Five poems from Poems from My Diary by Abraham Sutzkever

Memory of a Stroll With Marc Chagall

Memory of a stroll with Marc Chagall. A summer
radiating with color. Nature copying Chagall.
The air like blue grapes. We would so like a taste
as we descend the summer hill.

The same hand that created angels on this earth,
is on my shoulder now and the panorama turns tender.
He says: I hide from myself, from jealousy, from praise,
but I cannot hide from my mother and father.

The air like blue grapes. And behold: on a terrace
an old man in a wicker chair. And in the light and shadow
from beneath a garland he shapes with scissors
a little dove of undulating paper and delicate as pearl.

Chagall bows deeply, humbly: Matisse. And as if fearful
the little dove springs toward the sunset, gliding ever easier.
In his crown of red grapes the old man bows as well
and out fall the scissors from his rigid fingers.

The Bow is Already Tensed Inside Me

The bow is already tensed inside me. To send
my last arrows out over miles. Dark arrows.
At what and at whom are they aimed? There are no enemies, no friends,
and wiser than the worldly sages are the total fools.

My dark arrows, so longed for, will sooner or later
be embedded either in gods or in words.
And even if there is nothing except for nothing–they will
be embedded in nothing, or let’s say: in watermelons.

Praise them! A dark arrow will also, and I don’t jest,
finds its way into the heart of the angel of death,
if that being has a heart…. And a second or a third
will be shot into eternity and there exert its mastery.

To my reader: A stranger gave me the lines above
in dream in a world of seven suns.
And truthfully, because I wanted to see him a tiny bit closer,
he dissolved. Laughingly dissolved.

I Want to Simply Say…

I want to simply say: I love you. But how is it possible
to love someone who was born to disappear
and who has already—disappeared? How does one vanish without a stir?
Does a bright, baby dove never once stir within a blind man?

I want to simply say: I love you. I’m saying it. And you, legend,
are now, presently, as I am, and as you were here.
I could stab my fingers all over in surprise
drops of blood long for the needles of your tenderness.

Uttered, and no one can reduce this vision to ash,
A blessing on those three wonderful, blessed words.
They are like a summer rain and they wash clean, wash
through a burnt out cloud, fermenting with a new lightning flash.

A blessing on those three blessed words. I will say them
and say them again clearly in evenings and at dawns.
I could stab my fingers all over in surprise
drops of blood long for the needles of your tenderness.

A Hymn to the Unborn Poet of a Distant Tomorrow

A hymn to the unborn poet of a distant tomorrow.
Anointed, one and only poet in my incandescent imagination,
may you employ none of the old, usual words,
one of the great writers should be your storm. Write with lightning

just as he on parchment clouds! Make a vow:
You will not cease writing on the clouds so long
as my white dust lives, so I may float up toward them.
Make a sign: There is no death. We are both alive.

Anointed poet in incandescent imagination, millions
of skeletons are frozen within the earth and you–you are their milk and honey.
Have pity on the sons of men beneath tree and tower,
make a sign: One of the great writers is your storm.

Enough with diluting lamentation with tired tears,
it is enough to thread pearls for a throat which is no more,
enough to overturn small worlds with gold peacock feather pens:
A son of man wants to devour your lightning like a watermelon.

Of All Words I Envy Only One

Of all words I envy only one: The Hebrew yehi’,
“let there be.” Would the creator grant me a spark
of the word, the smallest trace of its strength, yehi’,
I would proclaim, let there be song, and it would be.

Let song be made from a rainbow’s vanishing end,
from a single ant, one lost in the desert,
from moonlit ivory born in the jungle,
from a human skull laughing at its own reflection.

Let a star become song, for no one leaves it at least
a wooden grave-marker, there where it falls.
A small face of grass in the aquarium giant and green,
a tiny golden ring, for its wife cannot see.

Yehi’, let there be a song, which until now has never been,
for the living and for these, whom men name “the dead.”
Yehi’, let there be joy, and joy would be and all would be joyful,
Yehi’, and for an instant suffering would grow hollow.


Abraham Sutzkever

Abraham Sutzkever was born in 1913 in modern-day Belarus, though he spent much of his childhood in Siberia, where his family fled during the First World War. They eventually returned and settled in Vilna (now known as Vilnius, Lithuania), where Sutzkever published his first books of poetry. Initially ridiculed for his rejection of politics in poetry and his embrace of lyricism, today Sutzkever is remembered as the “Partisan Poet” for his involvement in resistance activities within the Vilna Ghetto and the nearby forests during World War II, while continuing to write poetry. He viewed poetry as perhaps his greatest method of resistance and the tool of his survival. Following World War II, Sutzkever testified at the Nuremberg Trials and immigrated to Palestine illegally, just before the founding of the State of Israel. There, despite prejudice against the Yiddish language, he continued to write poetry prolifically and founded the Yiddish literary journal The Golden Chain. Abraham Sutzkever passed away in 2010 in Tel Aviv, at the age of 96.

Maia Evrona

Maia Evrona’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, New South, and other venues, while excerpts from her memoir on chronic illness have appeared in Harpur Palate, Blood and Thunder, and elsewhere. Her translations of poems from Abraham Sutzkever’s collection Poems from My Diary, some of which appeared in InTranslation in 2014, were awarded a Translation Fellowship from the NEA. Her website is 

לידער פֿון טאָגבוך. Copyright (c) Rina Sutzkever, 1977. English translation copyright (c) Maia Evrona, 2017.