By Charles Reznikoff 1894–1976 Charles Reznikoff
Before the break of day the minister was awakened
by the sound of hatchets
breaking open the door and windows.
He ran towards the door:
about twenty Indians with painted faces
were coming into the house

Three Indians took hold of him,
and bound him as he stood in his night-shirt,
and began to rifle the house going into every room.
As he lay, bound and helpless, he thought of his wife and
his wife had given birth only a few weeks before—
and he remembered the passage in Isaiah:
“I shall go to the gates of the grave
deprived of the rest of my years. . .”

The Indians had taken two of his children to the door
and killed them,
as well as the Negro woman
who helped take care of them;
keeping him bound with the cord about one arm,
they let him put on his clothes with the other;
and let his wife dress herself, too,
as well as their children left alive.

When the sun was an hour high
all were led out of the house
for the journey of three hundred miles to Quebec—
snow up to their knees.
Many of the houses were now on fire;
and, as they left the town,
he saw his house and barn burning.

At first the minister was not allowed to speak to any of his
    fellow captives
as they marched,
but on the second day he had another Indian to watch him
and was allowed to speak with his wife when he overtook her
and could walk with her and help her along.
She told him that she was losing her strength
and they must expect to part
and she hoped that God would keep him alive and their children
    still among the living—
but not a word of complaint
saying that it was the will of God.

When they came to a small river
the captives had to wade it;
the water knee-deep
and the current swift.
After that they had to climb a hill,
almost a mountain,
and the minister’s strength was almost gone when he came to   
    the top;
but he was not allowed to sit down
and even unburdened of his pack.

He begged the Indian in charge of him
to let him go down and help his wife
but the man would not let him;
and he asked each of the captives as they passed
about her;
and heard at last that in going through the river
she fell
and plunged headfirst into the water;
and, after that, at the foot of the hill
the Indian who held her captive
killed her
with one stroke of his hatchet
and left the body   
as meat for the fowls and beasts.

NOTES: From John Williams, The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion, American History: Source Readings, edited by Neil Harris, et al.

From The Poems of Charles Reznikoff by Charles Reznikoff, edited by Seamus Cooney. Reprinted by permission of Black Sparrow Books, an imprint of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. Copyright 2005 by Charles Reznikoff.

Source: Poems 1918-1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff (Black Sparrow Press, 1977)

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Poet Charles Reznikoff 1894–1976

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries

 Charles  Reznikoff


Emerson remarked that the best writers often have the shortest biographies. The genius “draws up the ladder after him,” and the world, which had consigned him to obscurity during his lifetime, “sees the works and asks in vain for a history.”
Whatever judgment may ultimately be passed upon him, not much more than his works is ever likely to be known of Charles Reznikoff. He left no fervent disciples. The record he wished to . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT History & Politics, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

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