'Poetry in Hell'
An excerpt from Shmuel Marvil's 'The Street' (circa 1943)
Translation from Yiddish by Sarah Traister Moskovitz
[The following, as explained in the translator’s note below, comes from a remarkable cache of manuscripts written and buried by Yiddish poets, many of whom were victims themselves of the Nazi-directed khurbn (= holocaust) of the mid-twentieth century. Stark and shattering in content and context, they raise, not for the first time, the necessity of a poetry of witness even or especially when the poem (“the poem supreme,” as Robert Creeley had it) is addressed to emptiness. Of the poem reprinted here, Sarah Traister Moskovitz writes: “This poem ‘The Street’ has thirty-seven stanzas. But from the last line on of stanza 34, which is missing, and appears to have been torn away, more parts of lines disappear until by the very last stanza [shown here], so little remains that the poem is gradually destroyed and made to disappear as was its author, Shmuel Marvil.” The complete cache of manuscripts, with English translations, can be found at poetryinhell.org, while the following excerpt is reprinted from an earlier posting in Poems and Poetics. (j.r.)]
from the street (sections 4–6) by Shmuel Marvil (1906–1943)
 I trembled and hardly could hold together,
on my bad feet already ruined by death,
I begin to shake, want to apologize,
Staring from walls all around are corpses’ eyes.
At night they all had died like dogs.
The icy cold took them away from their lives,
So for whom my apology?! — Tell me who should be first!
Maybe just curse our bitter time?!
And I did curse. Believe me I cursed,
myself and the people and even the streets,
and my aching heart growled like a lion,
a broken prayer to the sky, the sky.
A crow wandered in lost, black as time,
and walks with the strut of a demon no less,
walks over the corpses and looks them over,
and who can disturb her in this, oh who?!
In times past she’d watch the stalls of the butchers,
and in fright disappear on the roofs like smoke.
Today she strides freely around on dead people,
and pecks at their bodies — makes big gaping holes.
She gorges on meat of human bodies,
and walks with the steps of a devil no less,
stepping on bodies, befouling them.
And who can disturb her in this, oh who?!
 Often one encounters a chunk that is frozen,
covered and swaddled in ice and in snow,
nearby a dog, frightened and scrawny,
tears at the meat and eagerly licks.
You recognize the hand, the foot of a person,
that has been lying long and forgotten,
and there is not enough left for burial,
so the dog can freely tear and feed.
The wailing wind roused me from bed
at dawn of one of these terrible days
A look and a sigh, a blow to my heart —
a child in mid street lay dead.
Like a holy offering he laid himself down,
people look on at this and reflect,
— not the first, not the last, — someone mumbles, who?
a scream and a cry in bleak twilight:
Who knows whose this is there? Who gave birth to it?
for whom too soon sacrificed from this world?!
No mother, no father, no one comes to claim it,
just simply abandoned to death!
And here something tore me away from it all
A man, stark naked running out in the snow
trembling with fever, shaking with cold
teeth rattling and shouting!
 And how can you help him? One can only sigh,
when you too are as a tree that’s been stripped?
And soon there comes toward you a Jew!
and looks at you with a tear of death!
His eye light has vanished and so has his strength.
His bones are wrapped only in rags,
soon he will fall, in just minutes,
and vanish forever with the sound of his fall!
So rise these pictures before my eyes,
Gruesome abandonment suffering pain,
And we go around spinning in horror,
pushed and crushed by them in the time that remains!
So don’t torture me poem, I’ve had enough
Why submerge under blood anew?
See how clear the days are, the nights
Let me still sing how
And you my song be my
Remember how we once
Let my singing
of pale moon
and become of
So is when
[Translator’s note: Poetry in Hell is a website dedicated to the poets, both in the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere, whose poetry, under the leadership of Emanuel Ringelblum, was secretly collected by the members of the “Oneg Shabbat Society” and preserved in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation. The efforts of the Oneg Shabbat Society were to document life in the ghetto for future generations. The poetry in this website was found postwar, buried in milk cans, and photographed onto microfiche by the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland in conjunction with support from the United States Holocaust Museum. I am grateful to both of these institutions for making these documents and the microfiche available to me for translation to English.
Shmuel Marvil (1906–1943) was born in countryside near Warsaw. After study in a yeshiva, he worked in sales in Warsaw. He debuted in the journal Unzer Hofnung (“Our Hope”), with a play in four acts published in installments called Libe (“Love”). He published in book form Trern in der Nakht (“Tears in the Night”), Warsaw 1937, Keynig Shaul (“King Saul”), 1939. The poems Lid Tsu di Hern (“Song to the Gentlemen”) and Di Gas (“The Street”) that were unearthed in the Ringelblum Archives are eyewitness accounts, in poetry, of his Warsaw Ghetto experience. Exact place of death by the Nazis is unknown. He was 37.]
Poems and poetics