As I’ve probably mentioned before, this month sees the centenary of the birth of the author and chemist Primo Levi. I’ve written about him before on the Ramblings, and the reading of his book “The Periodic Table” back in my twenties had a profound effect on me. I’d read all of his works which had been translated into English previously, although as I recorded on the blog, the discovery of a reasonably priced copy of the three volume set of his Complete Works in London caused a lot of stressful lugging around the big city and transporting home! I’m not sorry, thought, and I have been spending time this month dipping into the three large books (amounting to several thousand pages).

As I’d read all of his fictions in the past, I’ve been focusing on poetry and shorter prose, the latter in the form of stories and essays, and there are so many riches. I frankly don’t feel that I’m well-versed enough in his literature (and indeed in Holocaust literature) to comment in depth; in fact, if you want some wonderfully in-depth pieces discussing Levi’s work in detail, I recommend  you visit the marvellous Eiger, Monch & Jungfrau blog of Dorian Stuber, who’s featured some excellent posts this month.

Levi’s poetry is, of course, incredibly moving; and like his prose often painful to read. I believe he disliked being regarded as a witness of the times he lived through, but his works inevitably do just that – tell us of events we must *not* forget for fear of a repeat (and goodness knows we seem to be sliding rapidly in that direction at the moment). I’ll share a few lines with you, but urge you to go and read his work – it is, of course, remarkably powerful…

I see you in my heart, exhausted comrade;
Suffering comrade, I can read your eyes.
In your breast you have cold hunger nothing
The last courage has been broken in you.
Gray companion, you were a strong man,
A woman traveled next to you.
Empty comrade who has no more name,
A desert who has no more tears,
So poor that you have no more pain,
So exhausted that you have no more fear,
Spent man who has a strong man once:
If we were to meet again
Up in the sweet world under the sun,
With what face would we confront each other?

(from Buna, 28 December, 1945 – translated by Jonathan Galassi)