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THE RUIN in a Modern English Translation

"The Ruin" is one of the great poems of English antiquity. This modern English translation of one of the very best Old English/Anglo-Saxon poems is followed by footnotes, a summary and analysis, a discussion of the theme, and the translator's comments.


THE RUIN
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

well-hewn was this wall-stone, till Wyrdes wrecked it
and the Colossus sagged inward ...

broad battlements broken;
the Builders' work battered;

the high ramparts toppled;
tall towers collapsed;

the great roof-beams shattered;
gates groaning, agape ...

mortar mottled and marred by scarring ****-frosts ...
the Giants’ dauntless strongholds decaying with age ...

shattered, the shieldwalls,
the turrets in tatters ...

where now are those mighty Masons, those Wielders and Wrights,
those Samson-like Stonesmiths?

the grasp of the earth, the firm grip of the ground
holds fast those fearless Fathers
men might have forgotten
except that this slow-rotting siege-wall still stands
after countless generations!

for always this edifice, grey-lichened, blood-stained,
stands facing fierce storms with their wild-whipping winds
because those master Builders bound its wall-base together
so cunningly with iron!

it outlasted mighty kings and their claims!

how high rose those regal rooftops!
how kingly their castle-keeps!
how homely their homesteads!
how boisterous their bath-houses and their merry mead-halls!
how heavenward flew their high-flung pinnacles!
how tremendous the tumult of those famous War-Wagers ...
till mighty Fate overturned it all, and with it, them.

then the wide walls fell;
then the bulwarks were broken;
then the dark days of disease descended ...

as death swept the battlements of brave Brawlers;
as their palaces became waste places;
as ruin rained down on their grand Acropolis;
as their great cities and castles collapsed
while those who might have rebuilt them lay gelded in the ground:
those marvelous Men, those mighty master Builders!

therefore these once-decorous courts court decay;
therefore these once-lofty gates gape open;
therefore these roofs' curved arches lie stripped of their shingles;
therefore these streets have sunk into ruin and corroded rubble ...

when in times past light-hearted Titans flushed with wine
strode strutting in gleaming armor, adorned with splendid ladies’ favors,
through this brilliant city of the audacious famous Builders
to compete for bright treasure: gold, silver, amber, gemstones.

here the cobblestoned courts clattered;
here the streams gushed forth their abundant waters;
here the baths steamed, hot at their fiery hearts;
here this wondrous wall embraced it all, with its broad *****.

... that was spacious ...



Footnotes and Translator's Comments
by Michael R. Burch

Summary

"The Ruin" is an ancient Anglo-Saxon poem. It appears in the Exeter Book, which has been dated to around 960-990 AD. However, the poem may be older than the manuscript, since many ancient poems were passed down ****** for generations before being written down. The poem is an elegy or lament for the works of "mighty men" of the past that have fallen into disrepair and ruins. Ironically, the poem itself was found in a state of ruin. There are holes in the vellum upon which it was written. It appears that a brand or poker was laid to rest on the venerable book. It is believed the Exeter Book was also used as a cutting board and beer mat. Indeed, we are lucky to have as much of the poem as we do.

Author

The author is an unknown Anglo-Saxon scop (poet).

Genre

"The Ruin" may be classified as an elegy, eulogy, dirge and/or lament, depending on how one interprets it.

Theme

The poem's theme is one common to Anglo-Saxon poetry and literature: that man and his works cannot escape the hands of wyrde (fate), time and death. Thus men can only face the inevitable with courage, resolve, fortitude and resignation. Having visited Bath myself, I can easily understand how the scop who wrote the poem felt, and why, if I am interpreting the poem correctly.

Plot

The plot of "The Ruin" seems rather simple and straightforward: Things fall apart. The author of the poem blames Fate for the destruction he sees. The builders are described as "giants."

Techniques

"The Ruin" is an alliterative poem; it uses alliteration rather than meter and rhyme to "create a flow" of words. This was typical of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

History

When the Romans pulled their legions out of Britain around 400 BC, primarily because they faced increasing threats at home, they left behind a number of immense stone works, including Hadrian's Wall, various roads and bridges, and cities like Bath. Bath, known to the Romans as Aquae Sulis, is the only English city fed by hot springs, so it seems likely that the city in question is Bath. Another theory is that the poem refers to Hadrian's Wall and the baths mentioned were heated artificially. The Saxons, who replaced the Romans as rulers of most of Britain, used stone only for churches and their churches were small. So it seems safe to say that the ruins in question were created by Roman builders.

Interpretation

My personal interpretation of the poem is that the poet is simultaneously impressed by the magnificence of the works he is viewing, and discouraged that even the works of the mighty men of the past have fallen to ruin.

Analysis of Characters and References

There are no characters, per se, only an anonymous speaker describing the ruins and the men he imagines to have built things that have survived so long despite battles and the elements.

Related Poems

Other Anglo-Saxon/Old English poems: The Ruin, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife's Lament, Deor's Lament, Caedmon's Hymn, Bede's Death Song, The Seafarer, Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings

Keywords/Tags: Anglo-Saxon, Old English, England, translation, elegy, lament, lamentation, Bath, Roman, giant, giants, medieval, builders, ruin, ruins, wall, walls, fate, mrbtr
sunrat May 13
With one foot in and one foot out the door
I'm always one to keep another waiting.
Now the coffee's cold and I'm left contemplating
if anything at all's worth waiting for.

Why let this moment drown in expectation?
Now is not the time and we both know
to ask for any sort of explanation
is to ask for more than you or I would owe.

Half past one my foolish heart still races
every time the entry doorbell chimes.
This city, home to seven million faces,
could disappoint me seven million times.
This is a loose translation of Mascha Kaléko's 1933 poem "Auf einem Café-Tisch gekritzelt" in the German.
Kitten Yvad Apr 13
I HAVE COME to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect. I am standing here as a Black lesbian poet, and the meaning of all that waits upon the fact that I am still alive, and might not have been. Less than two months ago I was told by two doctors, one female and one male, that I would have to have breast surgery, and that there was a 60 to 80 percent chance that the tumor was malignant. Between that telling and the actual surgery, there was a three-week period of the agony of an involuntary reorganization of my entire life. The surgery was completed, and the growth was benign.



¶ 3
But within those three weeks, I was forced to look upon myself and my living with a harsh and urgent clarity that has left me still shaken but much stronger. This is a situation faced by many women, by some of you here today. Some of what I ex-perienced during that time has helped elucidate for me much of what I feel concerning the transformation of silence into language and action.




¶ 4
In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I be-lieved could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.




¶ 5
I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. And it was the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and enabled me to scrutinize the essentials of my living.

¶ 6L
The women who sustained me through that period were Black and white, old and young, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual, and we all shared a war against the tyrannies of silence. They all gave me a strength and concern without which I could not have survived intact. Within those weeks of acute fear came the knowledge – within the war we are all waging with the forces of death, subtle and otherwise, conscious or not – I am not only a casualty, I am also a warrior.







¶ 7
What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself – a Black woman warrior poet doing my work – come to ask you, are you doing yours?






¶ 8
And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.”







¶ 9
In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear – fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live. Within this country where racial difference creates a constant, if unspoken, distortion of vision, Black women have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism. Even within the women’s movement, we have had to fight, and still do, for that very visibility which also renders us most vulnerable, our Blackness. For to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call america, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson – that we were never meant to survive. Not as human beings. And neither were most of you here today, Black or not. And that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.






¶ 10
In my house this year we are celebrating the feast of K wanza, the African-american festival of harvest which begins the day after Christmas and lasts for seven days. There are seven principles of Kwanza, one for each day. The first principle is Umoja, which means unity, the decision to strive for and maintain uni-ty in self and community. The principle for yesterday, the sec-ond day, was Kujichagulia – self-determination – the decision to define ourselves, name ourselves, and speak for ourselves, in-stead of being defined and spoken for by others. Today is the third day of K wanza, and the principle for today is Ujima – col-lective work and responsibility – the decision to build and maintain ourselves and our communities together and to recognize and solve our problems together.







¶ 11
Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a commitment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognize her role as vital within that transformation.
For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth.




¶ 12
And it is never without fear – of visibility, of the harsh light of scrutiny and perhaps judgment, of pain, of death. But we have lived through all of those already, in silence, except death.





¶ 13
And I remind myself all the time now that ifI were to have been born mute, or had maintained an oath of silence my whole life long for safety, I would still have suffered, and I would still die. It is very good for establishing perspective.




¶ 14
And where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives. That we not hide behind the mockeries of separations that have been imposed upon us and which so often we accept as our own. For instance, “I can’t possibly teach Black women’s writing – their experience is so different from mine.” Yet how many years have you spent teaching Plato and Shakespeare and Proust? Or another, “She’s a white woman and what could she possibly have to say to me?” Or, “She’s a lesbian, what would my husband say, or my chairman?” Or again, “This woman writes of her sons and I have no children.” And all the other endless ways in which we rob ourselves of ourselves and each other.






¶ 15
We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.
The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an at-tempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.
this isn't on Audre Lorde's HelloPoetry page, and it's not poetry, but it certainly is. This was the 3rd speech I recalled in full from memory in my Public Speaking 101 class, my second semester back at school ...

and I just remember shivering as I read the words Black and Lesbian. I remember shivering trying to imagine working well tired or afraid... but I was working while tired and afraid. Since then her  words have inspired me


to try to find all the words I do not have. And considering the number of apparently non linguistic  thoughts I have; there are so so so so many to find.
MICHELANGELO: Modern English Translations

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is considered by many experts to be the greatest artist and sculptor of all time. These are modern English translations of his poems and epigrams by Michael R. Burch.



SONNET: RAVISHED
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Ravished, by all our eyes find fine and fair,
yet starved for virtues pure hearts might confess,
my soul can find no Jacobean stair
that leads to heaven, save earth's loveliness.
The stars above emit such rapturous light
our longing hearts ascend on beams of Love
and seek, indeed, Love at its utmost height.
But where on earth does Love suffice to move
a gentle heart, or ever leave it wise,
save for beauty itself and the starlight in her eyes?



SONNET: TO LUIGI DEL RICCIO, AFTER THE DEATH OF CECCHINO BRACCI
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A pena prima.

I had barely seen the beauty of his eyes
Which unto yours were life itself, and light,
When he closed them fast in death's eternal night
To reopen them on God, in Paradise.

In my tardiness, I wept, too late made wise,
Yet the fault not mine: for death's disgusting ploy
Had robbed me of that deep, unfathomable joy
Which in your loving memory never dies.

Therefore, Luigi, since the task is mine
To make our unique friend smile on in stone
Forever, brightening what dark earth would dim,
And because the beloved causes love to shine,

And since the artist cannot work alone,
I must carve you, to tell the world of him!


SONNET: BEAUTY AND THE ARTIST
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Al cor di zolfo.

A heart aflame; alas, the flesh not so;
Bones brittle wood; the soul without a guide
To curb the will’s inferno; the crude pride
Of restless passions’ pulsing surge and flow;
A witless mind that ? halt, lame, weak ? must go
Blind through entrapments scattered far and wide; ...
Why wonder then, when one small spark applied
To such an assemblage renders it aglow?

Add beauteous Art, which, Heaven-Promethean,
Must exceed nature ? so divine a power
Belongs to the one who strives with every nerve.
Created for such Art, from childhood given
As prey for her wild Inferno to devour,
I blame the Mistress I was born to serve.



SONNET XVI: LOVE AND ART
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sì come nella penna.

Just as with pen and ink,
there is a high, a low, and an in-between style;
and, as marble yields its images pure and vile
to excite the fancies artificers might think;
even so, my lord, lodged deep within your heart
are mingled pride and mild humility;
but I draw only what I truly see
when I trust my eyes and otherwise stand apart.

Whoever sows the seeds of tears and sighs
(bright dews that fall from heaven, crystal-clear)
in various pools collects antiquities
and so must reap old griefs through misty eyes;
while the one who dwells on beauty, so painful here,
finds ephemeral hopes and certain miseries.



SONNET XXXI: LOVE'S LORDSHIP, TO TOMMASO DE' CAVALIERI
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A che più debb' io.

Why should I confess my desire
with copious tears and windy words of grief,
when a merciless heaven offers no relief
to souls consumed by fire?
Why should my aching heart aspire
to death, when all must die? Beyond belief
would be a death both delectable and brief,
since in my compound woes all joys expire!

Therefore, because I cannot dodge the blow,
I rather seek whoever rules my breast,
to glide between her gladness and my woe.
If only chains and bonds can make me blessed,
no marvel if alone and bare I go
to face the foe: her captive slave oppressed.



Michelangelo Epigram Translations
loose translations/interpretations by Michael R. Burch

I saw the angel in the marble and freed him.
I hewed away the coarse walls imprisoning the lovely apparition.
Each stone contains a statue; it is the sculptor’s task to release it.
The danger is not aiming too high and missing, but aiming too low and hitting the mark.
Our greatness is only bounded by our horizons.
Be at peace, for God did not create us to abandon us.
God grant that I always desire more than my capabilities.
My soul’s staircase to heaven is earth’s loveliness.
I live and love by God’s peculiar light.
Trifles create perfection, yet perfection is no trifle.
Genius is infinitely patient, and infinitely painstaking.
I have never found salvation in nature; rather I love cities.
He who follows will never surpass.
Beauty is what lies beneath superfluities.
I criticize via creation, not by fault-finding.
If you knew how hard I worked, you wouldn’t call it “genius.”

Keywords/Tags: Michelangelo, Italian sonnet, sonnet, sonnets, epigram, epigrams, epitaph, translation, translations, English, love, affinity and love, love and art, beauty, art, artistic work, light
THE MUSE by Anna Akhmatova

This is my English translation of an epigram by Anna Akhmatova …

The MUSE
by Anna Akhmatova
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My being hangs by a thread tonight
as I await a Muse no human pen can command.
The desires of my heart — youth, liberty, glory —
now depend on the Maid with the flute in her hand.

Look! Now she arrives; she flings back her veil;
I meet her grave eyes — calm, implacable, pitiless.
“Temptress, confess!
Are you the one who gave Dante hell?”

She answers, “Yes.”



I have also translated this tribute poem written by Marina Tsvetaeva for Anna Akhmatova:

Excerpt from “Poems for Akhmatova”
by Marina Tsvetaeva
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You outshine everything, even the sun
at its zenith. The stars are yours!
If only I could sweep like the wind
through some unbarred door,
gratefully, to where you are...

to hesitantly stammer, suddenly shy,
lowering my eyes before you, my lovely mistress,
petulant, chastened, overcome by tears,
as a child sobs to receive forgiveness...


Keywords/Tags: Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Russia, Russian, translation, Muse, sun, stars, poems, poetry, poets, writing, mrbtran
B E Cults Jan 31
attenuation,
all still nameless and beautiful,
his eyes were open;
the lamp and the shadows.

"departure from the night"
he said endlessly from below
the dark demanding
forgiveness anyway.

the boy in his bones
screams of ravens
on a scarecrow in a
snow-covered corn field.

past time.

the man in his head kneels,
always kneels.
Jason Jan 25
Words pour from my heart
Staining the page crimson
Shaking hand spatters ink
Pens azure life-blood leaking
Rhythmic refuge reverie
Beatboxed spittle
Tears accompany
Washing ink-blood
Into drumstick-pen dents
Petite purple puddles
Small seas of sadness
Storm-tossed soul
A sailor searching
Three-ring horizons
For spiral-bound cyclones
© 01/25/21 Jason R. Michie All Rights Reserved

Writing, like music, is a refuge to me. Writing is the only means I posses of giving physical form to the constant storm inside me. The act of translation from soul/heart/mind to written word can heal and destroy. Indeed, one might think one must be destroyed in order to be created anew. Scars support this theory.
Holocaust Poem Translations

Speechless at Auschwitz
by Ko Un
translation by Michael R. Burch

At Auschwitz
piles of glasses
mountains of shoes
returning, we stared out different windows.

Published by Brief Poems

Original text:

Ad Auschwitz
pile di occhiali
montagne di scarpe
sulla via del ritorno
ognuno fissava fuori dal finestrino in direzione diversa.

(da Fiori di un istante, 2001)

Keywords/Tags: Ko Un, Holocaust, translation, speechless, Auschwitz, glasses, shoes, windows, silent, tongue-tied, wordless, mrbholo



Primo Levi Holocaust Poem Translations

Shema
by Primo Levi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You who live secure
in your comfortable homes,
who return each evening to find
warm food and welcoming faces...

Consider: is this a 'man'
who slogs through the mud,
who knows no peace,
who fights for crusts of bread,
who dies at another man's whim,
at his 'yes' or his 'no.'

Consider: is this is a 'woman'
bald and bereft of a name
because she lacks the strength to remember,
her eyes as void and her womb as frigid
as a winter frog's.

Consider that such horrors have indeed been!

I commend these words to you.
Engrave them in your hearts
when you lounge in your beds
and again when you rise,
when you venture outside.
Repeat them to your children,
or may your houses crumble
and disease render you helpless
so that even your offspring avert their eyes.



Buna
by Primo Levi
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Mangled feet, cursed earth,
the long interminable line in the gray morning
as Buna smokes corpses through industrious chimneys...

Another gray day like every other day awaits us.

The terrible whistle shrilly announces dawn:
'Rise, wretched multitudes, with your lifeless faces,
welcome the monotonous hell of the mud...
another day's suffering has begun! '

Weary companion, I know you well.

I see your dead eyes, my disconsolate friend.
In your breast you bear the burden of cold, deprivation, emptiness.
Life long ago broke what remained of the courage within you.

Colorless one, you once were a real man;
a considerable woman once accompanied you.

But now, my invisible companion, you lack even a name.
So forsaken, you are unable to weep.
So poor in spirit, you can no longer grieve.
So tired, your flesh can no longer shiver with fear...

My once-strong man, now spent,
were we to meet again
in some other world, beneath some sunnier sun,
with what unfamiliar faces would we recognize each other?

Note: Buna was the largest Auschwitz sub-camp, with around 40,000 'workers' who had been enslaved by the Nazis. Primo Levi called the Jews of Buna the 'slaves of slaves' because the other slaves outranked them.



Frantisek “Franta” Bass was a Jewish boy born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1930. When he was just eleven years old, his family was deported by the Nazis to Terezin, where the SS had created a hybrid Ghetto/Concentration Camp just north of Prague (it was also known as Theresienstadt). Franta was one of many little boys and girls who lived there under terrible conditions for three years. He was then sent to Auschwitz, where on October 28th, 1944, he was murdered at age fourteen.

The Garden
by Franta Bass
translation by Michael R. Burch

A small garden,
so fragrant and full of roses!
The path the little boy takes
is guarded by thorns.

A small boy, a sweet boy,
growing like those budding blossoms!
But when the blossoms have bloomed,
the boy will be no more.



Jewish Forever
by Franta Bass
translation by Michael R. Burch

I am a Jew and always will be, forever!
Even if I should starve,
I will never submit!

But I will always fight for my people,
with my honor,
to their credit!

And I will never be ashamed of them;
this is my vow.
I am so very proud of my people now!

How dignified they are, in their grief!
And though I may die, oppressed,
still I will always return to life ...



Ber Horowitz Holocaust Poetry Translations

Der Himmel
'The Heavens'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

These skies
are leaden, heavy, gray...
I long for a pair
of deep blue eyes.

The birds have fled
far overseas;
Tomorrow I'll migrate too,
I said...

These gloomy autumn days
it rains and rains.
Woe to the bird
Who remains...



Doctorn
'Doctors'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Early this morning I bandaged
the lilac tree outside my house;
I took thin branches that had broken away
and patched their wounds with clay.

My mother stood there watering
her window-level flower bed;
The morning sun, quite motherly,
kissed us both on our heads!

What a joy, my child, to heal!
Finished doctoring, or not?
The eggs are nicely poached
And the milk's a-boil in the ***.



Broit
'Bread'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Night. Exhaustion. Heavy stillness. Why?
On the hard uncomfortable floor the exhausted people lie.

Flung everywhere, scattered over the broken theater floor,
the exhausted people sleep. Night. Late. Too tired to snore.

At midnight a little boy cries wildly into the gloom:
'Mommy, I'm afraid! Let's go home! '

His mother, reawakened into this frightful place,
presses her frightened child even closer to her breast …

'If you cry, I'll leave you here, all alone!
A little boy must sleep... this, now, is our new home.'

Night. Exhaustion. Heavy stillness all around,
exhausted people sleeping on the hard ground.



'My Lament'
by Ber Horvitz
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Nothingness enveloped me
as tender green toadstools
lie blanketed by snow
with its thick, heavy prayer shawl …
After that, nothing could hurt me …



Wladyslaw Szlengel Holocaust Poem Translation

Excerpts from 'A Page from the Deportation Diary'
by Wladyslaw Szlengel
translation by Michael R. Burch

I saw Janusz Korczak walking today,
leading the children, at the head of the line.
They were dressed in their best clothes—immaculate, if gray.
Some say the weather wasn't dismal, but fine.

They were in their best jumpers and laughing (not loud) ,
but if they'd been soiled, tell me—who could complain?
They walked like calm heroes through the haunted crowd,
five by five, in a whipping rain.

The pallid, the trembling, watched high overhead,
through barely cracked windows—pale, transfixed with dread.

And now and then, from the high, tolling bell
a strange moan escaped, like a sea gull's torn cry.
Their 'superiors' looked on, their eyes hard as stone.
So let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

Footfall... then silence... the cadence of feet...
O, who can console them, their last mile so drear?
The church bells peal on, over shocked Leszno Street.
Will Jesus Christ save them? The high bells career.

No, God will not save them. Nor you, friend, nor I.
But let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

No one will offer the price of their freedom.
No one will proffer a single word.
His eyes hard as gavels, the silent policeman
agrees with the priest and his terrible Lord:
'Give them the Sword! '

At the town square there is no intervention.
No one tugs Schmerling's sleeve. No one cries
'Rescue the children! ' The air, thick with tension,
reeks with the odor of *****, and lies.

How calmly he walks, with a child in each arm:
Gut Doktor Korczak, please keep them from harm!

A fool rushes up with a reprieve in hand:
'Look Janusz Korczak—please look, you've been spared! '
No use for that. One resolute man,
uncomprehending that no one else cared
enough to defend them,
his choice is to end with them.



Ninety-Three Daughters of Israel
a Holocaust poem by Chaya Feldman
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

We washed our bodies
and cleansed ourselves;
we purified our souls
and became clean.

Death does not terrify us;
we are ready to confront him.

While alive we served God
and now we can best serve our people
by refusing to be taken prisoner.

We have made a covenant of the heart,
all ninety-three of us;
together we lived and learned,
and now together we choose to depart.

The hour is upon us
as I write these words;
there is barely enough time to transcribe this prayer...

Brethren, wherever you may be,
honor the Torah we lived by
and the Psalms we loved.

Read them for us, as well as for yourselves,
and someday when the Beast
has devoured his last prey,
we hope someone will say Kaddish for us:
we ninety-three daughters of Israel.

Amen

In 1943 Meir Shenkolevsky, the secretary of the world Bais Yaakov movement and a member of the Central Committee of Agudas Israel in New York, received a letter from Chaya Feldman: 'I don't know when you will get this letter and if you still will remember me. When this letter arrives, I will no longer be alive. In a few hours, everything will be past. We are here in four rooms,93 girls ages 14 to 22, all of us Bais Yaakov teachers. On July 27, Gestapo agents came, took us out of our apartment and threw us into a dark room. We only have water to drink. The younger girls are very frightened, but I comfort them that in a short while, we will be together with our mother Sara [Sara Shnirer, the founder of the Bais Yaakov Seminary]. Yesterday they took us out, washed us and took all our clothes. They left us only shirts and said that today, German soldiers will come to visit us. We all swore to ourselves that we will die together. The Germans don't know that the bath they gave us was the immersion before our deaths: we all prepared poison. When the soldiers come, we will drink the poison. We are all saying Viduy throughout the day. We are not afraid of anything. We only have one request from you: Say Kaddish for 93 bnos Yisroel! Soon we will be with our mother Sara. Signed, Chaya Feldman from Cracow.'



Miryam Ulinover Holocaust Poetry Translations

Girl Without Soap
by Miryam Ulinover
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

As I sat so desolate,
threadbare with poverty,
the inspiration came to me
to make a song of my need!

My blouse is heavy with worries,
so now it's time to wash:
the weave's become dull yellow
close to my breast.

It wrings my brain with old worries
and presses it down like a canker.
If only some kind storekeeper
would give me detergent on credit!

But no, he did not give it!
Instead, he was stiffer than starch!
Despite my dark, beautiful eyes
he remained aloof and arch.

I am estranged from fresh white wash;
my laundry's gone gray with old dirt;
but my body still longs to sing the song
of a clean and fresh white shirt.



Meydl on Kam
Girl Without Comb
by Miryam Ullinover
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The note preceding the poem:
'Sitting where the night makes its nest
are my songs like boarders, awaiting flight's quests.'

The teeth of the comb are broken
A comb is necessary―more necessary than bread.
O, who will come to comb my braid,
or empty the gray space occupying my head?

Note: the second verse of 'Meydl on Kam' is mostly unreadable and the last two lines are missing.
After that, nothing could hurt me …



Yitzkhak Viner Holocaust Poem Translations

Let it be Quiet in my Room!
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Let it be quiet in my room!
Let me hear the birds outside singing,
And let their innocent trilling
Lull away my heart's interior gloom…

Listen, outside, drayman's horse and cart,
If you scare the birds away,
You will wake me from my dream-play
And wring the last drop of joy from my heart…

Don't cough mother! Father, no words!
It'd be a shame to spoil the calm
And silence the sweet-sounding balm
of the well-fed little birds…

Hush, little sisters and brothers! Be strong!
Don't weep and cry for drink and food;
Try to remember in silence the good.
Please do not disturb my weaving of songs…



My Childhood
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

In the years of my childhood, in Balut's yards,
Living with my parents in an impoverished day,
I remember my hunger; with my friends I would play
And bake loaves of bread out of muddy clay…

By baking mud-breads, we dreamed away hunger:
the closest and worst of the visitors kids know;
so passed the summer's heat through the gutters,
so winters passed with their freezing snow.

Outside today all is gray, sunk in snow,
Though the roofs and the gate are silvered and white.
I lie on a bed warmed now only by rags
and look through grim windows brightened by ice.

Father left early to try to find work;
In an unlit room I and my mother stay.
It's cold, we're hungry, we have nothing to eat:
How I lust to bake one tiny bread-loaf of clay…

Balut (Baluty)   was a poor Jewish suburb of Lodz, Poland which became a segregated ghetto under the Nazis.



It Is Good to Have Two Eyes
by Yitzkhak Viner
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I.

It is good to have two eyes.
Anything I want, they can see:
Boats, trains, horses and cars,
everything around me.

But sometimes I just want to see
Someone's laughter, sweet…
Instead I see his corpse outstretched,
Lying in the street…

When I want to see his laughter
his eyes are closed forever…

II.

It is good to have two ears.
Anything I want, they can hear:
Songs, plays, concerts, kind words,
Street cars, bells, anything near.

I want to hear kids' voices sing,
but my ears only hear the shrill cries
and fear
of two children watching a man as he dies…

When I long for a youthful song
I hear children weeping hard and long…

III.

It is good to have two hands.
Every year I can till the land.
Banging iron night and day
Fashions wheels to plow the clay…

But now wheels are silent and still
And people's hands are obsolete;
The houses grow cold and dark
As hands dig a grave in defeat…

Still it is good to have two hands:
I write poems in which the truth still stands.



After My Death
by Chaim Nachman Bialik
translation by Michael R. Burch

Say this when you eulogize me:
Here was a man — now, ****, he's gone!
He died before his time.
The music of his life suddenly ground to a halt..
Such a pity! There was another song in him, somewhere,
But now it's lost,
forever.
What a pity! He had a violin,
a living, voluble soul
to which he uttered
the secrets of his heart,
setting its strings vibrating,
save the one he kept inviolate.
Back and forth his supple fingers danced;
one string alone remained mesmerized,
yet unheard.
Such a pity!
All his life the string quivered,
quavering silently,
yearning for its song, its mate,
as a heart saddens before its departure.
Despite constant delays it waited daily,
mutely beseeching its savior, Love,
who lingered, loitered, tarried incessantly
and never came.
Great is the pain!
There was a man — now, ****, he is no more!
The music of his life suddenly interrupted.
There was another song in him
But now it is lost
forever.



Chaim Nachman Bialik Holocaust Poem Translations

On The Slaughter
by Chaim Nachman Bialik
translation by Michael R. Burch

Merciful heavens, have pity on me!
If there is a God approachable by men
as yet I have not found him—
Pray for me!

For my heart is dead,
prayers languish upon my tongue,
my right hand has lost its strength
and my hope has been crushed, undone.

How long? Oh, when will this nightmare end?
How long? Hangman, traitor,
here's my neck—
rise up now, and slaughter!

Behead me like a dog—your arm controls the axe
and the whole world is a scaffold to me
though we—the chosen few—
were once recipients of the Pacts.

Executioner! , my blood's a paltry prize—
strike my skull and the blood of innocents will rain
down upon your pristine uniform again and again,
staining your raiment forever.

If there is Justice—quick, let her appear!
But after I've been blotted out, should she reveal her face,
let her false scales be overturned forever
and the heavens reek with the stench of her disgrace.

You too arrogant men, with your cruel injustice,
suckled on blood, unweaned of violence:
cursed be the warrior who cries 'Avenge! ' on a maiden;
such vengeance was never contemplated even by Satan.

Let innocents' blood drench the abyss!
Let innocents' blood seep down into the depths of darkness,
eat it away and undermine
the rotting foundations of earth.



Epitaph for a Palestinian Child
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.



Hear, O Israel!
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

When we were the oppressed,
I was one with you,
but how can we remain one
now that you have become the oppressor?

Your desire
was to become powerful, like the nations
who murdered you;
now you have, indeed, become like them.

You have outlived those
who abused you;
so why does their cruelty
possess you now?

You also commanded your victims:
'Remove your shoes! '
Like the scapegoat,
you drove them into the wilderness,
into the great mosque of death
with its burning sands.
But they would not confess the sin
you longed to impute to them:
the imprint of their naked feet
in the desert sand
will outlast the silhouettes
of your bombs and tanks.

So hear, O Israel …
hear the whimpers of your victims
echoing your ancient sufferings …

'Hear, O Israel! ' was written in 1967, after the Six Day War.



What It Is
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It is nonsense
says reason.
It is what it is
says Love.

It is a dangerous
says discretion.
It is terrifying
says fear.
It is hopeless
says insight.
It is what it is
says Love.

It is ludicrous
says pride.
It is reckless
says caution.
It is impractical
says experience.
It is what it is
says Love.



An Attempt
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I have attempted
while working
to think only of my work
and not of you,
but I am encouraged
to have been so unsuccessful.



Humorless
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The boys
throw stones
at the frogs
in jest.

The frogs
die
in earnest.



Bulldozers
by Erich Fried
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Israel's bulldozers
have confirmed their kinship
to bulldozers in Beirut
where the bodies of massacred Palestinians
lie buried under the rubble of their former homes.

And it has been reported
that in the heart of Israel
the Memorial Cemetery
for the massacred dead of Deir Yassin
has been destroyed by bulldozers...
'Not intentional, ' it's said,
'A slight oversight during construction work.'

Also the ******
of the people of Sabra and Shatila
shall become known only as an oversight
in the process of building a great Zionist power.

The villagers of Deir Yassin were massacred in 1948 by Israeli Jews operating under the command of future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's. The New York Times reported 254 villagers murdered, most of them women, children and elderly men. Later, the village cemetery was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers as Deir Yassin, like hundreds of other Palestinian villages, was destroyed.

Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon were two Palestinian refugee camps destroyed during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It has been estimated that as many as 3,500 people were murdered. In 1982, an International Commission concluded that Israelis were, directly or indirectly, responsible. The Israeli government established the Kahan Commission to investigate the massacre, and found another future Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, personally responsible for having permitted militias to enter the camps despite a risk of violence against the refugees.

Since 1967 the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions has reported more than 24,000 home demolitions... hence the 'kinship' of the bulldozers of Israel to those used to destroy Palestinian homes in Lebanon.



Credo
by Saul Tchernichovsky
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Laugh at all my silly dreams!
Laugh, and I'll repeat anew
that I still believe in man,
just as I believe in you.

By the passion of man's spirit
ancient bonds are being shed:
for his heart desires freedom
as the body does its bread.

My noble soul cannot be led
to the golden calf of scorn,
for I still believe in man,
as every child is human-born.

Life and love and energy
in our hearts will surge and beat,
till our hopes bring forth a heaven
from the earth beneath our feet.


“Was gesagt werden muss” (“What must be said”)
by Günter Grass
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Why have I remained silent, so long,
failing to mention something openly practiced
in war games which now threaten to leave us
merely meaningless footnotes?

Someone’s alleged “right” to strike first
might annihilate a beleaguered nation
whose people march to a martinet’s tune,
compelled to pageants of orchestrated obedience.
Why? Merely because of the suspicion
that a bomb might be built by Iranians.

But why do I hesitate, forbidding myself
to name that other nation, where, for years
―shrouded in secrecy―
a formidable nuclear capability has existed
beyond all control, simply because
no inspections were ever allowed?

The universal concealment of this fact
abetted by my own incriminating silence
now feels like a heavy, enforced lie,
an oppressive inhibition, a vice,
a strong constraint, which, if dismissed,
immediately incurs the verdict “anti-Semitism.”

But now my own country,
guilty of its unprecedented crimes
which continually demand remembrance,
once again seeking financial gain
(although with glib lips we call it “reparations”)
has delivered yet another submarine to Israel―
this one designed to deliver annihilating warheads
capable of exterminating all life
where the existence of even a single nuclear weapon remains unproven,
but where suspicion now serves as a substitute for evidence.
So now I will say what must be said.

Why did I remain silent so long?
Because I thought my origins,
tarred by an ineradicable stain,
forbade me to declare the truth to Israel,
a country to which I am and will always remain attached.

Why is it only now that I say,
in my advancing age,
and with my last drop of ink
on the final page
that Israel’s nuclear weapons endanger
an already fragile world peace?

Because tomorrow might be too late,
and so the truth must be heard today.
And because we Germans,
already burdened with many weighty crimes,
could become enablers of yet another,
one easily foreseen,
and thus no excuse could ever erase our complicity.

Furthermore, I’ve broken my silence
because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy
and because I hope many others too
will free themselves from the shackles of silence,
and speak out to renounce violence
by insisting on permanent supervision
of Israel’s atomic power and Iran’s
by an international agency
accepted by both governments.

Only thus can we find the path to peace
for Israelis and Palestinians and everyone else
living in a region currently consumed by madness
―and ultimately, for ourselves.

Published in Süddeutschen Zeitung (April 4, 2012). Günter Wilhelm Grass (1927-) is a German-Kashubian novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, sculptor and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is widely regarded as Germany's most famous living writer. Grass is best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum (1959), a key text in European magic realism. The Tin Drum was adapted into a film that won both the Palme d'Or and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Swedish Academy, upon awarding Grass the Nobel Prize in Literature, noted him as a writer "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history."





Miklos Radnoti [1909-1944], a Hungarian Jew and a fierce anti-fascist, is perhaps the greatest of the Holocaust poets. His often-harrowing bio appears after his poems. The "postcard" poems were written on a death march that ended with him being executed and buried in a mass grave.

Postcard 1
by Miklós Radnóti, written August 30, 1944
translation by Michael R. Burch

Out of Bulgaria, the great wild roar of the artillery thunders,
resounds on the mountain ridges, rebounds, then ebbs into silence
while here men, beasts, wagons and imagination all steadily increase;
the road whinnies and bucks, neighing; the maned sky gallops;
and you are eternally with me, love, constant amid all the chaos,
glowing within my conscience—incandescent, intense.
Somewhere within me, dear, you abide forever—
still, motionless, mute, like an angel stunned to silence by death
or a beetle hiding in the heart of a rotting tree.



Postcard 2
by Miklós Radnóti, written October 6, 1944 near Crvenka, Serbia
translation by Michael R. Burch

A few miles away they're incinerating
the haystacks and the houses,
while squatting here on the fringe of this pleasant meadow,
the shell-shocked peasants sit quietly smoking their pipes.
Now, here, stepping into this still pond, the little shepherd girl
sets the silver water a-ripple
while, leaning over to drink, her flocculent sheep
seem to swim like drifting clouds.



Postcard 3
by Miklós Radnóti, written October 24, 1944 near Mohács, Hungary
translation by Michael R. Burch

The oxen dribble ****** spittle;
the men pass blood in their ****.
Our stinking regiment halts, a horde of perspiring savages,
adding our aroma to death's repulsive stench.



Published: “Postcard 4” was published by Poetry Super Highway in 2019 as part of their 21st Annual Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Poetry Issue

Postcard 4
by Miklós Radnóti, his final poem, written October 31, 1944 near Szentkirályszabadja, Hungary
translation by Michael R. Burch

I toppled beside him—his body already taut,
tight as a string just before it snaps,
shot in the back of the head.
"This is how you’ll end too; just lie quietly here,"
I whispered to myself, patience blossoming from dread.
"Der springt noch auf," the voice above me jeered;
I could only dimly hear
through the congealing blood slowly sealing my ear.

Translator's note: "Der springt noch auf" means something like "That one is still twitching."



Letter to My Wife
by Miklós Radnóti
translated by Michael R. Burch

This is a poem written during the Holocaust in Lager Heidenau, in the mountains above Zagubica, August-September, 1944

Deep down in the darkness hell awaits—silent, mute.
Silence screams in my ears, so I shout,
but no one hears or answers, wherever they are;
while sad Serbia, astounded by war,
and you are so far,
so incredibly distant.

Still my heart encounters yours in my dreams
and by day I hear yours sound in my heart again;
and so I am still, even as the great mountain
ferns slowly stir and murmur around me,
coldly surrounding me.

When will I see you? How can I know?
You who were calm and weighty as a Psalm,
beautiful as a shadow, more beautiful than light,
the One I could always find, whether deaf, mute, blind,
lie hidden now by this landscape; yet from within
you flash on my sight like flickering images on film.

You once seemed real but now have become a dream;
you have tumbled back into the well of teenage fantasy.
I jealously question whether you'll ever adore me;
whether—speak!—
from youth's highest peak
you will yet be my wife.

I become hopeful again,
as I awaken on this road where I formerly had fallen.
I know now that you are my wife, my friend, my peer—
but, alas, so far! Beyond these three wild frontiers,
fall returns. Will you then depart me?
Yet the memory of our kisses remains clear.

Now sunshine and miracles seem disconnected things.
Above me I see a bomber squadron's wings.
Skies that once matched your eyes' blue sheen
have clouded over, and in each infernal machine
the bombs writhe with their lust to dive.
Despite them, somehow I remain alive.

Miklós Radnóti [1909-1944], a Hungarian Jew and a fierce anti-fascist, is perhaps the greatest of the Holocaust poets. He was born in Budapest in 1909. In 1930, at the age of 21, he published his first collection of poems, Pogány köszönto (Pagan Salute). His next book, Újmódi pásztorok éneke (Modern Shepherd's Song) was confiscated on grounds of "indecency," earning him a light jail sentence. In 1931 he spent two months in Paris, where he visited the "Exposition coloniale" and began translating African poems and folk tales into Hungarian. In 1934 he obtained his Ph.D. in Hungarian literature. The following year he married Fanni (Fifi) Gyarmati; they settled in Budapest. His book Járkálj csa, halálraítélt! (Walk On, Condemned!) won the prestigious Baumgarten Prize in 1937. Also in 1937 he wrote his Cartes Postales (Postcards from France), which were precurors to his darker images of war, Razglednicas (Picture Postcards). During World War II, Radnóti published translations of Virgil, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Eluard, Apollinare and Blaise Cendras in Orpheus nyomában. From 1940 on, he was forced to serve on forced labor battalions, at times arming and disarming explosives on the Ukrainian front. In 1944 he was deported to a compulsory labor camp near Bor, Yugoslavia. As the Nazis retreated from the approaching Russian army, the Bor concentration camp was evacuated and its internees were led on a forced march through Yugoslavia and Hungary. During what became his death march, Radnóti recorded poetic images of what he saw and experienced. After writing his fourth and final "Postcard," Radnóti was badly beaten by a soldier annoyed by his scribblings. Soon thereafter, the weakened poet was shot to death, on November 9, 1944, along with 21 other prisoners who unable to walk. Their mass grave was exhumed after the war and Radnóti's poems were found on his body by his wife, inscribed in pencil in a small Serbian exercise book. Radnóti's posthumous collection, Tajtékos ég (Clouded Sky, or Foaming Sky) contains odes to his wife, letters, poetic fragments and his final Postcards. Unlike his murderers, Miklós Radnóti never lost his humanity, and his empathy continues to live on and shine through his work.

Keywords/Tags: Miklos Radnoti, Holocaust poet, Hungary, Hungarian Jew, anti-fascist, translation, mrbholo



Death Fugue
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come midday, come morning, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
We’re digging a grave like a hole in the sky;
there’s sufficient room to lie there.
The man of the house plays with vipers; he writes
in the Teutonic darkness, “Your golden hair Margarete...”
He composes by starlight, whistles hounds to stand by,
whistles Jews to dig graves, where together they’ll lie.
He commands us to strike up bright tunes for the dance!

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come dawn, come midday, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house plays with serpents; he writes...
he writes as the night falls, “Your golden hair Margarete...
Your ashen hair Shulamith...”
We are digging dark graves where there’s more room, on high.
His screams, “Hey you, dig there!” and “Hey you, sing and dance!”
He grabs his black nightstick, his eyes pallid blue,
screaming, “Hey you―dig deeper! You others―sing, dance!”

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come dusk;
we drink you come midday, come morning, come night;
we drink you and drink you.
The man of the house writes, “Your golden hair Margarete...
Your ashen hair Shulamith...” as he cultivates snakes.
He screams, “Play Death more sweetly! Death’s the master of Germany!”
He cries, “Scrape those dark strings, soon like black smoke you’ll rise
to your graves in the skies; there’s sufficient room for Jews there!”

Black milk of daybreak, we drink you come midnight;
we drink you come midday; Death’s the master of Germany!
We drink you come dusk; we drink you and drink you...
He’s a master of Death, his pale eyes deathly blue.
He fires leaden slugs, his aim level and true.
He writes as the night falls, “Your golden hair Margarete...”
He unleashes his hounds, grants us graves in the skies.
He plays with his serpents; Death’s the master of Germany...

“Your golden hair Margarete...
your ashen hair Shulamith...”



O, Little Root of a Dream
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

O, little root of a dream
you enmire me here;
I’m undermined by blood―
made invisible,
death's possession.

Touch the curve of my face,
that there may yet be an earthly language of ardor,
that someone else’s eyes
may somehow still see me,
though I’m blind,

here where you
deny me voice.



You Were My Death
by Paul Celan
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

You were my death;
I could hold you
when everything abandoned me―
even breath.
Dante Rocío Dec 2020
Lights or darks
To break a glass,
I’m worth on it and not in the droll,
To depart from the bed in black the one who
Addresses themselves to overtake their self and become in a rave,
Violin string works at ease;
Give me a gulp of the Moon to crash to my side,
to crack in ecstasy of me inside.
I’ve put up enough with walking perfect like the porcelain.
A translation of a spontaneity of Poetry with French on the images of the dark, fumes, grey, space as a physical trait and instruments from a picture prompt for short letters
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