Primo Levi, “25 February 1944”

25 February 1944 (tr. Ruth Feldman & Brian Swann)
Primo Levi

I would like to believe in something,
Something beyond the death that undid you.
I would like to describe the intensity
With which, already overwhelmed,
We longed in those days to be able
To walk together once again
Free beneath the sun.

Comment:

– Nothing in particular: Thinking about someone. I learned nothing from her. Many times, conversation was forced and painful. She had little in common with me and was unable to open up. But she was pleasant to be with and exuded a sort of graciousness. It was difficult to say goodbye. –

This is a love poem haunted by the Holocaust. It is haunted by a duality where death is life and life is death. To believe in something is to describe an intensity. Of course lover and beloved are overwhelmed by what they are experiencing in a death camp. But to walk together once again free is a particular wish. “We longed” points at something curious: at any given point, one or the other might not be there or may not have been there because of choice. What exactly is overwhelming in the wish is the tragedy. Life could be so much better if there were normalcy. The strength of love is its delicacy.

Not dying – not even living – but yearning for life.

2 Comments

  1. Wow! That’s beautiful and yet so sad. What a paradox that is: the concept of love and the Holocaust.

    I suppose not even the greatest evil the world has ever known is powerful enough to stop love where love is present.

  2. primo levi is always contrasting in his poems (due to his experiences). I remember that I felt frustrated when I studied him at school.

    Nice to read in your comments what daily thoughts bring you to these poems :)

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