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Poetry after Auschwitz

More Light! More Light!
Composed in the Tower before his execution
These moving verses, and being brought at that time
Painfully to the stake, submitted, declaring thus:
“I implore my God to witness that I have made no crime.”

Nor was he forsaken of courage, but the death was horrible,
The sack of gunpowder failing to ignite.
His legs were blistered sticks on which the black sap
Bubbled and burst as he howled for the Kindly Light.

And that was but one, and by no means one of the worst;
Permitted at least his pitiful dignity;
And such as were by made prayers in the name of Christ,
That shall judge all men, for his soul’s tranquillity.

We move now to ouside a German wood.
Three men are there commanded to dig a hole
In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down
And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole.

Not light from the shrine at Weimar beyond the hill
Nor light from heaven appeared. But he did refuse.
A Lüger settled back deeply in its glove.
He was ordered to change places with the Jews.

Much casual death had drained away their souls.
The thick dirt mounted toward the quivering chin.
When only the head was exposed the order came
To dig him out again and to get back in.

No light, no light in the blue Polish eye.
When he finished a riding book packed down the earth.
The Lüger hovered lightly in its glove.
He was shot in the belly and in three hours bled to death.

No prayers or incense rose up in those hours
Which grew to be years, and every day came mute
Ghosts from the ovens, sifting through crisp air,
And settled upon his eyes in a black soot.
(Anthony Hecht)

in a way
“to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (T.W. Adorno)

yet
“surrender to silence would be a surrender to cynicism, and thus by implication a concession to the forces that had created Auschwitz in the first place” (H. M. Enzensberger)

hence
“Art, in a sense, is a revolt against everything fleeting and unfinished in the world. Consequently, its only aim is to give another form to a reality that it is nevertheless forced to preserve as the source of its emotion. In this regard we are all realistic, and no one is.” (A. Camus)

Sources:
Langer L.L. (1975), The Holocaust and the literary Imagination, New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 1-5.


The Romantics (II)

P.B. Shelley is a poet of the 2nd generation of the Romantic Period (he’s my favorite – of the Romantic canon).

Ode to the West Wind
by P.B. Shelley (1819)

I
Oh wild west wind, thou breath of autumn’s being;
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes; oh thou
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill

Wild spirit, which art moving everywhere,
Destroyer and preserver, hear, oh hear!

II
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,

Angels of rain and lightening; there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizin to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst – oh hear!

III
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumic isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old places and towers
Quivring within the wave’s intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers

Cleaves themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves – oh hear!

IV
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, oh uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skyey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee – tameless, and swift, and proud.

V
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaved to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an uneytinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of prophecy! Oh wind,
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Close Reading
Formal Reading
The poem is an apostrophe to the West Wind and written as an Ode. It has 5 parts, which are devided into 4 tercets (terca rima) followed by a concluding couplet. It has an iambic pentameter structure although there is usually one additional syllable (stressed or unstressed) to effect the pace of the poem in an unusual way. The rhyme scheme (ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, FF) is steady throughout the whole poem. Shelley uses run-on lines and a similar punctuation as in a prose text. The first three parts end with the phrase “oh hear” which indicates that they belong formally together. In the last two parts the themes change from the description of the powers of nature to an analysis of the role of the poet and his poetry.

Imagery
Shelley, in contrast to Wordsworth, is fascinated by nature as a phenomenon that is able to change and is in flux. Therefore, his subject is the wind rather than a picturesque landscape.
Shelley uses a metaphorical diction with different forms of figurative language. Similis such as “buds like flocks to feed in air” link the poem to worldy pastoral imagery and point to the divinity of nature.
Nevertheless, Shelley is also working with contradictions. The West Wind is “yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red”. This can be read as an allusion to Blake for whom contrast is a difining characteristic.
The two last stanzas refer to Shelley’s Defence of Poetry where he states that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislator of the world”. Poets create through the sources of their imagination poetry that has the ability to change and effect its readership. Like the West Wind, which will be followed by his “azure sister of the spring”, the words of the poet are able to initiate a rebirth among mankind. This is emphasized through the biblical allusion to “the trumpet of prophecy”...

One could also talk about:
syntax, tone, metonyms,...


Poetry of the Thirties

Thoughts During an Air Raid
Stephen Spender (1939)

Of course, the entire effort is to put myself
Outside the ordinary range
Of what are called statistics. A hundred are killed
In the outer suburbs. Well,well, I carry on.
So long as the great ‘I’ is propped upon
This girdered bed which seems more like a hearse
In the hotel bedroom with flowering wallpaper
Which rings in wreathes above, I can ignore
The pressure of those names under my fingers
Heavy and black as I rustle the paper,
The wireless wail in the lounge margin.
Yet supposing that a bomb should dive
Its nose right through this bed, with me upon it?
The thought is obscene. Still, there are many
To whom my death would only be a name,
One figure in a column. The essential is
That all the ‘I’s should remain separate
Propped up under flowers, and no one suffer
For his neighbour. Then horror is postponed
For everyone until it settles on him
And drags him to that incommunicable grief
Which is all mystery or nothing.


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