Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday's poems: Primo Levi

To My Friends
Primo Levi
Dear friends, I say friends here
In the larger sense of the word:
Wife, sister, associates, relatives,
Schoolmates, men and women,
Persons seen only once
Or frequented all my life:
Provided that between us, for at least a moment,
Was drawn a segment,
A well- defined chord.
I speak for you, companions on a journey
Dense, not devoid of effort,
And also for you who have been lost
The soul, the spirit, the wish to live;
Or nobody or somebody, or perhaps only one, or you
Who are reading me: remember the time 
Before the wax hardened
When each of us was like a seal
Each of us carries the imprint
of a friend met along the way
In each the trace of each.
For good or evil
In wisdom or in folly
Everyone stamped by each.

Now that the time presses urgently,
And the tasks are finished
To all of you the modest wishes
That autumn will be long and mild
16 December 1985
(Omega IV by Morris Louis, 1912-1962,
American Abstract Expressionist painter)

Primo Levi

You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

     Consider whether this is a man,
     Who labours in the mud
     Who knows no peace
     Who fights for a crust of bread
     Who dies at a yes or a no.
     Consider whether this is a woman,
     Without hair or name
     With no more strength to remember
     Eyes empty and womb cold
     As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

Translated by Ruth Feldman And Brian Swann

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