Not to tire / but to hold out your hand / gently / as to a bird / to the miracle
This bilingual edition of the poems of Hilde Domin, an outstanding lyric poet of exile and return, brings her work to English-speaking readers for the first time.
Hilde Domin fled Nazi Germany when, as a Jew, she was no longer safe there. For many years she lived in Italy and the Dominican Republic, where she encountered modernist currents in Italian and Spanish poetry. Returning permanently to Germany in the mid-1950s, she quickly found recognition as a poet of memory and reconciliation. For the rest of her long life she wrote and spoke in a tone poised between vulnerability and trust, on behalf of moral and civic values worth living for.
As Sarah Kafatou writes in her Introduction, Domin “is always frugal: she reworks and transforms her repertoire of metaphors, images, themes, and ideas again and again, extending and refining, never explaining too much. Her lyric sensibility is concise, her syntax and vocabulary are simple and apt, her short lines break on the phrase, and she has an uncanny ability to hit the right note at exactly the right moment, according to the rhythm of the breath.”
Domin writes of “people like us we among them,” providing a voice for victims of persecution everywhere. Today, with refugee populations on the move throughout the world and with rising intolerance and polarization, these poems of conscience, and of courage discovered in desperation, will speak directly to every reader.
"Sarah Kafatou's translations capture the wonder and fragility of Domin’s poems. This collection is a great gift to readers of English, who at last can share a sense of being addressed directly by this unique voice, one that is soaked in the experience of displacement and exile and that encourages us to build the world anew from the shards of pain and trauma.”—Aleida Assmann, author of Shadows of Trauma: Memory and the Politics of Postwar Identity
“What a revelation the poems of Hilde Domin are in Sarah Kafatou’s masterful translations. Concise and elemental, Domin’s sleight-of-hand lyrics transmute weight into flight, ash into light. She bleeds blue ink: each word is dear, of value. Domin is a public poet with a private voice, in the manner of Neruda and Oppen, ministering to the unvoiced, the exiled, the unwanted (whether feelings or beings), attending to what is most humble, most human.”—Susan Barba, author of Fair Sun
“Hilde Domin is a lyrical poet of flight and displacement: To escape one more time / under the belly of the ram. / One more time / beneath the counting hand. Her poems conjure a life in constant flux, and a longing for stillness, stability. Yet rootedness and a sense of belonging are elusive. Her imagery releases uneasy truths of startling vibrancy, depth, and power. I am grateful to Sarah Kafatou for faithfully and lucidly bringing Hilde Domin’s poetry to English-speaking readers.”—Jane Duran, author of the clarity of distant things
“Her poems always have weight. The weight of a lived life.”—Ulla Hahn, novelist
“Domin’s level voice has the philosophical seriousness, the political astuteness, and the lightness of touch of great Polish poets such as Zagajewski, Herbert, and Szymborska. Like Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs, Domin never loses sight of the dead, and her delicacy of perception is the palpable essence of tenderness itself. Sarah Kafatou’s brilliant translation is pitch-perfect, and in tune with these sublime poems of melodious eloquence and immense discretion.”—George Kalogeris, author of Dialogos: Paired Poems in Translation
“These powerful and moving poems express with simplicity and profundity the feelings of loss and insecurity of a courageous Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. Domin’s use of metaphor, often drawn from nature, provides comfort, hope, and a sense of universality, keeping her poems relevant today. Sarah Kafatou’s skillful translations bring the poems across perfectly into English.”—Martha Leigh, author of Invisible Ink
“Sarah Kafatou gives us Hilde Domin’s poetry in a lucid, lyrical English which superbly captures the chaste intensity for which Domin was acclaimed. These fine translations offer a window into the mind and heart of an outstanding German poet who came into her own in the last forty years of her long life and who would say of her own work ‘my simple words smell of humanity.’”—Michael O'Siadhail, author of The Five Quintets
Three poems from With My Shadow:
"Island of Light"
the smallest loneliest
among the dead
On the island of light
a few gathered together
will be gentler
"Promise To A Dove"
I was looking for a table
when I found
lying on your back
pink feet pressed to your white body
out of the light,
in a jumble shop.
when my house is burnt
when I am cast out again
when I lose everything
I will take you with me,
wormeaten wooden dove,
because of the gentle sweep
of your one
"Not to Tire"
Not to tire
but to extend your hand
as if to a bird
to the miracle.
Hilde Domin (1909-2006) was a refugee from Nazi Germany who became a poet of exile and return. Among the finest lyric poets of the German language in the twentieth century, she occupied a unique and important role in postwar literature and culture. Her voice was simple and resonant, intensely personal, and addressed to her fellow citizens on behalf of universal human values. Through her poems and essays, she contributed significantly to the moral reconstruction of German society. Recognized at home by numerous prizes including the Nelly Sachs Prize and the Roswitha Prize, her poetry has until now been little known outside of the German-speaking world.
Sarah Kafatou is the author of Pomegranate Years (Paul Dry Books, 2019), and the translator of Ovid's Heroides (forthcoming from Oxford World Classics). She was born in New York City, and has lived in the US, the UK, Germany, and Greece. She studied English and American Literature and Classical Greek at Harvard University, painting at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and poetry at the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson, and has taught at Harvard and the University of Heidelberg. She divides her time between Crete and Cambridge, Massachusetts.