Rose Ausländer

By: Jerrold Freitag
May 11, 2012

The Jewish German- and English-language poet ROSE AUSLÄNDER (Rosalie Beatrice Scherzer, 1901-88) lived, learned, and wrote in, fled from, returned to, was jailed and hid in, and left again from Czernowitz in the Bukowina — a region now shared between Romania and Ukraine. A spiritual insurrection was afoot in Czernowitz so pretty that it just had to disappear. Arbitrary borders it seemed no one cared about floated away. Fortunately, Ausländer breathed in enough Spinoza during her youth there to carry her all the way to here. Ausländer strolled in the no man’s land between seeing too much and innocence. Titanic, otherworldy strength to resist any of her own edges being dulled. Childlike, bending strength to drain cruelty into fairytales. Solemnly letting the bread rise in a ghetto selected just for her before she baked it for a dying mother. Ausländer’s lyricism is simple, modern chiffre. Elusively complex because the road to essence is a long and circuitous one no one has time to explain outside poetry’s density.

Another year as ring/grown in the tree/that stands still and/obliviously circles/with the earth

How something can grow old, outward, show burns and scars and droughts only after you cut it open. The tree that stands still but bends and spins mindlessly along.

I find Ausländer’s 1976 poetry and prose collection Im Aschenregen die Spur Deines Namens a headache and a heartache. The volume’s title (Aschenregen means literally a rain of ashes but sounds beautiful) makes me think there’s poetry in everything, that I could and should write poetry, and that I’ll never write poetry. It makes the translator in me quit and then try: “A Trace of Your Name in the Fallout.”


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HiLo Heroes, Poetry