Tadeusz Borowski: Night Over Birkenau (From Polish)

Night Over Birkenau
By Tadeusz Borowski
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Again the night. Again the fearsome sky
Gyres like a vulture, like a beast of prey
It crouches on the camp, on the dead quiet.
Pale as a corpse, the moon sets far away.

And like a shield cast to the ground in battle,

Amid the stars Azure Orion lies.
On through the dark the transports' motors rattle.

Then the gleam in the crematoria's eyes

Scalding and stifling. Slumber like a stone.
Breath is choked out. The throat is slit and red.
The heavy boot pressed down on the breast-bone
Cracks like the silence of three million dead.

Night, endless night, and no light overland.
The eyes are gassed with slumber, numb the brow.
Here as God's Judgment on the world of man
The murking fog comes down on Birkenau.

The Original:

Noc nad Birkenau

Znów noc. Znów niebo groźnie
krąży jak sęp, jak zwierz się pręży
nad głuchą ciszą, nad obozem.
Blady jak trup zapada księżyc.

I jak rzucona w boju tarcza
leży wśród gwiazd niebieski Orion,
Głucho w ciemności auta warczą
i błyszczą oczy krematorium.

Parno i duszno. Sen jak kamień.
Nie ma oddechu. Rzęzi gardło.
Jak ciężka stopa piersi łamie
milczenie trzech milionów zmarłych.

Noc, noc bez końca. Świtu nie ma.
Oczy od snu są oczadziałe.
Jak Boży sąd nad ludzką ziemią
zapada mgła nad Birkenau.


  1. Thanks for this. I've come across your blog just a while
    ago. It's a relief to see somebody not adding to the overspilling heaps of
    English poetry in translation out there (at best, abandoning rhyme schemes and
    meters left and right) which favors "crisp" and "clear"
    tones, so "close" to the literary crib of the original text, that
    everything in it is rendered to sound and read PoMo (at best), sterile from the time
    period, tone, syntax and other characteristics of form and content, towards
    creating a uniform muddle. Keep up the good (un-impounded) work.

    Best wishes,

    Iliya Ansky

  2. Sounding like an expert there Mr. Ansky. Someone who knows what he's talking about. Someone who has the talent to write good original poetry and make good translations. Which is ironic.

  3. Here is an alternate translation:

    Night again. Again the grim sky closes
    circling like a vulture over the dead silence.
    Like a crouching beast over the camp
    the moon sets, pale as a corpse.

    And like a shield abandoned in battle,
    blue Orion--lost among the stars.
    The transports growl in darkness
    and the eyes of crematorium blaze.

    It's steamy, stifling. Sleep is a stone.
    Breath rattles in my throat.
    This lead foot crushing my chest
    is the silence of three million dead.

    Night, night without end. No dawn comes.
    My eyes are poisoned from sleep.
    Like God's judgement on the corpse of the earth,
    fog descends over Birkenau.

    Translated by Tadeusz Pioro, Larry Rafferty and Meryl Natchez
    Tadeusz Borowski, Selected Poems, 1990


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