Coffin, herself a decorated poet, was awarded first prize by the Academy of American Poets for her translations of Orten's Elegies. Orten, punished for the sin of being Jewish, closes a poem with: "I will not live long." That was 1939. Two years later he was hit by a speeding German ambulance that dragged him for five blocks before stopping. No hospital would accept him, because he was Jewish. He died on his 22nd birthday.
In the poems, Orten revels in nature. Flowers bloom, rivers flow, snow falls, and wild mustard fills the fields with color--backdrops, all, to death and destruction. He prays, pleads, and argues with God: "Is there nowhere in your compassion a place / where a wretched psalmist might find rest?" Expelled from the conservatory, banned from publishing his poetry, he writes: "I am guilty for the vain longing for my father...for love that's lost to me." He yearns "to be without pain."