Sachs: Banquet Speech

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Sachs: Banquet Speech

Introductory remarks by Ingvar Andersson of the Swedish Academy at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, 10 December 1966:

“Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Nelly Sachs—This year’s literary Prize goes to you both with equal honour for a literary production which records Israel’s vicissitudes in our time and passes on its message to the peoples of the world.

Mr. Agnon—In your writing we meet once again the ancient unity between literature and science, as antiquity knew it. In one of your stories you say that some will no doubt read it as they read fairy tales, others will read it for edification. Your great chronicle of the Jewish people’s spirit and life has therefore a manifold message. For the historian it is a precious source, for the philosopher an inspiration, for those who cannot live without literature it is a mine of never-failing riches. We honour in you a combination of tradition and prophecy, of saga and wisdom.

Miss Sachs—About twenty years ago, through the Swedish poet Hjalmar Gullberg, I first learned of your fate and your work. Since then you have lived with us in Sweden and I could talk to you in our own language. But it is through your mother tongue that your work reflects a historical drama in which you have participated. Your lyrical and dramatic writing now belongs to the great laments of literature, but the feeling of mourning which inspired you is free from hate and lends sublimity to the suffering of man. We honour you today as the bearer of a message of solace to all those who despair of the fate of man.

We honour you both this evening as the laurel-crowned heroes of intellectual creation and express our conviction that, in the words of Alfred Nobel, you have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind, and that you have given it clearsightedness, wisdom, uplift, and beauty. A famous speech at a Nobel banquet—that of William Faulkner, held in this same hall sixteen years ago—contained an idea which he developed with great intensity. It is suitable as a concluding quotation which points to the future: ’I do not believe in the end of man.’”

Sachs’s speech (Translation)

In the summer of 1939 a German girl friend of mine went to Sweden to visit Selma Lagerlöf, to ask her to secure a sanctuary for my mother and myself in that country. Since my youth I had been so fortunate as to exchange letters with Selma Lagerlöf; and it is out of her work that my love for her country grew. The painter-prince Eugen and the novelist helped to save me.

In the spring of 1940, after tortuous months, we arrived in Stockholm. The occupation of Denmark and Norway had already taken place. The great novelist was no more. We breathed the air of freedom without knowing the language or any person. Today, after twenty-six years, I think of what my father used to say on every tenth of December, back in my home town, Berlin: “Now they celebrate the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm.” Thanks to the choice of the Swedish Academy, I am now in the midst of that ceremony. To me a fairy tale seems to have become reality.

In der Flucht
welch grosser Empfang

in der Winde Tuch
Füsse im Gebet des Sandes
der niemals Amen sagen kann
denn er muss
von der Flosse in den Flügel
und weiter—

Der kranke Schmetterling
weiss bald wieder vom Meer—
Dieser Stein
mit der Inschrift der Fliege
hat sich mir in die Hand gegeben—

An Stelle von Heimat
halte ich die Verwandlungen der Welt—

what a great reception
on the way—

in the wind’s shawl
feet in the prayer of sand
which can never say amen
from fin to wing
and further—

The sick butterfly
will soon learn again of the sea—
This stone
with the fly’s inscription
gave itself into my hand—

I hold instead of a homeland
the metamorphoses of the world—)

(Translated by Ruth and Matthew Mead, in O the Chimneys, 1967)

[© The Nobel Foundation, 1966. Nelly Sachs is the sole author of her speech.]