“I was liberating Ukraine”: a translation
The following is my translation of Boris Slutsky’s post-Holocaust poem “I was liberating Ukraine”. The poem was not dated but, given the context and content, was likely written in 1948.
I was liberating Ukraine,
Walked through [its] Jewish villages.
Yiddish, their language, is long since a ruin.
It died out and for about three years has seemed ancient.
No, it didn’t die out — it was cut out and burnt out.
Clearly they were too sharp-tongued.
Everyone died, and no one survived
Only their dawns and dusks
In their verses, some sweet, some bitter,
Some burning, blazing with bitterness,
In the past, perhaps, too prickly,
In the present —actual.
Described by Markish and Hofshtein,
Thoroughly sought for by Bergel’son
This world, which even by Einstein
Is incapable of being re–attached to life.
But neither like a seed, nor like chaff,
But like black ash it is scattered,
So that any word would rise a hundred times more
There, where ruins stand gaping.
For around three years how ancient, how antique
That language, like a person, was killed.
For around three years we’ve been poking fingers into the books
Into the alphabet, like cunieform, forgotten.