“Thus I Ran Out of the Word” was first published in Nelly Sachs’s Flucht und Verwandlung (1959; “flight and metamorphosis”). The book’s central theme is transformation, and this poem, the last in the book, describes one person’s transformation becoming complete. The “I” of the poem charts her passage from one world into another toward a “homecoming.” The poem could be interpreted as a meditation on one’s passage into death.
The first line is an abrupt decree, and it suggests a summing up. In fact, the speaker begins this poem practically in mid-sentence. In the line “Thus I ran out of the word,” the reader senses resignation, acceptance, and a readiness to enter the “night/ with arms outspread.” “The word” certainly has biblical connotations (“In the beginning was the Word”), but here “word” might refer primarily to the speaker’s self—that which she had been trying to create. To run out of words—language, communication, ideas—is essentially to lose one’s identity. In this sense, the speaker’s transformation begins with giving up ego, or consciousness of self.
The second stanza suggests some sort of preparation for the transformational journey taking place. “A piece of night” indicates partial reckoning with the night (death’s representative?), and the “arms outspread” make a welcoming gesture. In another metaphor, however, the outstretched arms are imagined as a scale, the type with a dish on each side for balancing opposing weights. The scale “weigh[s] flights.”
The motif of flight (both fleeing and soaring) is a common one in Sachs’s poetry, but here “only a scale to weigh flights” is perplexing. This mysterious phrase could suggest that the night, personified, weighs (judges) the hardships of a person’s life. Flight as escape is a recurring theme in Sachs’s poetry and is possibly evoked...
(The entire section is 781 words.)