“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.

Original text

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.