donal mclaughlin

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STELLA ROTENBERG  (1915-2013) was born in Vienna. Following Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938, she fled via Holland to Britain where she arrived in 1939. Here, she started to write—in German—in 1940. She lived in Colchester, Devonshire, Somerset, and Darlington— locations determined mainly by her husband’s work—before settling in Leeds in 1948. Had she been based in London, she might have enjoyed contact with fellow exiles, and with organisations such as the Austrian Centre and the Free German League of Culture. Even in wartime, these organisations could have enabled her to publish and perform her work. Instead, for over seventy years, Stella lived and wrote in relative isolation, divorced from her mother tongue. She wrote in a language she was very much aware of losing.

Her poems first appeared in newspapers and magazines, in different countries, in the 1960s. Her first collection, Gedichte (‘Poems’) appeared in Tel Aviv in 1972. Die wir übrig sind (‘Those of us who remain’) followed in what was West Germany in 1978. Greater recognition for her work coincided with growing academic interest, from the late 1980s onwards, in German-speaking exiles to the UK. The publication in Vienna in 1991 of Scherben sind endlicher Hort (the title is a line from a poem, translated here as ‘what remains is still there, if in shards’) led to frequent invitations to literary readings and conferences in Germany, Austria, Scotland, England and Ireland. A collection of prose writings, Ungewissen Ursprungs (‘Of Uncertain Origin’) followed in 1997. Her work became the subject of scholarly research in the UK and Ireland, as well as in Austria and Germany. In 2003, in addition to Shards (the first full-length book of her work to appear in translation), her Collected Poems – An den Quell – appeared in hardback in Vienna.

Stella died, in Leeds, on 3 July 2013, at the age of 98. 


Stella Rotenberg

translated by Donal McLaughlin & Stephen Richardson


After the flames
I look upon this place.
nothing but ashes,
choke the plains.

Black smoke
now curls, rises,
while forsaken,
I watch     adrift
as the dead shift
and drift

Just smoke.
Nothing but smoke.
It forsakes me too.


Things now forgotten must do me;
with what’s missing I have to keep house.
From what’s fading I claw back some old sounds
and try pieces till whole words come out.

These days life still looks on us kindly.
What remains is still there, if in shards.
But where can I turn to when death comes
for even letters to make up my words?


My mother had a treasure stored.
A rich and precious store of words.
In which she dipped, with which she filled
my hands and eyes and ears; she quenched
my thirst, I hungered not; she spoon-fed me
sweet balsam. Now, onto the wound
her murderers inflicted,
I pour her balm, her words drop
by drop. Don’t ask
is there enough. Listen,
hear me –
mute now.


I’d return
just one more time
to the places of my childhood;

but not for the gardens,
the plentiful wine,
nor for the waltzes,
their three-quarter time,
nor for the ‘comforts’
for which some people go.

Not for the woodlands,
verdant and lush,
nor for the suburbs
far from the rush,
nor for the crystal
peaks in the snow.

I would go back
through the jaws of Hell
just to hear the sound
of my mother tongue


From sadness comes
a song. Can it be anything but sad?
The sun goes down. Fluttering
through the room, a butterfly, black, a stray.
Its horror makes the summer shudder.


Cut off
is what the flower is.
Not withered.

At the cut
still clings a drop
of sticky sap.

The flower bleeds
in vain.


Pray grant me the strength
to want to take
notice of everything in life
and the wish to treat
all living things


A rich harvest beneath a gloomy sky
and without a care around my pain
bloom roses.

From: Stella Rotenberg, SHARDS, Edinburgh Review 2003, 93pp
(bilingual book; ISBN 1-85933-216-1)

Stella Rotenberg, D.Litt. (2002)

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