During the interval, after act three

of Glinka’s opera, ‘Ivan Susannin’ –

pre-revolution, ‘A Life for the Tzar’ –

Stalin would leave his box at the Bolshoi.

In the fourth act, Ivan, the peasant, lures

the Polish Army out of Smolensk

and into a profound, winter forest.

They are lost. In the last act, they kill him.

Deep in the Katyn woods near Smolensk, pines

darkened the clearing where thousands, thousands

of Polish officers turned to earth.

So many crimes unpunished, dead unnamed.

‘O, Polnische Kamerad, wo sind

der Juden?’ ‘Majdanek, Chelmno, Oswiecim.’

An epoch has the tyrants it preserves,

even for an eggshell.



Note: The poem was first published on the site in January 2010

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  1. #1 by Alan Horne - December 2nd, 2016 at 22:00

    I like the little bits of German in the poems this month, a helpful corrective to our current isolationism. I’d always found the multilingual bits of, say, Eliot, or Pound, a bit irritating, as if they were showing off. You make me wonder if I just didn’t get the contemporary references.

  2. #2 by David Selzer - December 4th, 2016 at 16:45

    That great leveller the internet makes ‘bits of German’ etc. accessible to all – and, in the case of quotations the source as well as the sense.

  3. #3 by John Huddart - December 6th, 2016 at 08:54

    The idea that Stalin stepped from his theatre box into the Katyn woods with his revolver [or maybe Tokarev Automatic – you are right about the internet!] is perfectly chilling and appropriate.

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