Page 38 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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Poetry requires a context of communication, some addressee,
whether human, natural, or Divine. In the time of slaughter,
when there is no such meaningful context for speech, the poet
resorts to poetry without sense—without a recipient—as a
minimal holding action, an affirmation of the solitary conscious-
ness. Elsewhere Sutzkever explores the linguistic—and by his
logic also the intrinsic—relation between the Yiddish words
“muze” (Muse) and “muz” (must). “It had to be that in the
cellar of mute awareness the muse should whistle, I
the ghetto the muse is no decorative enhancement of life, but
the primitive life-urge, the cry of an almost extinguished self,
demanding recognition.
Since poetry for Sutzkever is born of the actual, his ghetto
poems must also confront their given situation. Almost every
poem of this period is precisely dated, the situation and
vocabulary riveting the art to its concrete origin in fact. On
August 30, 1941, the poet escaped a round-up of Jews by hiding
in a coffin. There emerged a tight narrow poem of defiance:
I am lying in this coffin
as I would lie
in stiff wooden clothing.
This could be a small boat
on dangerous waves,
this could be a cradle.
And here,
where bodies have been taken
from time,
I call out to you, sister,
and you hear me calling
in your distance.
What is suddenly moving in this coffin
an unexpected body?
You come.
I recognize the pupils of your eyes,
Your breath,
Your light.