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