Former children’s laureate Michael Rosen has written a new poem to mark the 75th anniversary of the release of Anne Frank’s diary.
The poem is titled Sonnet for Anne Frank; Rosen wrote in this form, he said, because sonnets have “a certain kind of dignity” and give “you time to reflect”.
Rosen addresses Frank directly in the poem writing, “you compressed so much life into that loft”, but that “each time we read, we struggle to enjoy / your love of life while knowing how it ended”.
Rosen said: “I’ve got an unresolved dilemma in the poem, which is that in the diary you’re reading a person who is so alive and so full of hope and life’s details and problems from a teenager’s point of view, but it’s almost impossible to read it without thinking of her terrible fate. So there is an awful paradox between the living spirit of the diary and the knowledge that you have.
“[The poem] makes a space for the reader to dwell on that paradox, which is in its own way quite painful. You laugh a lot with Anne Frank, and you think she’s having fun at the neighbours’ expense, and then you just suddenly have this simultaneous sense of being appalled by the terrible end.
“And that’s why it ends on the word ‘ended’.”
Frank received a blank diary for her 13th birthday on 12 June 1942, and wrote in it while she and her family were in hiding in a secret annexe above her father Otto’s workplace in Amsterdam.
After the family were discovered by the Nazis, Otto’s secretary Miep Gies found the diary in the annexe. When the war was over Gies gave it to Otto, the only member of the family to survive the Holocaust, and he decided to publish it, as Anne had wished. When translated from Dutch to English, the book’s title became The Diary of a Young Girl.
The poem was commissioned by the Anne Frank Trust, an education charity that teaches young people to challenge prejudice.
Rosen, who is a longtime supporter of the trust, is currently professor of children’s literature at Goldsmiths, University of London. He served as children’s laureate from 2007 to 2009.
As well as much-loved children’s poems and the classic picture book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, his books include The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II, which was released in 2020 and traced family members who died in the Holocaust.
Since you took us into that attic space
no room under the eaves has been the same.
Wherever we go – our homes or others’ –
whenever we dip and duck under beams
you are in the shadows, writing pages
laughing, crying, eating, daring to love
imagining a better world than yours.
How you wrote leads us to think we know you.
You compressed so much life into that loft
which we pore over and love you for it
yet the real world – not the one you imagined –
didn’t allow you to live and write any more.
Each time we read, we struggle to enjoy
your love of life while knowing how it ended.