A poem by Primo Levi (1919–1987), translated by New Zealanders Marco Sonzogni and Harry Thomas.
Son of a sterile mother,
I also was announced
By a messenger, a man
Of terrible countenance.
I was a child of the Sun,
And was myself the Sun.
I had the Sun’s force focused
In my bull loins. Sun, beast,
I slew enemies by the thousands,
Battered down doors and broke chains,
Forced women, set fire to harvests,
Until Philistine Delilah
Sheared off my hair and strength,
And extinguished the light in my eyes.
Against darkness there is no fighting.
My hair has grown again,
And so has my animal force,
But not my joy in living.
Primo Levi (1919–1987) was a chemist, writer and translator. On 22 February 1944 Levi and 650 other Jews were packed into a train bound for Auschwitz. Registered as no. 174517, Levi was taken to the Buna-Monowitz concentration camp, known at the time as Auschwitz III, and remained there until the camp was liberated by the Soviet Army on 27 January 1945. Best known for his Holocaust memoir, If This is a Man (Se questo è un uomo, 1947), and The Periodic Table (Il sistema periodico, 1975), named by the Royal Institution of Great Britain as the best science book of all time, Levi was also the author of a novel, short stories, essays and poems written between his return from the camps in 1946 and his death in 1987.
The Occasional Demon, a selection of Levi’s poems translated by Marco Sonzogni and Harry Thomas, is published on 31 July 2019 by the Cuba Press to mark the centenary of Levi’s birth.
The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books.