from Seven Laments for the War Dead
Is all of this
sorrow? I don’t know.
I stood in the cemetery dressed in
the camouflage clothes of a living man: brown pants
and a shirt yellow as the sun.
Cemeteries are cheap; they don’t ask for much.
Even the wastebaskets are small, made for holding
that wrapped flowers from the store.
Cemeteries are a polite and disciplined thing.
“I Shall never forget you,” in French
on a little ceramic plaque.
I don’t know who it is that won’t ever forget:
he’s more anonymous than the one who died.
Is all of this sorrow? I guess so.
“May ye find consolation in the building
of the homeland.” But how long
can you go on building the homeland
and not fall behind in the terrible
between consolation and building and death?
Yes, all of this is sorrow. But leave
a little love burning always
like the small bulb in the room of a sleeping baby
that gives him a bit of security and quiet love
though he doesn’t know what the light is
or where it comes from.
[translated from the Hebrew by Chana Bloch]
What better way to end our series on War poetry than with Amichai? I could try summing up the theme, but I don’t need to. This poem says it all.
Coming up on Poi-tre: A Valentine’s Day Special and an Auden retrospective. Stay tuned.