Page 40 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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existence. The Germans are subjected to almost total linguistic
extinction: they appear, when at all, stripped of human form
and abstracted into instruments of death—the noose, the knife,
the boot, the time of slaughter. Just as the “I” of the poems
emphasizes his own triumphant presence, so he eliminates the
actual enemy by sustained neglect.
At the same time, as individual survivor of the engulfing mass
catastrophe, Sutzkever had also to deal with the facts of death
around him. He became obsessed with “rescuing the dead,” in
order to secure for them, if he could do no more, at least
a poetic grave. His elegies go beyond mourning in their attempt
to reinter the dead so as to guarantee them a dignified and en-
during memorial.
An almost unbearable poem, “To My Child,” is written as
a private matter between father and his dead infant. There is
no mention of the Germans who poisoned the Sutzkevers’ new-
born son and only the gentlest allusion to the actual murder:
That drop of poison extinguished your faith.
You thought.
it was warm sweet milk.
The father considers swallowing the tiny cooling corpse, his
anticipated future, but he deems himself an “unworthy” grave.
Instead, he sends down his son into the snow:
But I am not worthy to be your grave.
So I bequeath you
to the summoning snow,
the snow—my first respite,
and you will sink
like a splinter of dusk
into the quiet depths
and bear greetings from me
to the frozen grasslands ahead
Man’s essential affinity with nature, the subject of so much of
Sutzkever’s thought, here assumes a terrible urgency as the father
tries to rescue—is it in the natural cycle or in art?—the child he
was powerless to save.