born 19.6.32—deported 24.9.42
Undesirable you may have been, untouchable
you were not. Not forgotten
or passed over at the proper time.
As estimated, you died. Things marched,
sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
terror, so many routine cries.
(I have made
an elegy for myself it
September fattens on vines. Roses
flake from the wall. The smoke
of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.
This is plenty. This is more than enough.
[“Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” according to the
philosopher Adorno; he later changed his mind, but the problem of how
to address the Holocaust is a huge one for late twentieth century
poetry and Geoffrey Hill in particular. This is his attempt to tackle
the issue, by addressing an imaginary child born one day after he was.
This is an incredibly dense poem, so very heavy with meaning in
every line: deportation is synonymous with death, the double racial
and sexual implications of “untouchable,” the image of the speaker left
behind in an empty world.
I also heartily recommend his poem "Ovid in the Third Reich", told
from the point of view of an SS officer. The Latin epigraph on that
one, roughly translated means “She who can deny having sinned does not
sin, and only the fault confessed makes her notorious.” The
complicated relationship between intention and evil. Hill is just as
breathtakingly understated in it, too, the way he sums up an
unimaginable swath of atrocities: “Things happen.”]