Page 107 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Ghetto Poems ofSutzkever
periodic “aktions” required exceptional cunning and energy. Yet
Sutzkever’s essential means of resistance was poetry, more impor­
tant than ever before now that the transformation of the environ­
ment was actually a matter of life or death.
Sutzkever’s ghetto and forest poems play extraordinary varia­
tions on the theme of art as resistance. At the most basic level,
when nothing in the universe responds to man, the need for ex­
pressions is still evidence of determined existence:
I feel like saying a prayer—but to whom?
He Whom once used to comfort me, won’t hear it now.
So to who shall I pray?
The prayer holds me like a vise.
Should I ask that star in the sky: “My far-away friend,
I have lost my speech. Come, take its place.”
But that good star
also won’t hear.
Yet I must say a prayer. Someone very near,
within me, tortured, demands the prayer.
Senseless, I begin to babble
until dawn.
Vilna Ghetto
January 17, 1942
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 consciousness. Elsewhere
Sutzkever explores the linguistic—and by his logic also the intrin­
sic—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
must.
”In the ghetto the muse is no decora­
tive enhancement of life, but the primitive life-urge, the cry of an
almost extinguished self, demanding recognition.