Goodreads: Collected Poems
Primo Levi, perhaps best known for his testimony on surviving the Holocaust, also wrote a range of poems, some dealing with the Holocaust and the aftermath, others on simple pleasures like a game of chess. This volume collects the poems of Shema and At an Uncertain Hour.
Primo Levi’s poems are the type you can accurately call “haunting” and not feel like you are bandying about an empty cliche. Steeped in the horror and emptiness of the Holocaust, many of them lament lost lives, lost belief, lost strength. Many of them ask how humans became inured to horror. Levi seems compelled to return again and again to the problem of the nature of evil, asking how things could go so wrong, and how he and the others are supposed to move forward now that they have physically left the camps. And there are hints that he has never left at all, that history keeps repeating.
Levi’s testimony is mixed with other gems, poems about classical figures or about a game of chess. His range and his learning are deep, and each poem is a delight and a surprise–even the painful ones delight with their precision and skill, the pleasure of a rightly placed word or an evocative image. That translations could be so powerful indicates, I think, that Levi’s original work is extraordinarily powerful, as well.
The book is quite a short read, so even if you do not typically read poetry, it is worth picking up. Levi wrote so that his experiences would not be forgotten. And his words are always timely.