Primo Levi, “For Adolf Eichmann”

Galleys of the three volumes of The Complete Works of Primo Levi arrived in the mail today. I’ve got my summer reading plans. This poem jumped out at me, from volume 3.

For Adolf Eichmann

The wind runs free across our plains,

The live sea beats on our beaches.

Man feeds the earth, the earth gives him flowers and fruit:

He lives in torment and joy, he hopes and fears, he engenders sweet



…And you have come, our precious enemy,

Abandoned creature, man encircled by death.

What can you say now, before our congregation?

Will you swear by a god? What god?

Will you leap joyfully into the grave?

Or will you grieve the way the busy man grieves at last,

Whose life was short for his too long art,

For your sad, unfinished art,

for the thirteen million still living?


O son of death, we do not wish you death.

May you live long as no one has ever lived:

May you live sleepless for five million nights,

And every night may you be visited by the grief of everyone who saw

The door that closed off the way of return click shut,

the dark around him rise, the air crowd with death.

—July 20, 1960


  1. Thomas Leo Dumm April 22, 2015 at 11:56 am | #

    An amazing poem. I have long thought Hannah Arendt was mistaken in her conclusion of Eichmann in Jerusalem when she argued for Eichmann’s execution. If I read this poem’s sentiment, Levi would not have supported his execution either.

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