Page 104 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Wisse
96
town near Vilna, in 1913, Sutzkever had already experienced as an
infant the upheaval of the first World War when his parents were
forced to flee their ravaged town to seek shelter in Siberia. Al­
though the family lived in Omsk in great poverty, and though ill­
ness claimed the lives of both his father (at the age of 30) and an
only sister, Sutzkever remembered his childhood as a time of un­
folding marvels:
The boy had suddenly become an avalanche
of light and wonder.”
Siberia, the universal symbol of punishing cruelty and isolation,
became Sutzkever’s most powerful image for the immediacy of po­
etic awakening. The poet is the child, ever faced with real adversi­
ty, but blessed with a magical gift of regenerating it as beauty. In
Sibir
, his first major poem (later illustrated by that other joyous
Jewish artist, Marc Chagall), Sutzkever evokes his fledgling self-
discovery in the brilliant landscape of his youth:
In our dovecot the newborn bird
Picks its way out of its broken shell.1
This dove, which becomes Sutzkever’s personal emblem of the
muse, lures him away from the buried “hut” of his father’s coffin in
the frozen earth, upward toward sun and life.
E A R L Y W O R K
Sutzkever’s formal beginnings as a poet in the early 1930s—
about a decade after the family’s return to Vilna—were marked by
similar reaction to and almost conscious recoil from the social and
economic problems of the day. Jewish Vilna in the 1930s, in the
grip of severe poverty and rising anti-Semitism, was a highly polit­
icized society, especially in the literary circles to which the young
1. All the poems quoted in this article have been translated by Seymour
Mayne.