Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Spring 1946 (For Cordelia) - Elizabeth Langgasser

Spring 1946 ( For Cordelia)

- Translation by Eavan Boland



So you return

My sweet Anemone –

All brilliant stamen, calyx, crown –

Making it worth the devastation,

Like Nausicaa?


Windblown and bowing –

Wave and spray and light –

What whirling joy at last

Has lifted up this weight

From shoulders bent with dust?


Now I arise

Out of the toad’s domain –

Pluto’s reddish glare still under my eyelids –

And the hideous pipe of the guide to the dead

Still in my ears.


I have seen the iron gleam

In the Gorgon’s eye.

I have heard the hiss, the whisper,

The rumor that she would kill me:

It was a lie.


Anemone, my daughter,

Let me kiss your face: it is

Unmirrored by the waters

Of Lethe or the Styx.

And innocent of no or not.


And see, you are alive

And here – there’s no deception –

And quiet in the way you touch my heart

Yet do not rake its fires –

My child, my Nausicaa!

 Frühling 1946 (für Cordelia) [Original/German]

Holde Anemone,

bist du wieder da

und erscheinst mit heller Krone

mir Geschundenem zum Lohne

wie Nausikaa?


Windbewegtes Bücken,

Woge, Schaum und Licht!

Ach, welch sphärisches Entzücken

nahm dem staubgebeugten Rücken

endlich sein Gewicht?


Aus dem Reich der Kröte

steige ich empor,

unterm Lid noch Plutons Röte

und des Totenführers Flöte

gräßlich noch im Ohr.


Sah in Gorgos Auge

eisenharten Glanz,

ausgesprühte Lügenlauge

hört‘ ich flüstern, daß sie tauge

mich zu töten ganz.


Anemone! Küssen

laß mich dein Gesicht:

Ungespiegelt von den Flüssen

Styx und Lethe, ohne Wissen

um das Nein und Nicht.


Ohne zu verführen,

lebst und bist du da,

still mein Herz zu rühren,

ohne es zu schüren -

Kind Nausikaa!


1.      In Greek mythology, Aphrodite the goddess of love fell in love with Adonis, a human. Adonis was gored to death by Aries, Aphrodite’s husband. While Aphrodite carried Adonis’ body in her chariot through the forest to bury him, wherever Adonis’ blood and Aphrodite’s tears spilled, Anemone (wind-flower) sprouted up. In short, Anemone was born out of Aphrodite’s tears and Adonis’ blood.

2.      Nausicca was the one who saved the Greek hero Ulyssues on his long journey back to Ithaca when he had been given up for dead.

Elisabeth Langgässer (1899-1950), was a prominent German novelist and poet during the days before the second world war. She herself was a half jew but having married a’gentile’ husband she was a purified jew, as per the Nazi race laws. Nevertheless in 1936, Langgässer was prohibited from writing by the Reich Literature Chamber in Nazi Germany because of her Jewish ancestry. 

Her writings draw heavily from Greek and Roman mythology. One of her well-known novels from the 1930s was Proserpina (Persephone in Greek mythology). It is a retelling of the story of Persephone from Persephone’s perspective.

Perspehone, the goddess and queen of the underworld; is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, goddess of agriculture. She was carried off to the underworld by Pluto, also known as Hades, although Zeus later ordered that she should spend six months of the year above ground with her mother. She was able to return to the world only periodically—thus giving rise to the season. The myth symbolizes the growth and decay of vegetation and the changing seasons. .Zeus had ruled that Persephone could be granted complete release if she had abstained from food in the underworld, but she had consumed a pomegranate seed. 

Elizabeth Langasser’s first child - Cordelia  - was an illegitimate child, and her father was also Jewish. After the Nuremberg laws of 1935, more and more draconian laws and decrees against Jews were enforced.  Finally, as Berlin was being steadily emptied of its Jews, Langgässer and her gentile husband, Cordelia's stepfather, managed to find Cordelia adoptive parents who were Spanish. Thus, acquiring a Spanish passport, Cordelia seemed safe from further persecution. It soon proved otherwise, and she was categorized as a Volljüdin ("full Jew") and subjected to separation from her parents, forced labor, and then, in 1944, deportation. (Cordelia was fifteen then. Same age as Anne Frank.) She survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and further evacuations. 

But Cordelia turned out to be one of those miraculously lucky ones. The following poem by Elizabeth Langgasser is written on being reunited with her daughter in the spring of 1946.

 Elizabeth Langgasser died in 1950 of multiple sclerosis.

After the liberation, Cordelia Edvardson was taken to Sweden to recuperate from the starvation, sickness, and maltreatment of these years. She converted to jewish faith only in the 70s and then she wrote a memoir. Scorched by her experiences—the title of her memoir, Burned Child Seeks the Fire, (Bränt barn söker sig till elden ) underscores the trauma. The title is a play on the German saying, ‘Burned child avoids the fire’ as she embraced the religion for which she was once burnt.

The meaning of  Langgasser calling her daughter ‘My Nausicaa’ became clearer in this memoir. Apparently when the SS officer came home to deport Cordelia, her folks had told the officer that they could fight her deportation since Cordelia had been brought up a Catholic (with Catholic Jewish stepfather and step-siblings).

The SS officer had replied that they could,  but then  Cordelia’s mother could be prosecuted for trying to get a Spanish passport for her daughter, and executed for the crime. Cordelia had then walked away with her deportation officer. 

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