Page 109 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Ghetto Poems ofSutzkever
Through its choice of images and verbal plays, the box assumes
the likeness of the tarred little boat that saved the infant Moses
when an earlier Pharaoh condemned Jewish males to death. The
box is also an Ark—for the muse. Written tersely, as if in code, the
poem admits the confining horror of its situation, yet the man in
the coffin is resonantly alive. Despite the “message” of the coffin
where bodies are separated from human time, the poet is able to ef­
fect within his prison an act of reunion, a conquest of distance and
death through this artistic feat of creation.
In another poem a man escapes to the frozen woods and finds
momentary warmth over a mound of fresh horse manure. He re­
flects upon his past with regret: he has not understood before the
greatness of small things; that the warming breath of manure can
sustain a man and fire an exalted poem. When wolves become
man’s saviors, as they are in the forest, the poet must forge their
howling into a “horde of music.”
The terrifying account of “A Day Among the Stormtroopers”
ends with the bleeding poet floating in a lime-pit. The stream of
his blood runs into the white lime in neat rows, like poetry, form­
ing a wondrous sunset, the more beautiful because it is “his own
creation.”Written under conditions so unthinkable they can easily
be considered metaphorical, the poems refuse the given role of vic­
tim and seek out the redemptive detail, the play of words, images
and sounds that will secure life by transforming it into art.
In their reluctance to name the enemy, these poems are also spe­
cial acts of aggression, annihilating the foe by denying him exist­
ence. 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