An old poem dedicated to my Pilgrimage

Dedicated by Veronique


There, at Auschwitz, far from the Vistula, 

love, on the northern plain 

in a field of death: funereal, cold, 

rain on the rusted poles, 

and a tangle of steel fences: 

and no trees or birds in the grey air, 

or above our thought, but inertia 

and pain that memory leaves 

to a silence without irony or anger. 

You sought neither elegy nor idyll: only 

a reason for our fate, here, 

you, sensitive to the contrasts of mind, 

unsure of the clear presence 

of life. And life is here, 

in every ‘no’ that seems sure: 

Here we can hear the angel weep, the monster, 

our future hours, 

beating at the beyond, which is here, in eternity 

and in motion, not in a vision 

in dreams, of possible mercy. 

And here are the metamorphoses, here are the myths. 

Without names of symbols or gods, 

they are chronicles, places on earth. 

they are Auschwitz, love. How suddenly 

it turned to the smoke of shades, 

that dear flesh of Alpheus, and Arethusa! 

From that hell revealed by a white 

inscription: ‘Arbeit macht frei’ 

the smoke issued endlessly 

of thousands of women thrust 

from kennels at dawn to the wall 

for target-practice, or stifled howling 

for merciful water with skeletal 

mouths under showers of gas. 

You’ll discover them, soldier, in your 

record, in the form of rivers, creatures, 

or are you too but ashes of Auschwitz, 

the medal of silence? 

Long tresses rest enclosed in urns 

of glass still crowded with amulets, 

and infinite shadows of little shoes, 

and Jewish shawls: they are the relics 

of a time of wisdom, of the wisdom 

of men who make weapons the measure, 

they are the myths, our metamorphoses. 

On the stretches of land where love and tears 

and pity rotted, in the rain, 

there a ‘no’ beat within us, 

a ‘no’ to death, dead at Auschwitz, 

never again, from that pit 

of ashes, death. 

Salvatore Quasimodo, 1954

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