Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Here, Not There

When I read Rutger Kopland's poem about Natzweiler concentration camps, I knew I wanted to use it for today's photo, but I'm not in France. The beauty of good poetry (good literature in general), though, is that it transcends time and place, and it makes the incomprehensible obtainable (as with this verse) or the insignificant important enough to think about. Here's the poem. The photo was shot today in Readfield.

And there, beyond the barbed wire, the view—
very charming landscape, as peaceful as then.

They would need for nothing, they would
be laid down in those green pastures,
be led to those peaceful waters,

there in the distance. They would.

I trace the windows of the barrack huts,
watch-towers, gas-chamber.
Only the black reflection of distance
in the panes, of a peaceful landscape,

The dead are so violently absent, as though
not only I, but they too
were standing here,

and the landscape were folding their invisible
arms around my shoulders.

We need for nothing, they are saying,
we have forgotten this world.

But these are no arms,
it is landscape.

The yellowed photos in the display cases,
Their faces ravaged by their skulls,
their black eyes,

what do they see, what do they see?
I look at them, but for what?

Their faces have come to belong
to the world, to the world
which remains silent.

So this is it, desertion, here is
the place where they took their leave,
far away in the mountains.

The camp has just been re-painted, in that gentle
grey-green, that gentle color
of war,

it is as new, as though nothing
has happened, as though
it has yet to be.

—Rutger Kopland
translated from the Dutch by James Brockway
The Giant Book of Poetry
edited by William H. Roetzheim

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