My wing is poised to beat
but I would gladly return home
were I to stay to the end of days
I would still be this forlorn
-- Gershom Scholem, Greetings from Angelus" [tr. Richard Sieburth]
There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel
who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are
wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of
history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of
events appears before us, he sees on single catastrophe, which
keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel
would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.
But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings;
it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives
him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the
pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress
is this storm.
--from Walter Benjamin 1940 work, "On the Concept of History,"
Gesammelte Schriften I, 691-704. SuhrkampVerlag. Frankfurt am Main,
1974. Translation: Harry Zohn, from Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings,
Vol. 4: 1938-1940 (Cambridge: Harvard University Pres, 2003), 392-93.
Sholem's poem on the Klee painting was written for Benjamin's twenty-ninth
birthday -- July 15, 1921. Sieburth's translation is from Gershon Scholem,
The Fulnness of Time: Poems (Jerusalem: Ibis Editions, 2003).