Ukraine is a multicultural nation. In this sense, it has never been a monolithic one, and any attempts to accuse it of being nationalistic just make no sense. More than 120 ethnic minorities live in modern-day Ukraine — just think about it!
The country’s cultural heritage, in particular, literary, is just that — multilingual. For my PhD thesis, I have been working on the poetry of Rose Ausländer, a poet of Jewish origin who wrote in German and also in English in exile after World War II. She represents an “island” of literature written in German in the city of Chernivtsi, also known as Czernowitz, in the southwest of Ukraine.
When analyzing or translating poetry, you go very deep into every single word. It is a plunge into the emotional cocoon created by the poet with their words. One day, long before the full-scale war, I found myself sobbing while working on my thesis. I was engulfed in the cocoon of this poem by Rose Ausländer I am citing below. As Rose herself later commented on it, this was one of the most gloomy poems she had ever written. It is a post-Holocaust poem where she connects the tragedy of the Jewish people with another human-caused catastrophe: the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombing.
During recent months, I have kept coming back to this poem in my thoughts way too often. Unfortunately, the blood-freezing reality has become more imaginative than the poetical imagination. Two catastrophes are looming over my country at once: genocide and the nuclear threat. Sometimes, it feels like we are living in a premonition, which should have never even come into question anymore.
AFTER THE WORLD WAS ATOMBOMBED
Nobody was prepared when it came.
Everyone hurried to look for his name
under the ashes.
Dead mothers washed their eyes
the dust of their children.
But all children were blended.
Gases from firmament to firmament
spirits from the Old and New Testament
assembled at the spaceless cemetery.
Exploding stars smeared
the oily surface of the seven
Pretty silvercrisp angels
at their singing lesson of HOSANNA
and retreated into deeper nothingness.
Mary washed her eyes to see clear
the Resurrection beneath the smear.
But her sin
His delicate Bones
His Love His Blessing
With the ashes of all children.
with the immaterial
Her tears blended
with the tears of all mothers.
An ashen soldier kept
vigil and slept.