Song of Those Who Died in Vain - Primo Levi

It's not often that a poem puts a shiver down my spine every time I read it, but Primo Levi's 'Song of Those Who Died in Vain' is certainly one of them.

I am - again and again - blown away by the force, the power, the passive (and actual) aggression; the hope, despair and dedication to humanity within it. It's one of those poems that can transfer well to thinking about any negotiating between power and power structures (how often do the powerless get to negotiate?), with the final dedication that if the negotiations do not consider "our children", there will be consequences. Arise!

Song of Those Who Died in Vain - Primo Levi

Sit down and bargain
All you like, grizzled old foxes.
We’ll wall you up in a splendid palace
With food, wine, good beds and a good fire
Provided that you discuss, negotiate
For our and your children’s lives.
May all the wisdom of the universe
Converge to bless your minds
And guide you in the maze.
But outside in the cold we will be waiting for you,
The army of those who died in vain,
We of the Marne, of Montecassino,
Treblinka, Dresden and Hiroshima.
And with us will be
The leprous and the people with trachoma,
The Disappeared Ones of Buenos Aires,
Dead Cambodians and dying Ethiopians,
The Prague negotiators,
The bled-dry of Calcutta
The innocents slaughtered in Bologna.
Heaven help you if you come out disagreeing:
You’ll be clutched tight in our embrace.
We are invincible because we are the conquered,
Invulnerable because already dead;
We laugh at your missiles.
Sit down and bargain
Until your tongues are dry.
If the havoc and the shame continue
We’ll drown you in our putrefaction.

More information on Primo Levi from Wikipedia.

Filed Under:

  1. Primo Levi
  2. Poetry
  3. Literature
  4. Negotiating