Find a Poem
March 3, 2004 7:25 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine wants to find a poem she remembers from high school. It includes/begins with the words "God is Dead... we have burned him in the ovens of Auschwitz" or something along those lines. It rings no bells with me and I've googled to no avail. Given my country's strenuous efforts to promote CanCon, this may well be a Canadian poem. Does anyone know the title or author of this poem?
posted by orange swan to Writing & Language (19 answers total)
There is a line from Sean Stewart's Resurrection Man, a very poetic fantasy novel, that goes, "God hissed through the vents at Auschwitz," but that's the closest thing I can think of.
posted by vraxoin at 7:59 AM on March 3, 2004

Do you have any other details--how long the poem was, was it in an anthology, etc? I should be able to find it for you.
posted by arco at 8:16 AM on March 3, 2004

Not a poem, but it's a book I had to read in high school. There is a line from Elie Wiesel's Night that goes something like:
Behind me I heard the same man asking: "Where is God now?" And I hear a voice within me answer him: "Were is he? Here He is - He is hanging here on this gallows. . . "
posted by FreezBoy at 8:24 AM on March 3, 2004

if the internet fails you, try asking a reference librarian. they're highly trained professionals, poised to handle just this sort of crisis!

(it sounds vaguely familiar to me, but i can't place it. you might try looking in: Eli Mandel, "Auschwitz: Poetry of Alienation," Canadian Literature 100 (1984) )
posted by crush-onastick at 8:45 AM on March 3, 2004

(in a sense, you have asked a librarian, as I work here!)
posted by arco at 8:49 AM on March 3, 2004

(in a sense, you have asked a librarian, as I work here!)

Wow. Cool job. But is it sometimes difficult to work with such emotionally charged subject matter day in and day out?
posted by vraxoin at 8:58 AM on March 3, 2004

But is it sometimes difficult to work with such emotionally charged subject matter day in and day out?

Yes and no. It does take a certain kind of fortitude to work around Nazi history and the Holocaust and not become consumed (by rage, sadness, despair) or overwhelmed by it. As a librarian, though, I'm trained to be as neutral as possible about the question at hand: a person needs a particular piece of information, or is trying to understand a concept, and my role is to help him or her navigate through this very difficult subject and use our remarkable library collection. That the question usually has to deal with unspeakable acts of cruelty is almost beside the point (though a certain amount of tact is necessary when dealing with many questions). Then, every once in a while, I'll come across a small piece of information--a picture, a quote, a statistic--that snaps into focus the magnitude and consequence of what I'm researching. Often these moments occur when I'm dealing with a question about children in the Holocaust.

That said, the job is extremely challenging and rewarding. Challenging because I'm helping some of the top scholars in the field (in addition to students, genealogists and the general public) navigate this remarkable collection. The rewarding moments are unlike anything I've experience in any other job. Recently I helped an elderly woman, a survivor of the Holocaust herself, identify where and when her father died in the extermination camps. I never fully understood the concept of "closure" until that moment.

I really feel as though I'm doing important work here.
posted by arco at 9:54 AM on March 3, 2004

May Sarton's "The Concentration Camps," reprinted (without permission?) on this page, seems similar.
posted by staggernation at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2004

wow, arco. i suppose it's tangental to the question, but wow. thanks for sharing.

when i lived in DC, i went through the museum at least once a year. it is a remarkable collection. and an amazing piece of architechture.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:48 AM on March 3, 2004

maybe someone in the forums or on the staff at will know...
posted by t r a c y at 11:50 AM on March 3, 2004

Hmmm. I don't recognise the line, but see if you can find a translation of Paul Celan, esp Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland. (Celan survived the camps but committed suicide after, having expressed the opinion that after Auschwitz, art was futile).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:54 PM on March 3, 2004

Found it.

I was thinking of Todesfuge.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:58 PM on March 3, 2004

Response by poster: I had found Todesfuge when I googled, but it doesn't sound like that's it (although when Celan wrote that he proved that art wasn't dead).

The poem by May Sarton came the closest and I've emailed it to my friend, and I've also asked her for more details. When she gets back to me I'll post again.

But thanks all - this thread has been worthwhile even though I don't think the answer has been found yet.
posted by orange swan at 6:04 PM on March 3, 2004

For some reason I had to hunt that quote down. It's actually Adorno who said "Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric". Apparently he publicly retracted this later, although I can't find a direct Google-able quote to that effect. The interesting bit is that supposedly it's Celan's Todesfuge that changed his mind.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:16 PM on March 3, 2004

is this it? (scroll to barbarians)
posted by amberglow at 7:56 PM on March 3, 2004

Response by poster: C. says that the poems I sent her were interesting, but none of them were the right ones. Here's what she remembers about the poem:

It wasn't that long. Only one "verse". I don't remember that it rhymed or had obvious metre. It was maybe 20 lines long. I have it in my head that it was written by a Canadian Jew but perhaps that is just because most of the poets that we were studying were Jewish.

I just remember that it was full of all sorts of old Testament references - sacrificial lamb etc.

posted by orange swan at 5:58 AM on March 4, 2004

Response by poster: Oh, and C. does think the poem might be by Eli Mandel.
posted by orange swan at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2004

I still have not had any luck with this, though I have learned that our collection of Holocaust poetry needs some attention. There are a lot of Holocaust-related poems, short stories and novels out there, some very good, many very bad. We have some of both kinds here, but nothing so far that matches your description, although I only went through anthologies and reviews of major poets.

It might be a poem by A.M. Klein, who was Canada's most well-known poet who wrote extensively about the Holocaust. Unfortunately we do not have any of his poetry books here at the Museum, though there are two compilations of his works out there (one from 1974, I believe, and the other from 1990). Your local public or university library may have copies, especially if you are in Canada. If you ask nicely a librarian there will probably check the "index of first lines" for you, if not scour the whole book.

I asked one of the scholars here at the Museum, and no particular poem or poet came to mind, though she did suggest Paul Celan (menioned above) and Nelly Sachs (specifically the poem "O the Chimneys") as possibilities. I searched our collection of Celan works and found nothing, and the poem by Sachs does not fit the description, either. This is not to say that neither of these writers produced a poem like this, only I found nothing in my initial search.

Another possibility is Leonard Cohen, who was a friend (of sorts) of A.M. Klein and had a strong vein of "God is dead" theology running through his works. See this article for an interesting discussion of this topic (search for "God is dead" in the article to find the particular section). Again, the book we have of Cohen's works (Flowers for Hitler) does not have a poem like the one you describe, though this is only one of his many books of poetry. Your local library can help you locate more, if you want to explore this possibility.

The suggestion above regarding posting to is a good one. Someone there might be familiar with a poem like that. The historian I spoke to earlier here also suggested contacting Dr. Sara Horowitz at York University, who is an expert on literature related to the Holocaust, particularly Canadian writers. If you would like me to follow up on this, let me know.

Good luck, and if I come across anything else I'll post it here!
posted by arco at 11:53 AM on March 4, 2004

Response by poster: Wow, thanks arco! You seem to have put a huge amount of work into this. The next time I'm at the library (sure to be within a week or so) I'll have a look for it. If I can find it I'll post it, or at least identify it.
posted by orange swan at 2:04 PM on March 4, 2004

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