Greetings from Angelus, Media in vita, The Sirens, Jerusalem

by Gershom Scholem | March 3, 2003

Greetings from Angelus
(Paul Klee, "Angelus Novus")
To W.B., on July 15, 1921

I hang nobly on the wall
and look no one in the eye
I've been sent from heaven
An angelman am I.

Man is well within my realm
I take little interest in his case
I am protected by the Almighty
and have no need of any face.

The world from which I come
is measured, deep and clear
what keeps me of a piece
is a wonder, so it here appears.

In my heart stands the town
where God sent me to dwell.
The angel who bears this seal
Falls not beneath its spell.

My wing is poised to beat
but I would gladly return home
were I to stay to the end of days
I would still be this forlorn.

My gaze is never vacant
my eye pitchdark and full
I know what I must announce
and many other things as well.

I am an unsymbolic thing
what I am I mean
you turn the magic ring in vain
there is no sense to me.
 

The Sirens
(September 1947)

These are days when seeing your life
resume its normal placid course,
you hear their unexpected cry
arise in lamentation, deep and hoarse,

which, before reaching its highest pitch,
gusts forth like a wild spring wind;
and suddenly all the streets are thick
with the interminable sound of groans

whose unrelenting ups and downs
heave you high onto steep waves
of terror, then plunge you to the ground
until your soul, ripped apart, caves

in. But then all the silence
within the echo of these shrieks
erupts, and your will goes weak,
stunned by the horror of such stillness.

Falling mute, they reduce you to a cower,
as if covering you with blows,
until one final monotonous moan
at last releases you from their power.

Media in vita
(1930-1933)

I have lost the faith
that brought me to this place.
And in the wake of this forsaking,
night is my surrounding space.

I am uncannily attracted
by the darkness of this defeat;
since I no longer carry any banners,
I'm as honest a man you'll ever meet.

I'm not fighting for any "cause,"
all I'm fighting for now is me,
I stand the loneliest of guards,
it takes courage to see what I see:

I don't know how long I'll hold my own,
keeping watch on the edge of the abyss
in the beckoning prospect of light
sunk into such an enormous pit.

All I know is that I am not free
to decide things for myself.
I could perhaps put on a disguise,
but the world decides everything else.

The world? Or rather that abyss
of nothingness in which the world
appears--
the reflection of that second face
which negates me, without tears.


Jerusalem
(Summer 1948)

Nights, when the sandstone walls, baked
all day, now release their gathered heat
onto the city's fitful summer sleep,
wafting up to where weapons lie in wait,

and where the cool moonlight scours
the distant contours of the mountains,
while bells ring from monastery towers,
chiming in on gunfire from the front,

you sense that all the age-old life pent
up in this city now draws to an end,
and you know: she is now spent,
expended on the Real, and commences

to detach herself from the present.
Poor, dethroned, stark in her nakedness,
She stands there, whom enemies could not sway,

and is once again what she always was:
a mere memory of a former greatness
and a waiting for the Final Day.

-translated by Richard Sieburth

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/greetings-angelus-media-vita-the-sirens-jerusalem