In 1966, one of the greatest Jewish authors of the 20th Century, Shmuel Yosef Agnon (known by the acronym Shai Agnon), was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he richly deserved. But in their typically chincy Scandinavian style, the award committee made the literary genius share the prize with a near-unknown, German Jewish poet Nelly Sachs. Today, December 10, corporate colossus Google is celebrating Sachs’ 127th birthday (she died in 1970, as did Agnon) with one of their occasionally whimsical “Google Doodle” (that’s when they change the graphics of their corporate logo to reflect something else.
The Google-doodle concept came to life back in 1998, before that world domination plot was even hatched. Google founders who always ate at the uncool kids’ table in high school Larry Page and Sergey Brin fiddled with their new corporate logo to boast their stint at the Burning Man festival. The two geniuses put behind one of the Os in Google a stick figure drawing, telling the world they were out, doing hip stuff. And a brand new corny concept was born.
Incidentally, Google-doodle has celebrated the national days of many a country, but guess which country has never made it to the world’s front page? Need we continue?
Update: I was wrong, as one reader very helpfully noted, the Google Doodle did honor Israel’s Independence Day once, in 2017. Big apology.
Nelly Sachs was the daughter of a wealthy manufacturer and grew up in a fashionable area of Berlin. She studied music and dance and at an early age began to write poetry. After her escape from the Nazis to Sweden in 1940, Sachs devoted much of her time to the translation of Swedish poets such as Gunnar Ekelöf, Johannes Edfelt, and Karl Vennberg.
Sachs’s career as a poet began when she was almost fifty. Her first volume of poetry, In den Wohnungen des Todes (In the Houses of Death), 1947, “creates a cosmic frame for the suffering of her time, particularly that of the Jews.”
Although her poems are written in a keenly modern style, with an abundance of lucid metaphors, they also intone the prophetic language of the Old Testament. The collections Sternverdunkelung (Eclipse of Stars), 1949, Und niemand weiss weiter (And No One Knows Where to Go), 1957, and Flucht und Verwandlung (Flight and Metamorphosis), 1959, repeat, develop, and reinforce the cycle of suffering, persecution, exile, and death which characterizes the life of the Jewish people, and becomes transformed, in Nelly Sachs’s powerful metaphorical language, into the terms of man’s bitter, but not hopeless, destiny. Sachs described the metaphors in her poetry as “wounds.”
Her best-known work (you’ve never heard of it), the play Eli: Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels (Eli: A Mystery Play of the Sufferings of Israel), written in 1951, was broadcast on West German radio.
In short, to compare the near-unknown Sachs to the meteoric Agnon was one of the most egregious sins committed by the Nobel prize committee, equal to their awarding Barack Obama the prize for being the first Black president.
Now, Agnon’s 131st birthday will be celebrated July 17, 2019. Will Google celebrate that one, too? Stay tuned…