February 18, 1943
In memory of Hans and Sophie Scholl,
Leaders of the White Rose student resistance movement,
executed February 22, 1943
I imagine how easily you could have gotten away,
Standing in the Ludwigstraße in the sun
That improbably springlike February day,
The not-quite-empty suitcase slung
Between you—like two students on holiday,
Let out of class, on your way to catch a train.
Relieved and out of breath,
You stood for a moment blinking in the sun,
Tasting the early spring that caught all Munich
After bleak weeks of cold.
How hopeful the light must have looked, how far from
Was it that you suddenly felt young?
—Another nose-thumbing at the omnipotent State!
Or was it the recklessness of the desperate?
Not furtively, but in the pale spun-gold
Of full daylight, like farmers casting grain,
You’d left your leaflets scattered on the floors
In the hallways, on windowsills, at the doors
Of the lecture rooms, and, ignoring their stony
In the marble laps of Ludwig and Leopold.
Was it the change in weather
That made your glances catch, a glance that said
Almost gaily, Why waste any? so that instead
Of slipping away as planned, you raced together
Back to the empty hall,
And up the stairs, to let the last ones fall?
I imagine, then, how you leaned from the great height
Of the gallery railing into a well of light;
How, giddy with boldness and vertigo,
You popped the latch, and—hurriedly this time—scooped
The leftover handfuls out.
For a few seconds, the pages must have swooped
Like wind-torn blossoms, sideways in the air,
Filling the gallery with a storm of white,
While under the skylight with its square of blue
Your arms were still flung wide;
And while, rounding a corner down below,
For just a moment, the porter, Jakob Schmid,
Must have stopped to stare,
Not indignant yet, but merely shocked,
Blinded for an instant by the glare,
Before he recovered himself and did
His job as he’d been taught;
Before milling students spilled into the hall
From morning lectures, but not quite fast enough;
Before Schmid gave a shout,
And surging forward in the tumult, caught
The dark-haired young man’s shoulder in a rough
Policeman’s grip that would not be shaken off,
Though he didn’t try, and the girl stayed by his side;
Before, in a sudden hush, the crowd withdrew,
And the doors all locked.
Free Time, Robert L. Barth, publisher, ©
published in Poetry.
Reprinted by permission of the author.