Two Poems by Primo Levi
Translated by Harry Thomas
There isn’t a shabbier street in the entire city.
It’s fog and night. The shadows on the sidewalks
That the light of headlights passes through
As if drenched in nothingness, lumps
Of nothingness, are even so our close relatives.
Perhaps the sun no longer exists.
Perhaps it will be dark all the time now.
(On other nights the Pleiades smiled.)
Perhaps this is the eternity that awaits us.
Not the bosom of the Father, but clutch
Brake clutch and putting it into first.
Perhaps eternity consists of traffic lights.
Perhaps it would be better to live one’s life
In just a single night, like a hive drone.
February 2, 1973
We stopped, and hazarded a glance
Down the green painful throat,
And the strength in our breasts dissolved
As when a hope is lost.
Inside it a sad force sleeps:
And when, in the lunar silence,
At night it screeches and roars at times,
It’s because, in its rock bed,
Torpid dreaming giant,
It is fighting to turn over and can’t.
Avigliana, March 15, 1946
About the Authors:
Primo Levi (1919-1987) lived for most of his life in Turin. During the Nazi occupation of Italy, he joined a partisan group in the Alps, but was soon arrested and sent to an internment camp in Fossoli and then to Auschwitz. After the war he worked as a chemist in a paint factory and wrote many books, including Survival in Auschwitz and The Periodic Table, which London’s Royal Institute voted in 2006 “the best science book ever.” He wrote poems throughout his life.
Harry Thomas is the author of Some Complicity: Poems and Translations (Un-Gyve Books), and he has edited several books, including Montale in English (Penguin UK) and Selected Poems of Thomas Hardy (Penguin UK). Later this year Un-Gyve will bring out The Truth of Two: Selected Translations. Thomas’s poems, stories, translations from several languages, essays and reviews have appeared in dozens of magazines, American Poetry Review, The Times Literary Supplement, The Paris Review, and The Threepenny Review, among them. He did a PhD at the University of Michigan, writing his dissertation on John Berryman, and has taught at many schools: Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Davidson College, Kalamazoo College, where he was poet-in-residence, and Buckingham Browne & Nichols, a prep school in Cambridge, MA. From 2001 to 2011 he was the editor-in- chief of Handsel Books, an imprint at Other Press, a subsidiary of Random House.