Friday, June 22, 2012

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

All this posting and blogging and thinking makes one weary.
In need of a good nap. Ready to chuck the whole shebang.

But every once in a while, through all the blog surfing and speed-reading and taking in and digesting of information, one runs across a thought or idea that brings one up short.

I found one of those today on Jim Murdoch’s blog in a post about truth and beauty and ugly poetry:


“To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric.”


So said German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno (1903 - 1969).

I think he was wrong.

One might as well say that to write a poem after September 11, 2001, or after George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s presidency, or after Tony Blair’s or Gordon Brown’s or David Cameron’s tenure as prime minister, is barbaric. I mean, life goes on.

Man’s inhumanity to man is very real. There have always been victims, but fortunately there have always been survivors also whose duty it is to record accurately what happened to help us prevent such things from ever happening again.

Life does go on.

It must.

Not to write a poem after Auschwitz, that is what would be truly barbaric.

I want to leave you with Pavel Friedman. (The text is from Wikipedia)

Pavel Friedman (January 7, 1921 – September 29, 1944) was a Jewish Czechoslovak poet who received posthumous fame for his poem “The Butterfly.” Friedman was born in Prague and deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, in the fortress and garrison city of Terezín, located in what is now the Czech Republic. He wrote a poem “The Butterfly” on a piece of thin copy paper which was discovered after liberation and later donated to the State Jewish Museum.

Little is known of Friedman’s life prior to his incarceration at
the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where his arrival was recorded on April 26, 1942. More than two years later, on September 29, 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz, where he died.

The text of “The Butterfly” was discovered at Thereisenstadt after the ghetto was liberated. It has been included in collections of children’s literature from the Holocaust era, most notably the anthology I Never Saw Another Butterfly, first published by Hana Volavková and Jiří Weil in 1959, although Friedman was 21 years old when the poem was composed. The poem also inspired the Butterfly Project of the Holocaust Museum Houston, an exhibition where 1.5 million paper butterflies were created to symbolize the same number of children that perished in the Holocaust.


The Butterfly
by Pavel Friedman


The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
.....against a white stone....

Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ’way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
.....kiss the world good-bye.

For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
.....in the ghetto.

8 comments:

Shooting Parrots said...

I agree entirely with your sentiments. For example, when I read the poems of Wilfred Owen that are both beautiful and brutal and an indictment of war.

A Lady's Life said...

I really dislike war.
I think we should limit war to our leaders. Let them start it and fight it themselves.
Just think , would Hitler have done what he did, if he had to do it himself.?
Instead he created fear and forced people to serve him through it.
Why do soldiers kill their own people
following orders. Are people not allowed to disagree with the leaders?
Sure they are. If not, then what kind of regime is it?

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Adorno's remark - “To write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric” is itself a poetic remark that challenges our perceptions. We might ask ourselves, are there any happenings, any human moments that poetry should not explore? And I would say, no, no there are no such moments. The poet's task is both to reflect and to cast light though we shall never dispel the barbarous shadows entirely.

All Consuming said...

The poem is quite beautiful, and I agree with you entirely re the subject of the post. Poetry can be the route to finding the humanity within us and it would be a tragedy if it ceased to be.

Katherine said...

I've encounters this poem before. Art imitates life. And, because it (should) do it well, sometimes the reverse happens too.

Katherine said...

encounters = encounterED

Snowbrush said...

I always wonder why, when I hear about a death camp, it's always the same one, yet there have been so many, not just during WWII but since then. It annoys me in the same way it annoys me that Civil Rights history always focuses on King or, to a much less extent, Rosa Parks. One gets the idea that it was a two-person job, yet many served and many were killed. I just don't like the ease with which society picks one or two easily remembered people or events and ignores the rest as being, by implication, unworthy of mention.

Snowbrush said...

P.S. I think Pudding made a good point. Instead of no poetry, how about more poetry? When the inmates themselves created art of various kinds, why shouldn't we?