With My Shad­ow: The Poems of Hilde Domin, A Bilin­gual Selection

  • Review
By – July 7, 2023

The poet Hilde Domin was born Hilde­gard Löwen­stein in Cologne, Ger­many in 1909. She grew up in a pros­per­ous fam­i­ly, enjoy­ing a rich intel­lec­tu­al and cul­tur­al sec­u­lar life that led her to col­lege in Hei­del­berg. At uni­ver­si­ty, she became polit­i­cal­ly aware and joined the Social­ist Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. There, she also met her hus­band Erwin Palm. They mar­ried and, con­cerned about ris­ing fas­cism, left Ger­many in 1931. Mov­ing around Europe for near­ly a decade, the cou­ple even­tu­al­ly set­tled in 1940 in the Domini­can Repub­lic. They lived there for over a decade before return­ing to Europe in 1952, first resid­ing in Spain and then, in 1961, going back to Germany.

Domin took her last name from the island that shel­tered her while she was in exile. She describes the Domini­can Repub­lic in the poem Per­mis­sion to Land” as a coast­line / some­where to land / one can step ashore there.” She began writ­ing poet­ry lat­er in life and even­tu­al­ly gained recog­ni­tion and acclaim in Ger­many as a poet and trans­la­tor of lit­er­ary work. The poems col­lect­ed in With My Shad­ow reflect the visions and expe­ri­ences of a woman con­tem­plat­ing exile and return.

In Warn­ing,” Domin con­sid­ers the ways in which the world invites peo­ple to find joy, describ­ing buds / full of sun­light” and a peeled” open world. But she notes in the final stan­za that this is exact­ly when it is impor­tant to be cau­tious and

kneel down like a child

at the foot of your bed

and pray to want little.

The time when every­thing invites you in

is the hour

when every­thing aban­dons you.

Some­times Domin us; oth­er times, she reminds us of the world’s silences. Her poems tell of a mute bird, / that no one hears” and a uni­corn so qui­et / you can’t hear it / when it comes, when it goes.” Keen­ly attuned to such silences and their con­se­quences, Domin rec­og­nizes the pos­si­bil­i­ty that all may be lost again. In Promise to a Dove,” she concludes: 

when my house is burnt

when I am cast out again

when I lose everything

I will take you with me,

worm-eat­en wood­en dove,

because of the gen­tle sweep

of your one



Pair­ing the orig­i­nal Ger­man with an Eng­lish trans­la­tion by Sarah Kafa­tou, With My Shad­ow offers a beau­ti­ful selec­tion of Domin’s work. Read­ers who enjoyed Nel­ly Sachs’s recent­ly trans­lat­ed col­lec­tion, Flight and Meta­mor­pho­sis, will delight in their dis­cov­ery of anoth­er Jew­ish Ger­man poet. US Eng­lish-lan­guage read­ers in par­tic­u­lar will see shad­ows of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry extrem­ism and exile in their own con­tem­po­rary land­scape. As Domin trag­i­cal­ly reminds us:

Exile is nev­er lost

you car­ry it with you

you slip inside

a fold­ed labyrinth

a desert

it fits in your pocket.

Julie R. Ensz­er is the author of four poet­ry col­lec­tions, includ­ing Avowed, and the edi­tor of Out­Write: The Speech­es that Shaped LGBTQ Lit­er­ary Cul­ture, Fire-Rimmed Eden: Select­ed Poems by Lynn Loni­di­erThe Com­plete Works of Pat Park­er, and Sis­ter Love: The Let­ters of Audre Lorde and Pat Park­er 1974 – 1989. Ensz­er edits and pub­lish­es Sin­is­ter Wis­dom, a mul­ti­cul­tur­al les­bian lit­er­ary and art jour­nal. You can read more of her work at www​.JulieREn​sz​er​.com.

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