Abraham Sutzkever

(1913 - 2010 / Smorgon, Russian Empire)

Farewell - Poem by Abraham Sutzkever


Oh, not to mourn for you I come, city of my song.
For wet is still your soil, though your face is scorched.
I want to enter you like a night with glowing stars,
To shine into all windowpanes,
To shine into the Gaon's shul, where, from the HGRA,
God's H was torn off and what remained is GRAY —
(Where is the letter H,
Does it wander now within my soul?)
And into the Great Synagogue, left alone in the Synagogue Yard
With fortress walls that guard the past, the muteness.
And on Straszun Street 6 —
The very last barricade,
And in the canals beneath the earth
Where Jews
Hoped for liberation and celebrated May Day.

I want to enter you like a night with glowing stars,
To shine into every house — standing or destroyed.
Into faces, living or not — for me they live!
For, as a person feels his arm just now cut off
And sees the golden ring on his severed finger —
So I feel the link
With houses,


You are my first love and my first love you will remain.
I bear your name through the world
As my distant grandfather bore
Through the desert flame the Mishkan on his shoulders.
(Oh, grandfather, you too hoped to see a shore!)
And anywhere I wander —

All the cities will
Transform into your image.
I will not strike roots
In any other soil,
As the water lily torn from its umbilical cord
Cannot strike roots again
In a scrap of soil under water's pressure —
And swings, lost over abyss of waves,
And no one, no one sees that the cord is torn —


… And dear to me as never before is your Yiddish —
The flickering wick
Of an orphaned Eternal Candle,
For only in mama-loshn did a tiny baby cry:
Of all the words in the world, I lack one: Mama!


I am the child that carries a blade of grass
When they lead him to slaughter.
I am the woman hiding in the sewers
Along with her newborn babe, not severed from her belly,
Where the gloom is so Infinite you think
Of mice splashing in the mud:
Angels are singing!
I am the old man, gray and wrinkled as a walnut,
Who needs, to cheat about his age, to look like twenty.
I am the boy 'younger than need be'
Who must scratch his face and stand on tiptoe.
I am the last word of one fallen into the pit,
I am the helplessness of one paralyzed
Who cannot bring his arm to his throat —
To free himself.
I am the man returning from the city with gunpowder in his boots,

Creating from it a savior
As the Maharal created a Golem.
I am the one madly in love on a creaking gallows.
(His eyes suck in from afar a smiling woman.)
I am already burned.
But with the stream of the Viliya — swims to you my song.


Not to those who defiled you —
Not to them will you belong.
They will crawl blindly on their knees to your gates
And thorns will prick a second time their blindness.
No mercy in the cloud above Ponar —
It will answer prayers with rusty lightning.
Graveyard stones will tear themselves off the earth
And every single letter will hurl into their face.
And the Saint Anna Church, red like our blood,
With no mercy, will lock its narrow doors,
And like a curse forged from copper — will toll
For them the old bells in my dusk city.

And if no more Jews remain in my city —
Their souls live on in its alleys.
And he who thinks a house is empty
And walks in
And puts up an idol, a table, makes a bed,
Puts on an abandoned shirt,
A dress,
A shawl —
At night, he will hear the crying of children,
And the shirt will become a grater, shredding his skin.
Until he runs madly out of the house

As if his conscience,
Turned into a crow,
Went back into his brain.
And he will run — his own shadow will not catch up with him.


From the whole world, barefoot scouts will come
With green willow-branches to your gold-stripped temple.
And everyone will dip into your heart
For a handful of ash
And take it home
To light his long slumber.

But I, who grew in the shadow of your splendor,
I carry you whole — a bloody scroll.

Vilna Ghetto and Narocz Forests, 1943-1944

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Poem Submitted: Monday, July 21, 2014

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