Thursday, 25 June 2009

Erich Fried's Diagnosis

Erich Fried (1921-1988), as regular Poet in Residence readers will know, was an Austrian-born poet who fled from the looming Nazi terror in 1938 and took up permanent residence in England.
In 1954 Fried translated Dylan Thomas's play for voices Under Milk Wood. The play was broadcast on German radio to much acclaim a few months after its BBC premier. But Fried was also a major poet in his own right.

We may now recall the dreadful events that began in the so-called Holy Land during the 2008 Season of Goodwill to all Men and which were highlighted on this blog at the time. And we may recall the shrill outcry of news media over the so-called criminal use of phosphor-bombs in civilian built-up areas which was said to be 'justified' on the grounds of 'tactics'. Various war-regulations were quoted. Reporters told us that the barbaric unfolding scenario was highly illegal.

During the Siege of Gaza the hospitals, when not being bombed, were at full stretch dealing with the many casualties. A Scandinavian doctor spoke of having had no sleep for 72 hours.

So what are these phosphor-bombs? What do they do? Have they been used before? Will they be used again? Should the ban have been enforced by the international community? Will there be any repercussions?

To help us answer these questions we may now turn to a Poet-in-Residence translation of an Erich Fried poem first published in 1983. It refers to the results of an earlier military campaign. The poem is Diagnose.

Diagnosis

They call it
the symptom
in Beirut's hospitals

That is when
with exhaled breath
from the mouths
of women and children
the smoke comes
for the phosphorous
of the phosphor-bombs
eats through
skin and flesh
and lungs
and within them
burns
and smokes
(even after death)

This symptom
should not be overlooked
when diagnosing
a Begin
or a Sharon

------
translated from Es ist was es ist* by Erich Fried (pub 1983):
Wagenbach, Berlin

*It is what it is

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