Music, in these poems, becomes simultaneously the sounding sign of erotic yearning and transcendent death wish. Moreover, the sarabande, on which the dancer once walked with feet that knew little of the earth, returns again as a link to the stellar realm. As these examples imply, Sachs repeatedly construes the ocean — and particularly the ocean as a source of musical sound — as one possible link between the world of the senses and the secret universe that lies beyond it.
The listening ear and the shell that is pressed against it are superimposed on each other, and between them the musical sounds flow to create a connection between the corporeality of human existence and the secret universe that lies beyond it. This time, the music is specified as a concert, which seems less likely to suggest public performance — let alone the concerto as a specific genre — than to etymologically connote coming-together and communality.
Perhaps we should think of this union as projected rather than consummated. It is difficult to conceive of two people listening into the same seashell at the same time: the act is clearly a solitary one. At any rate, the constant element in these seashell poems is the figure of music as a link between the oceanic and the celestial realms. All of these examples suggest the idea of a connection between the ocean and the stars — or, more accurately perhaps, an influence exerted on the former by the latter — which is permeated by a great longing typically involving both Eros and Thanatos. The painful pull exerted on earthly entities by the heavenly bodies, then, is itself a source of music.
Ultimately, the concept of stellar music is rooted in the Pythagorean doctrine of the harmony of the spheres, according to which the numeric proportions and movements of the celestial bodies give rise to music. Medieval thinkers later developed the system, suggesting that this musica mundana, while not audible to human ears, governs the inner workings of our bodies and souls, which they called musica humana.
The music actually played or sung by humans, known as the musica instrumentalis, ideally mirrors the other kinds, but is nevertheless — or, from a Platonic perspective, precisely therefore — inferior to them. The cosmic music itself, in this tradition, is not actually audible to human ears, but can be experienced only in a state of sublime rapture. See also Kerstens , 64— I, 90 In a rhetorical gesture that, as we shall see, recurs in several poems, Sachs juxtaposes here the music of the earth with the music of the suns and planets.
The suns and the moon, by contrast, are paradoxically anthropomorphised by the human connotations of voices and songs. On the one hand, the listening subjects are not exactly dead, but dying, and the reverberations of the earth are still there, if fading. On the other hand, the wandering voice of the moon is heard after death. Sachs is explicit about the corporeality of the receiving organs into which the melodies are being poured: she speaks of the actual ears of the bodies, and makes them even more physically palpable by conflating them with jugs or vases filled by the liquid substance of music.
To the extent that we think of this music as being heard by the dying-dead this poem aligns itself with the suggestions of undeadness in the above-mentioned poems that allude to the Totentanz tradition: reactivating their sense of hearing, music animates the bodies of the dead. Or perhaps a more appropriate way of putting it would be that the music of the spheres, typically thought inaudible to human ears, might reach those ears only after they have left their sense of hearing behind. The moment evoked by the poem is thus deeply ambiguous: it is a singular moment, yet its position in relation to life and death cannot be definitely pinpointed.
The listeners are located in an indefinable borderland that appears to include both their corporeal existence and its discontinuation. The sounds of earthly violence, then, are intermingled with the music of the spheres. I, 50 The steps of the hangmen and their victims are envisioned as the second-hand of a clock, their progression as unfaltering and interminable as the ticking of time itself and dragged on, horribly, by a dark moon. As in the poems evoking oceans and tides, then, the heavenly bodies are exerting an influence on the terrestrial goings-on.
In the case of the relation between executioners and executed, however, the influence does not seem to be unidirectional. The poem inquires after the sound that their steps are making in the music of the spheres: the terrifying yet almost dance-like dynamic between them, Sachs seems to suggest, must sound a shrill note in the stellar harmony.
Another instance of such discordance can be found in another of the choruses from In den Wohnungen des Todes. For Tiresias, Oedipus and others, it is an excess of insight that leads to blindness,! Axel Englund 67 according to which the loss of eyesight gives birth to an inner vision, often expressed in song. Blinded by the horrors that she has witnessed, the earth has become a prophetess, but one incapable of harmonious song: she can only scream in panic. From this perspective, it would seem that Sachs suggests a reversal of the direction of influence.
It is no longer obvious that the heavenly bodies govern the earthly tidal currents or the inner movements of the human soul. The link between the terrestrial and the celestial remains, but the trauma played out in the former sphere is so cruel that the latter is shaken to its very foundations. Instead of the cosmic order providing the governing principles, both of the inner music of the human body and of the instrumental music that this body performs, the causal chain has been reversed: the earthly Totentanz of the Holocaust — the music played on the bodies of the dead — sends its repercussions all the way out into the stellar realms.
As a response to the destruction of human bodies, the celestial bodies themselves acquire an anthropomorphic corporeality: the earth has a heart, beating presumably with dread or rage. Music thus becomes an expression of human cruelty and death as the pivot upon which the universe itself is twisted out of joint. To me, it reveals in a striking manner the extent to which trauma permeates the small-scale situations of quotidian life, how terror and paranoia are woven into the very fabric of the everyday. Distinct points in time and space — here and there, past and present — resound together in a texture of deadly polyphony.
One may note that this late poem has a basic gesture in common with the early one in which a musical box was playing the minuet from Don Giovanni: in both poems, music serves as the link between a small, material thing and an immaterial world that appears to be just out of reach.
In the early poem, music moves from the physical object into the unknown, whereas, in the later poem, the trajectory is the opposite: here, music travels, by way of metaphor, from a secret, invisible world into the palpable material of the shirt. In both cases, music traverses the divide between the visible and the invisible! Axel Englund 69 world.
But the texts, of course, are worlds apart: while the musical box evoked a dreamlike nostalgia, the laundry evokes murder and persecution. The vision evoked in this poem, however, is no longer framed by a sentimental state of mind, but by paranoia and psychosis.
Here, there is nothing reassuring or elevating about the musical opening into the universe beyond our senses: it, too, has been taken over by the persecutors. Rather, its significance to Sachs depends precisely on its repeated occurrence as the emblem of a transition between, or an interlocking of, the phenomenal world and the invisible universe, of the earthly and the unearthly, or the physical and spiritual. Sometimes the other world is very distant, in outer space, sometimes it seems close enough to touch, if it only had a palpable existence. It is beyond us, yet directly linked to us, and music is repeatedly cast as a conduit between the two.
Sometimes this link is a source of consolation, sometimes a source of profound terror. All in all, Sachs lets the idea of music remain anchored within the German aesthetic tradition, where it has typically been configured as a way of circumventing logos: either below it, as a bodily experience, or above it, as an agent of the otherworldly and transcendent. Yet she gives it an idiosyncratic reading. Her closest poetic kinship — in this particular respect — is probably with Rainer Maria Rilke.
Rilke, too, returns in several poems to the idea of cosmic music. Schlag an den Stern: er wird sich dir entdecken! Volume 42 Issue 2 Dec , pp. Volume 41 Issue 2 Dec , pp. Volume 40 Issue 2 Jan , pp. Volume 39 Issue 2 Nov , pp.
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