. “Ash-summer,” “ash-rain” or “smoke is pouring out of the eyes of the cannibals” are only a few examples. The trauma of persecution is carried into the depiction of Ausländer’s experience of exile in the United States. The escape to freedom across the Atlantic resembles the never- ending search of the Flying Dutchman for a final resting place; the Nazi persecution is reenacted in the United States: “Men in Ku Klux Klan hoods, with swastikas and guns as weapons, surround you, the room smokes with danger”; the “ghetto-garb has not been discarded” despite a “fragrant” table full of food. This threat overshadows all personal relationships: “Can it be/ that I will see you again/ in April/ free of ashes?” The exile only reinforces the expulsion from paradise; the house turns into a prison, New York into a jungle,...
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