Avrom Sutzkever (1913–2010) is regarded as one of Yiddish literature’s most important modernist poets. Before World War II, Sutzkever was a member of the literary group known as Yung Vilne (Young Vilna). During the war, Sutzkever survived the Vilna Ghetto, and later joined a partisan unit outside the city, all the while continuing to write poetry. Sutzkever eventually settled in Israel, where he established himself as a leading figure in the world of Yiddish letters. Sutzkever’s collection Lider fun togbukh (Poems from My Diary, 1974–1981), from which the poems featured in this issue were selected, is considered his masterpiece, and exemplifies his characteristic blend of natural imagery, philosophical reflection, and autobiography.
An excerpt from
Lider fun togbukh
No sun, no rays. Creatures on the sea floor,
Ambulatory flora in an otherworldly landscape,
Genesis of death and life, coral towers of Babel,
Divine caprices—time to meet them all.
Time to hurry out of the circus with clowns, trapezes
To where the glory of the pearl is in command.
Time now to snatch the secrets of the darkness
There in the marine lab, among hearts of muck.
Time now to drink wine with long drowned sailors
In a cabin: a water bar on the sea floor.
And hear them tell about pirates, albatrosses
And thousand-year-old love affairs, unbecalmed.
Every sound wants freedom. Sound of brass and wood and string.
Person-tongue is trapped in heavy cages.
Time now to listen in—glimpsing through a crack
How muteness recites ABCs of silence. ;▪