Sep 302012
 

Readers with some background in the Hebrew Bible will doubtless notice that this poem is mostly constructed from snatches of the Song of Songs (which, as it is my absolute favorite work of Hebrew poetry, I’ve also translated, but I need some time to further ruminate before posting). However, while the female lover (the “Shulamite”) comes across as the dominant voice in the Song of Songs, here the perspective is entirely the male lover’s. The last line, of course, quotes Psalm 137.

I also feel compelled to point out that the Hebrew word “dodim” is not so much “love” as “lovemaking” (i.e., it implies a degree of physicality rather than just an emotion), but for whatever reason, I cannot use the word “lovemaking” with a straight face. Perhaps it has something to do with my youthful intellectual corruption by noted scholar of Hebrew poetry Frank Zappa זצ”ל:

What I think is very cynical about some rock and roll songs – especially today – is the way they say: “Let’s make love.” What the fuck kind of wussy says shit like that in the real world? You ought to be able to say, “Let’s go fuck,” or at least, “Let’s go fill-in-the-blank – but you gotta say “Let’s make love” in order to get on the radio. This creates a semantic corruption, by changing the context in which the word ‘love’ is used in the song.1

And yet, I could hardly translate “Et Dodim Kallah” as “Fucking Time, Bride!”, so we’ll have to make do with an unfortunately semantically corrupted “love.” May Zappa forgive me.

And on the subject of rock and roll songs, “Et Dodim Kallah” was made a hit by none other than Ha-Melekh bikhvodo uve’atzmo, the Voice, the only Israeli musician from whose life could be made an appropriate tawdry and maudlin biopic: Zohar Argov. You’ll find it attached below. Argov’s abridged version shuffles the order of the lines and partially rewrites a couple. If you’d like to, um, sing along (not that most people could sing along with Zohar Argov זצ”ל), the song’s line order when compared to the original poem is: first (repeated once) and second (the “maawal“); then, after the band comes in, first, second, third, fourth, eleventh, twelfth, seventh and eighth (with each line repeated).

And do not forget to glory in the magnificent Yehuda Keisar on the Mizrachi guitar (which is invariably an Gibson 335, which I suppose makes it basically Lucille in a galabiyeh).

Zohar Argov - Et Dodim Kallah

Ḥaim ben Sahel (10th century)
The Time for Love has Come, My Bride

The time for love has come, my bride – come into my garden
The grapevines have blossomed, my pomegranate blooms
The rains have passed, the winter’s gone
Arise, my darling – how desire overwhelms!
We’ll go out into the fields, we’ll spend the night in the desert
There, o delight of my eyes, I’ll give you my love
Ah, you are fair and so lovely – your teeth are like snow
Honey and milk lie under your tongue
Go now, and tend in the tracks of your flock
Let me hear your voice – show yourself to me
I’ve come, gazelle, to shepherd in the gardens,
To see your beauty; your eyes are doves
I’ve gathered myrrh and picked the lilies
I’ve prepared a table and poured the wine
Many waters could not quench
the love which will know no rest tonight
Since the day you left to wander I’ve taken other maidens
Yet if I forget you, may my right hand forget its cunning

חיים בן סהל
עת דודים כלה

  
עֵת דּוֹדִים כַּלָּה בּוֹאִי לְגַנִּי
פָּרְחָה הַגֶּפֶן הֵנֵץ רִמּוֹנִי
חָלַף הַגֶּשֶׁם הַסְּתָו עָבַר
קוּמִי רַעְיָתִי הַחֵשֶׁק גָּבַר
נֵצֵא הַשָּׂדֶה נָלִין בַּמִּדְבָּר
שָׁם אֶתֵּן דּוֹדַי לָךְ מַחְמַד עֵינִי
יָפִית וְנָעַמְתְּ כַּשֶּׁלֶג שִׁנֵּךְ
דְּבַשׁ וְחָלָב תַּחַת לְשׁוֹנֵךְ
צְאִי נָא וּרְעִי בְעִקְבֵי צֹאנֵךְ
קוֹלֵךְ הַשְׁמִיעִינִי מַרְאֵךְ הַרְאִינִי
יָרַדְתִּי עָפְרָה לִרְעוֹת בַּגַּנִּים
לִרְאוֹת בְּיָפְיֵךְ עֵינַיִךְ יוֹנִים
אָרִיתִי מוֹרִי לִלְקוֹט שׁוֹשַׁנִּים
עָרַכְתִּי שֻׁלְחָן מָסַכְתִּי יֵינִי
מַיִם רַבִּים לֹא יוּכְלוּ לְכַבּוֹת
אֶת הָאַהֲבָה לַיְלָה לֹא תִשְׁבּוֹת
מִיּוֹם נְדוֹדֵךְ נָשָׂאתִי רִיבוֹת
עוֹד אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕeit dodím kaláh, bó’i le-ganí
Parḥáh ha-géfen, heinéitz rimoní
Ḥaláf ha-géshem, ha-setáv ʕavár
Kúmi raʕyatí, ha-ḥéishek gavár
Netzéi ha-sadéh, nalín ba-midbár
Sham ‘etéin dodái lakh, maḥmád ʕeiní
Yafít va-naʕámt, ka-shéleg shinéikh
Devásh ve-ḥaláv táḥat leshonéikh
Tze’í na u-reʕí ve-ʕikvéi tzonéikh
Koléikh hashmiʕíni, mar’éikh har’íni
Yarádeti ʕofráh lirʕót ba-ganím
Lir’ót be-yofyéikh ʕeináyikh yoním
‘Aríti morí lilkót shoshaním
ʕarákhti shulḥán, masákhti yeiní
Máyim rabím lo yukhlú lekhabót
‘Et ha-ahaváh láilah lo tishbót
Mi-yóm nedodéikh nasá’ti rivót
ʕod ‘im ‘eshkáḥeikh tishkáḥ yeminí

  1. The Real Frank Zappa Book, 90.
Sep 292012
 

Im Tahpetzah

The rabbi-king of the Yemeni-Jewish poet-kabbalists, Shabazi writes in an elliptical, allusive and highly condensed style that can make translation an interesting puzzle. I’ll admit to not fully understanding the line “galgal ve-‘adrikhal melavim lo” – the words can be translated easily enough, but I have the feeling I’m missing some key allusion or context. If anyone out there knows, please share.

This particular piyut happens to have been recorded by the occasionally compelling Israeli pan-Jewish world music collective the Idan Raichel Project. Click the thingy below to hear it – this partial version of “Im Taḥpetzah” starts at the nineteenth line (“luḥót shnáyim heim be-yósher nikhtevú“) and runs through the twenty-sixth (“kabéitz pezuréinu ‘ashér nitpazrú“). I must admit that the Zionist in me always appreciated how Raichel’s version ends with the poem’s plaintive supplication for the ingathering of the exiles, which also serves Raichel’s cross-Diasporic mélange well. As befits Yemenite piyut, the Yemeni-Israeli singers of Raichel’s “Im Taḥpetzah” deliver it in the particularly badass Yemenite liturgical accent, which is a treat (although who told them they could have a shva carry stress?). Have fun.

Idan Raichel - Im Taḥpetzah

Shalom Shabazi (1619 – 1720?)
If You Should Desire

If you should desire, son of man, to know the most select secrets
Obtain for yourself a fellow, and dear friends
So that your heart might live, and your soul rejoice
That discernment and spirit might be one
Clothe yourself in humility from youthful days onward
Despise the counsel of those prideful in their ignorance
Your good name shall go forth and you shall gain your desire
Seek truth in the volumes the sages composed
The doctrine of the wise, received from their ancestors
On the day they encircled and thronged about Sinai, in their wisdom
The father of all prophets ascended to the heights
Towards the fog his footsteps hurried
Graciously accompanied by the heavenly sphere and the Architect
He ascended on high and opened every closed gate
Facing toward Sinai, my tribes were assembled
And the angels on high advanced with banners
Whirling flames came down from the Presence
Thunder, lightning and cloud were joined
Two tablets are they, written forthrightly
On which are ten commandments, examined and witnessed
They heard my voice, but you will not
The commandments flow from the mouth of the Mighty; and so was kept the Torah
Blessed is he who has merited to behold his congregation
Purity lies within the Torah, and from it souls prosper
Recall, Lord of All, the grace of your Torah
Gather your dispersed, who were scattered
Straighten our way for the sake of your kindness
For loving-kindness overwhelms those who fear you

שלום שבזי / سالم الشبزي
אם תחפצה

 
אִם תַּחְפְּצָה בֶן אִישׁ לְסוֹדוֹת נִבְחֲרוּ
תִּקְנֶה לְךָ חָבֵר וְרֵעִים יָקְרוּ
בַּעְבוּר יְחִי לִבָּךְ וְתִשְׂמַח נַפְשְׁךָ
שֵׂכֶל וְהַנֶּפֶשׁ בְּטוֹב יִתְחַבְּרוּ
וּלְבַשׁ עֲנָוָה מִיְּמֵי בַּחְרוּתְךָ
וּמְאַס עֲצַת רֵיקִים אֲשֶׁר יִתְיָהֲרוּ
שֵׁם טוֹב לְךָ יֵצֵא וְתַשִּׁיג חֶפְצְךָ
חַפֵּשׂ בְּמַסֶּכְתּוֹת גְּאוֹנִים חִבְּרוּ
מִשְׁנַת חֲכָמִים מֵאֲבוֹתָם קִבְּלוּ
יוֹם סָבְבוּ סִינַי בְּשִׁכְלָם נָהֲרוּ
עָלָה אֲבִי כָל הַנְּבִיאִים עַד מְרוֹם
אֶל הָעֲרָפֶל פְּעָמָיו מִהֲרוּ
וְגַלְגַּל וְאַדְרִיכַל מְלַוִּים לוֹ בְּחֵן
עָלָה וּפָתַח כָּל שְׁעָרִים נִסְגְּרוּ
נוֹכַח פְּנֵי סִינַי שְׁבָטַי נִקְהֲלוּ
גַּם מַלְאֲכֵי מַעְלָה דְּגָלִים עָבְרוּ
אֵשׁ יָרְדָה מֵהַשְּׁכִינָה סָחֲרָה
קוֹלוֹת וּבְרָקִים וְעָנָן נֶחְבְּרוּ
לוּחוֹת שְׁנַיִם הֵם בְּיוֹשֶׁר נִכְתְּבוּ
בָּם דִּבְּרוֹת עֶשֶׁר בְּעֵדוּת נֶחְקְרוּ
שָׁמְעוּ לְאָנֹכִי וְלֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ
מִפִּי גְבוּרָה הֵם וְתוֹרָה שָׁמְרוּ
בָּרוּךְ אֲשֶׁר זִכָּה עֲדָתוֹ לַחֲזוֹת
תּוֹרָה תְמִימָה בָה נְפָשׁוֹת כָּשְׁרוּ
זָכְרָה אֲדוֹן הַכֹּל לְחֵן תּוֹרָתְךָ
קַבֵּץ פְּזוּרֵינוּ אֲשֶׁר נִתְפַּזְּרוּ
יַשֵּׁר דְּרָכֵינוּ לְמַעַן חַסְדְּךָ
כִּי עַל יְרֵאֶיךָ חֲסָדִים גָּבְרוּ
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Im taḥpetzáh, ben ‘ish, le-sodót nivḥarú
Tiknéh lekhá ḥavéir u-reiʕím yakrú
Baʕvúr yeḥí libákh ve-tismáḥ nafshekhá
Séikhel ve-ha-néfesh be-tóv yitḥabrú
U-levásh ʕanaváh mi-yeméi baḥrutekhá
U-me’ás ʕatzát reikím ‘ashér yityaharú
Sheim tov lekhá yeitzéi ve-tasíg ḥeftzekhá
Ḥapéis be-masekhtót ge’oním ḥibrú
Mishnát ḥakhamím mei-‘avotám kiblú
Yom savevú sinái be-sikhlám naharú
ʕaláh ‘aví khol ha-nevi’ím ʕad maróm
‘El ha-ʕarafél peʕamáv miharú
Ve-galgál ve-‘adrikhál melavím lo be-ḥéin
ʕaláh u-fatáḥ kol sheʕarím nisgerú
Nokháḥ penéi sinái shevatái niqhalú
Gam mal’akhéi máʕlah degalím ʕavrú
‘Eish yardáh mei-ha-shekhináh saḥaráh
Kolót u-verakím ve-ʕanán neḥberú
Luḥót shnáyim heim be-yósher nikhtevú
Bam dibrót ʕéser be-ʕeidút neḥkerú
Shamʕú le-‘anokhí ve-ló yihiyéh lekhá
Mi-pí ha-gevuráh heim ve-toráh shamrú
Barúkh ‘ashér zikáh ʕadató laḥazót
Toráh temimáh bah nefashót kashrú
Zakhráh ‘adon ha-kól le-ḥein toratekhá
Kabéitz pezuréinu ‘ashér nitpazrú
Yashéir derakhéinu lemáʕan ḥasdekhá
Ki ʕal yerei’ékha ḥasadím gavrú

Sep 282012
 

As I mentioned previously in my translation of Natan Zakh’s “A Moment,” a professor of mine has been developing a claim that Admiel Kosman’s poem of the same name represents an oblique response to the heavy-of-tongue existentialism of Zakh’s original. Dan Miron argues with some force that Zakh’s “A Moment” describes a failed and final opportunity for modern man to gain access to “transcendental knowledge,” knowledge man so desperately needs to contend with the miseries of existence and muster some measure of empathy for his fellow: “Everybody is equally myopic, for all people have lost the power of ‘divination’ in the original theological sense of the term.”1 My professor sees in Kosman’s description of one of his characteristic moments of transcendent unity with the sublime an implicit rejection of the notion that “transcendental knowledge,” a shard of nevu’ah, is beyond our grasp.

Miron draws a parallel between the “garment” the narrator of “A Moment” fails to touch with the mantle Elisha inherits from Elijah in 2 Kings chapter 9 that gives him, in effect, the authority and ability of a prophet (the Hebrew word Zakh uses that I have translated as “garment”, ‘adéret, is the word used for Elijah’s mantle of prophecy). But I translated “yakhólti lagáʕat be-shuléi ‘adartó” as “I could have touched the hem of his garment” because, well, I listen to a lot of black music, and the Hebrew phrase immediately called to mind a certain Sam Cooke number:

The reference, of course, is to the account in both Mark and Matthew of a zavah healing herself by touching a part of Jesus’ clothes (“hem of his garment” is from the King James translation of Matthew; most commentators seem to think the reference is to one of Jesus’ tzitzit). Interestingly, all of the Hebrew translations of the New Testament I looked at online before I wearied of offers to send me a free copy of the good news render “hem of his garment” as “kenáf bigdó,” rather than Zakh’s shuléi ‘adartó – but, as Miron points out2, Zakh enjoys playing with loaded Christian motifs, and drawing a fairly explicit parallel between a lost chance at transcendental knowledge and the prophet the Jews “missed out on” (well, one of the two) seems a good way to provoke the Jewish reader. My professor also brought up the interesting point that Zakh, apparently the child of a German-Jewish father and an Italian Catholic mother, is one of the few (non-Arab) non-halakhically Jewish Hebrew poets, and may have come by his evident familiarity with the Christian Bible through his mother.

Either way, I would simply like to take this opportunity to point out that everyone should listen to more black music: whether you’re into Hebrew poetry or something, I don’t know, practical (Business Administration?), it will inevitably prove relevant. I can’t even rifle through the Psalms without a few dozen reggae songs cuing up simultaneously in the Dragon Stout-drenched soundsystem that is my subconscious.

  1. Dan Miron, The Prophetic Mode in Hebrew Poetry, 546.
  2. 543
Sep 282012
 

Admiel Kosman (1957 – )
A Moment

They evoke me now, my wife,
in a single breath, along with day
and night. I’m evoked along
with the sun, the moon, the host of stars.
They evoke me now in a single breath
with the soft air that turns the cosmos.

אדמיאל קוסמן
רגע אחד

 
מַזְכִּירִים אוֹתִי כָּעֵת, אִשְׁתִּי,
בִּנְשִימָה אַחַת, בְּיַחַד עִם הַיּוֹם
וְעִם הַלַיְלָה. אֲנִי נִזְכָּר בְּיַחַד
עִם הַשֶׁמֶשׁ, הַיָּרֵחַ, צְבָא הַכּוֹכָבִים.
מַזְכִּירִים אוֹתִי כָּעֵת בִּנְשִימָה אַחַת
עִם הָאֲוִיר הָרַךְ הַמְסַבֵּב אֶת הַיְקוּם.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Mazkirím ‘otí ka-ʕéit, ‘ishtí,
Binshimáh ‘aḥát, be-yáḥad ʕim ha-yóm
Ve-ʕím ha-láilah. ‘Aní nizkár be-yáḥad
ʕim ha-shémesh, ha-yaréiaḥ, tzevá ha-kokhavím.
Mazkirím ‘otí ka-ʕéit binshimáh ‘aḥát
ʕim ha-‘avír ha-rákh ha-mesavéiv ‘et ha-yekúm.

Sep 282012
 

A TA of mine complained this week about the JPS translation of this rather lovely psalm. So I says to myself, I says, why not take a crack at it?

Psalm 51

To the conductor, a psalm of David
When Natan the prophet came to him after he had come to Batsheva.

Be gracious, O God, as your kindness / as becomes your mercy, wipe clean my crimes
Cleanse me wholly of all my transgressions / And purify me of my sins.
For I know all my own offenses / my sin never leaves my sight
Against you alone have I sinned / Great wrong have I done in your eyes
May the words that you say make you righteous / And may you be clear in your laws
Indeed, through transgression I know I was born / and in sin did my mother conceive
Indeed, you seek out the innermost depths / in the hidden reaches, you teach me wisdom
Purge me with hyssop that I might be pure / Clean me, I’ll whiten like snow
Let me hear the glad sounds of mirth and of joy / May the bones that you crushed exult
Conceal your face from the sight of my sins / And all my transgressions wipe clean
Create in me, Lord, the purest of hearts / Renew a fit spirit within me
Never cast me away from before you / And your holy spirit never withdraw
Restore to me the joy of salvation / With generous spirit support me
I shall teach the unrighteous your ways / To you may all sinners return
Save me from bloodguilt, O Lord of salvation / And of your justice my tongue shall sing.
O Lord, may you open my lips / So my mouth may declare your praise
You desire no sacrifice I might give / Of offerings you have no need
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit / A crushed and broken heart, O God, you could never scorn.
May it be that your will favors Zion / and build up Jerusalem’s walls
Then you would desire righteous offerings, the burnt and the whole;
Then once again would bulls be offered on your altar.

תהילים נ״א
 
לַמְנַצֵּחַ, מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד, בְּבוֹא אֵלָיו נָתָן הַנָּבִיא, כַּאֲשֶׁר בָּא אֶל בַּת שָׁבַע:
 
חָנֵּנִי אֱלֹהִים כְּחַסְדֶּךָ, כְּרֹב רַחֲמֶיךָ מְחֵה פְשָׁעָי.
הֶרֶב כַּבְּסֵנִי מֵעֲו‍ֹנִי, וּמֵחַטָּאתִי טַהֲרֵנִי.
כִּי פְשָׁעַי אֲנִי אֵדָע, וְחַטָּאתִי נֶגְדִּי תָמִיד.
לְךָ לְבַדְּךָ חָטָאתִי וְהָרַע בְּעֵינֶיךָ עָשִׂיתִי,
לְמַעַן תִּצְדַּק בְּדָבְרֶךָ, תִּזְכֶּה בְשָׁפְטֶךָ.
הֵן בְּעָווֹן חוֹלָלְתִּי, וּבְחֵטְא יֶחֱמַתְנִי אִמִּי.
הֵן אֱמֶת חָפַצְתָּ בַטֻּחוֹת, וּבְסָתֻם חָכְמָה תוֹדִיעֵנִי.
תְּחַטְּאֵנִי בְאֵזוֹב וְאֶטְהָר, תְּכַבְּסֵנִי וּמִשֶּׁלֶג אַלְבִּין.
תַּשְׁמִיעֵנִי שָׂשׂוֹן וְשִׂמְחָה, תָּגֵלְנָה עֲצָמוֹת דִּכִּיתָ.
הַסְתֵּר פָּנֶיךָ מֵחֲטָאָי, וְכָל עֲו‍ֹנֹתַי מְחֵה.
לֵב טָהוֹר בְּרָא לִי אֱלֹהִים, וְרוּחַ נָכוֹן חַדֵּשׁ בְּקִרְבִּי.
אַל תַּשְׁלִיכֵנִי מִלְּפָנֶיךָ, וְרוּחַ קָדְשְׁךָ אַל תִּקַּח מִמֶּנִּי.
הָשִׁיבָה לִּי שְׂשׂוֹן יִשְׁעֶךָ, וְרוּחַ נְדִיבָה תִסְמְכֵנִי.
אֲלַמְּדָה פֹשְׁעִים דְּרָכֶיךָ, וְחַטָּאִים אֵלֶיךָ יָשׁוּבוּ.
הַצִּילֵנִי מִדָּמִים, אֱ‍לֹהִים, אֱלֹהֵי תְּשׁוּעָתִי, תְּרַנֵּן לְשׁוֹנִי צִדְקָתֶךָ.
אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח, וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ.
כִּי לֹא תַחְפֹּץ זֶבַח וְאֶתֵּנָה, עוֹלָה לֹא תִרְצֶה.
זִבְחֵי אֱלֹהִים – רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה, לֵב נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה – אֱלֹהִים לֹא תִבְזֶה.
הֵיטִיבָה בִרְצוֹנְךָ אֶת צִיּוֹן, תִּבְנֶה חוֹמוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָ‍ִם.
אָז תַּחְפֹּץ זִבְחֵי צֶדֶק, עוֹלָה וְכָלִיל, אָז יַעֲלוּ עַל מִזְבַּחֲךָ פָרִים.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Ḥanéini ‘elohím ke-ḥasdékha / Ke-róv raḥamékha meḥéi feshaʕái
Hérev kabséini mei-ʕavoní / U-mei-ḥatatí taharéini
Ki feshaʕái ‘aní ‘eidáʕ / Ve-ḥatatí negdí tamíd
Lekhá levadkhá ḥatatí / Ve-haráʕ be-ʕeinéikha ʕasíti
Le-máʕan titzdák bidvarékha / tizkéh ve-shoftékha
Hein, be-ʕavón ḥolálti / U-ve-ḥéit yeḥemátni ‘imí
Hein, ’emét ḥafátzta ba-tuḥót / U-ve-satúm ḥokhmáh todiʕéini
Teḥat’éini ve-‘eizóv ve-‘ethár / Tekhabséini u-mi-shéleg ‘albín
Tashmiʕéini sasón ve-simḥáh / tagéilnah ʕatzamót dikíta
Hastéir panékha mei-ḥata’ái / ve-khól ʕavonotái meḥéi
Leiv tahór berá’ li ‘elohím / Ve-rúaḥ nakhón ḥadéish be-kirbí
‘Al tashlikhéini mi-lefanékha / ve-rúaḥ kodshekhá ‘al tikáḥ miméni
Hashívah li sasón yishʕékha / ve-rúaḥ nediváh tismekhéini
‘Alamdáh poshʕím derakhékha / ve-ḥata’ím ‘eilékha yashúvu
Hatziléini mi-damím ‘elohím ‘elohéi teshuʕatí / teranéin leshoní tzidkatékha
‘Adonái sefatái tiftáḥ / U-fí yagíd tehilatékha
Ki lo taḥpótz zévaḥ / Ve-‘etéinah ʕoláh lo tirtzéh
Zivḥéi ‘elohím rúaḥ nishbaráh / leiv nishbár ve-nidkéh ‘elohím lo tivzéh
Heitívah virtzonkhá ‘et tziyón / tivnéh ḥomót yerushaláyim
‘Az taḥpótz zivḥéi tzédek, ʕoláh ve-khalíl
‘Az yaʕalú ʕal mizbaḥakhá parím

Sep 272012
 

Surely we can all identify with the difficulties of securing a decent patron. A cute poem that proves that, yes, Sephardim too are funny Jews.

בוודאי, כולנו יכולים להזדהות עם הקושי לרכוש תומך הגון. הנה שיר חמוד שמוכיח שכן, גם ספרדים הם יהודים מצחיקים.
י

Avraham ibn Ezra (1089 – 1167)
I Came Early to the Lord’s House

To the lord’s house I came early – “He’s out riding,” they said
I came back after evening — “He’s already abed.”
He’s either climbing into his carriage or climbing into his bed –
Woe to the poor man, born with no star overhead!

אברהם אבן עזרא / إبراهيم ابن عزرا
אשכים לבית השר

 
אַשְׁכִּים לְבֵית הַשָּׂר – אֹמְרִים: כְּבָר רָכָב!
אָבֹא לְעֵת עֶרֶב – אֹמְרִים: כְּבָר שָׁכָב!
אוֹ יַעֲלֶה מֶרְכָּב, אוֹ יַעֲלֶה מִשְׁכָּב –
אוֹיָה לְאִישׁ עָנִי, נוֹלַד בְּלִי כוֹכָב!
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Ashkím le-véit ha-sár – ‘omrím: kvar rakháv!
‘Avó le-ʕéit ʕérev – ‘omrím: kvar shakháv!
‘O yaʕaléh merkáv, ‘o yaʕaléh mishkáv –
‘Oyáh le-‘ísh ʕaní, nolád bli khokháv!

Sep 262012
 

Translating Unetaneh Tokef, with its evocation of man’s fleeting nature, reminded me of this poem. I’d like to dedicate it specifically to all the ravenous, Ugg-booted Yiddishe vilde chayes who demolished the Yom Kippur iftar before I could get any. I think Bialik would approve.

בעת שתירגמתי את “ונתנה תוקף,” שמעלה את טבעם החולף של חיי בני אדם, נזכרתי בשיר זה. הייתי רוצה להקדיש אותו במיוחד לכל היידישע ווילדע חיות הזללניות במגפי “אג” שטרפו את אפטאר יום הכיפורים לפני שהיתה לי הזדמנות לאכול. אני חושב שביאליק היה מסכים.
י

Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik (1873 – 1934)
Surely, This Nation is Grass

“For the breath of the Lord blows upon it…surely, this nation is grass.”
Isaiah 40:7

Surely this nation is grass, as dry as dead wood,
Surely this nation is empty, void without end;
And when the voice of God thunders here, thunders there –
The nation never stirs, never moves, never shakes.
Never rises like a leopard, nor wakes like a lion,
Not a man in the city will shake at the voice.
And the whole nation’s heart never quivers in joy
From right unto left, from sea unto sea,
When it meets with its sons, the living God’s seed,
Who come from afar toward the voice of the Lord.
None extend them their hands, nor ask after the health
Of all those who call His name purely, in faith.
And by a fool nation’s din ’round its idols of gold
God’s voice is concealed, his thunder consumed.
And with vile, wicked heart, in spittle and shame,
The Lord’s word is scorned, to laughter laid bare.

Surely wilted is the nation, full of poison and spite,
From its feet to its head, all rot and all blight!
It never fostered within, through days of sickness and pain,
A living man of great deeds, in whose chest beats a heart,
In whose heart burns a spark, a spark to boil the blood,
In whose head flares a gleam that would lighten the path;

Who values the name of the nation and Lord
More than wealth, more than gold – more than false gods;
Whose heart’s burden is light, full of truth and of strength,
Hating fiercely a life of chains and disgrace,
Mercy wide as the sea, compassion as great
As a broken people’s breach, as the weight of the yoke –
All seething in the heart, seething, foaming like the sea,
Blazing like fire, blazing, kindling the blood,
Thund’ring, day and night, an echo without end:
“Rise to serve! Rise to act! With us is God’s hand!”

Surely this nation is lost, breathing slander and spit,
No law for its actions, its deeds lacking writ.
Millennia without roots, Exile too great to bear,
Made the heart go astray with no counsel to share.
Inured to rod and lash – can it feel the urging
Of a disgraced soul in bondage, beyond the pain of the scourging?
Can it bring itself to care, beyond daily woes,
Lolling deep in the abyss, in Exile’s throes?
Can it bear its soul towards the day, can it look towards the dawn,
Can it bring its path to its end, will the generation be drawn?
The nation will not stir unless the whip wakes it.
The nation will not rise unless plunder makes it.
Leaves wilting from trees, moss sprouting from heaps,
Fruitless vines, rotten blossoms – could the dew wake them from sleep?
Even when the shofar is sounded and the banner upraised –
Could the dead ever rise? Would they even be fazed?

5657

חיים נחמן ביאליק
אכן חציר העם

 
כִּי רוּחַ יְיָ נָשְׁבָה בּוֹ… אָכֵן חָצִיר הָעָם.
ישעיה מ, ז
 
אָכֵן חָצִיר הָעָם, יָבֵשׁ הָיָה כָּעֵץ,
אָכֵן חָלָל הָעָם, חָלָל כָּבֵד אֵין קֵץ;
אֲשֶׁר יִרְעַם קוֹל אֵל גַּם-מִפֹּה גַּם-מִשָּׁם –
וְלֹא-נָע וְלֹא-זָע וְלֹא-חָרַד הָעָם.
וְלֹא-קָם כָּאֲרִי וְלֹא-נֵעוֹר כַּכְּפִיר,
וְלֹא-חָרַד לַקּוֹל גַּם אִישׁ אֶחָד מֵעִיר.
וְלֹא-רָעַד בַּגִּיל יַחַד לֵב כָּל-הָעָם
מִיָּמִין וּמִשְּׂמֹאל וּמִיָּם וְעַד-יָם,
בְּהִתְוַדַּע אֵלָיו בָּנָיו, זֶרַע אֵל חָי,
אֲשֶׁר בָּאוּ מֵרָחוֹק אֶל-קוֹל אֲדֹנָי.
גַּם-לֹא פָשַׁט הַיָּד, גַּם-לֹא שָׁאַל לִשְׁלוֹם
כָּל-הַקּוֹרְאִים בִּשְׁמוֹ בֶּאֱמוּנָה וּבְתֹם.
וּבִשְׁאוֹן עַם אֱוִיל סְבִיב אֱלִילֵי הַפָּז
נֶחְבָּא קוֹל אֱלֹהִים, נִבְלַע רַעֲמוֹ הָעָז.
וּבְלֵב נָבָל וָרָע, וּבִכְלִמּוֹת וָרֹק
יִבֶז דְּבַר אֲדֹנָי, יִפְרָעֵהוּ לִצְחוֹק.
 
אָכֵן נָבַל הָעָם, מָלֵא נִקְלֶה וָרוֹשׁ,
כֻּלּוֹ רָקָב וּמְסוֹס מִכַּף רֶגֶל עַד-רֹאשׁ!
שֶׁלֹּא הֵקִים מִקִּרְבּוֹ בְּיוֹם נַחֲלָה וּכְאֵב
רַב פְּעָלִים, אִישׁ חַי, אֲשֶׁר יִפְעַם בּוֹ לֵב,
וּבַלֵּב יִבְעַר זִיק, זִיק מַרְתִּיחַ הַדָּם,
וּבָרֹאשׁ יִגַּהּ שְׁבִיב מֵאִיר דֶּרֶךְ הָעָם;
 
אֲשֶׁר יֵקַר לוֹ שֵׁם כָּל-הַגּוֹי וֵאלֹהָיו
גַּם מֵהוֹן וּמִפָּז – מֵאֱלִילֵי הַשָּׁוְא;
אֲשֶׁר מְעַט מַשָּׂא-לֵב, הַרְבֵּה אֱמֶת, עֱזוּז,
שִׂנְאָה עַזָּה לִמְנָת חַיֵּי עַבְדוּת וָבוּז,
חֶמְלָה גְדוֹלָה כַיָּם, רַחֲמִים רַבִּים כִּגְדֹל
שֶׁבֶר עַמּוֹ הָאֻמְלָל וּכְכֹבֶד הָעֹל –
כָּל-זֶה יֶהֱמֶה בַלֵּב, יֶהֱמֶה יֶחְמַר כַּיָּם,
כָּל-זֶה יִבְעַר כָּאֵשׁ, יִבְעַר יַצִּית הַדָּם,
כָּל-זֶה יִרְעַם כַּהֵד תָּמִיד יוֹמָם וָלֵיל:
קוּם עֲבֹד, קוּם עֲשֵׂה, כִּי עִמָּנוּ יַד-אֵל!
 
אָכֵן אֹבֵד הָעָם, שֹׁאֵף חֶרְפָּה וָרֹק,
אֵין לְמַעֲשָׂיו יְסוֹד וּלְפָעֳלוֹ אֵין חֹק.
אַלְפֵי שְׁנוֹת חַיֵּי נְדֹד, גָּלוּת גְּדוֹלָה מִנְּשׂא,
הִתְעוּ אָחוֹר הַלֵּב, אָבְדָה עֵצָה מִגּוֹי.
לִמֻּד שֵׁבֶט וָשׁוֹט – הַאִם יָחוּשׁ כְּאֵב
חֶרְפַּת נֶפֶשׁ בַּצָּר מִלְּבַד מְדוּשַׁת הַגֵּו?
אוֹ אִם-יוּכַל דְּאֹג מִלְּבַד דַּאֲגַת הַיּוֹם
עַם מִתְגַּלְגֵּל בְּגֵיא גָלוּת חֲשֵׁכָה כַתְּהֹם?
לָשֵׂאת נַפְשׁוֹ לַיּוֹם וּלְהִתְנַבּוֹת לְאוֹר,
לִנְטוֹת קַוּוֹ לַקֵּץ, צַוֹּת דָּבָר לַדּוֹר?
הוּא לֹא יִיקַץ אִם-לֹא יְעִירֶנּוּ הַשּׁוֹט.
הוּא לֹא יָקוּם אִם-לֹא יְקִימֶנוּ הַשֹּׁד.
עָלֶה נֹבֵל מֵעֵץ, אֵזוֹב עֹלֶה בַגָּל,
גֶּפֶן בֹּקֵק, צִיץ מָק – הַיְחַיֶּנּוּ הַטָּל?
גַּם-בִּתְקֹעַ הַשּׁוֹפָר וּבְהִנָּשֵׂא הַנֵּס –
הֲיִתְעוֹרֵר הַמֵּת? הֲיִזְדַּעְזַע הַמֵּת?
 
תרנ”ז
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Ókhein khótzir ho-óm, yóveish hóyo ko-éitz,
Ókhein khólol ho-óm, khólol kóveid ein keitz;
Ashér yíram koyl eil gam mi-póy gam mi-shóm –
Vloy-nó vloy-zó vloy-khórad ho-óm.
Vloy-kóm ko-arí vloy-néioyr kakfír,
Vloy-khórad la-kóyl gam ish échod mei-ír
Vloy-ró’ad ba-gíl yákhad leiv kol ho-óm,
Mi-yómin u-mi-smóyl u-mi-yóm ve-ad-yóm,
Be-hisváda éilav bánav, zéra eil chai,
Ashér bó’u mei-rókhoyk el-koyl adóynai.
Gam-loy fóshat ha-yód, gam-loi shó’al lishlóym
Kol ha-kóyrim bishmóy be’emúno uvsóym.
Uvishóyn am evíl svív elílei ha-póz
Nékhbo koyl elóyhim, nívla rámoy ho-óz.
Uvelév nóvol vo-rá, uvikhlímoys vo-róyk
Yívez dvár adóynai, yifro’éihu litzchóyk.

Ókhein nóval ho-óm, mólei níkleh vo-róysh,
Kúloy rókov umsóys mi-káf régel ad roysh!
She-lóy héikim mi-kírboy be-yóym nákhlo u-khéiv
Rav pe’ólim, ish khai, ashér yífam boy leiv,
U-va-léiv yívar zik, zik martíakh ha-dóm,
U-vo-róysh yígah shviv méir dérekh ho-óm;

Ashér yéikar loy sheim kol ha-góy veilóyhov
Gam mi-hóyn u-mi-póz, meilílei ha-shov;
Ashér me’át máso lev, hárbeh émes, ézuz,
Sínoh ázoh limnós kháyei ávdus va-vúz
Khémloh gedóyloh kha-yóm, rákhmim rábim kigdóyl
Shéver ámo ho-úmlol u-khe-khóyved ho-óyl –
Kol zeh yémeh va-léiv, yémeh yékhmar ka-yóm,
Kol zeh yívar ko-eísh, yívar yátzis ha-dóm,
Kol zeh yíram ka-héid tómid yóymam vo-léil:
“Kum avóyd, kum aséi, ki imónu yad eil!”

Ókhein óyveid ho-óm, shóyef khérpoh va-róyk,
Ein le-másav yesóyd u-le-fáloy ein khoyk.
Álfei shnoys kháyei nedóyd, gólus gedóyloh minsóy,
Hísu ókhor ha-léiv, óvdoh éitzoh mi-góy
Límud shéivet vo-shóyt, ha-ím yókhush ke’éiv
Khérpas néfesh ba-tzór milvád medúshas ha-géiv?
Oy im yúkhal de’óyg milvád dágas ha-yóym
Am misgálgeil be-géi gólus khashéikhoh khatóym?
Loséis náfshoy la-yóym u-lehisnáboys le-óyr,
Lintóys kavóy la-kéitz, tzvoys dóvor le-dóyr?
Hu loy yíkatz im lo ye’irénu ha-shóyt.
Hu loy yókum im lo yekiménu ha-shóyd.
Óleh nóyvel mei-éitz, éizoyv óyleh va-gól,
Géfen bóykeik, tzitz mók – ha-yechayénu ha-tól?
Gam biskóya ha-shóyfor u-ve-hinósei ha-néis –
Ha-yisóyreir ha-méis? Ha-yizdáza ha-méis?

Sep 252012
 

I’ve been arguing with my professor whether this poem is the inspiration for an Admiel Kosman poem of the same name. I’m not so sure.

אני מתווכח עם הפרופסור שלי אם השיר הזה הוא ההשראה עבור שיר באותו שם מאת אדמיאל קוסמן. אני לא כל כך בטוח.
י

Natan Zakh (1930- )
A Moment

Could you quiet down for just a moment. Please. I’d
like to say something. He was walking
and passed in front of me. I could have touched the hem
of his garment. I didn’t. Who could have
known what I didn’t know?

There was sand stuck to his clothes. Twigs
tangled in his beard. He’d probably slept
on straw the night before. Who could have
known that by the next night he’d be
empty as a bird, hard as a stone.

I couldn’t have known. I don’t blame
him. Sometimes I feel him get up
in his sleep, moonstruck as the sea, passing me by, saying
to me, my son.
My son. I didn’t know you were with me like this.

נתן זך
רגע אחד


רֶגַע אֶחָד שֶׁקֶט בְּבַקָּשָּה. אָנָּא. אֲנִי
רוֹצֶה לוֹמַר דְּבַר מָה. הוּא הָלַךְ
וְעָבַר עַל פָּנַי. יָכֹלְתִּי לָגַעַת בְּשׁוּלֵי
אַדַּרְתּוֹ. לֹא נָגַעְתִּי. מִי יָכוֹל הָיָה
לָדַעַת מַה שֶׁלֹא יָדַעְתִּי.
 
הַחוֹל דָּבַק בִּבְגָדָיו. בִּזְקָנוֹ
הִסְתַּבְּכוּ זְרָדִים. כַּנִּרְאֶה לָן
לַיְלָה קֹדֶם בַּתֶּבֶן. מִי יָכוֹל הָיָה
לָדַעַת שֶׁבְּעוֹד לַיְלָה יִהְיֶה
רֵיק כְּמוֹ צִפּוֹר, קָשֶׁה כְּמוֹ אֶבֶן.
 
לֹא יָכֹלְתִּי לָדַעַת. אֵינֶנִּי מַאֲשִׁים
אוֹתוֹ. לִפְעָמִים אֲנִי מַרְגִּיש אוֹתוֹ קָם
בִּשְׁנָתוֹ, סַהֲרוּרִי כְּמוֹ יָם, חוֹלֵף לְיָדִי, אוֹמֵר
לִי בְּנִי.
בּנִי. לֹא יָדַעְתִּי שֶׁאַתָּה, בְּמִדָּה כָּזֹאת, אִתִּי.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Régaʕ ‘eḥád shéket bevakasháh. ‘Ána. ‘Aní
rotzéh lomár devár mah. Hu halákh
ve-ʕavár ʕal panái. Yakhólti lagáʕat be-shuléi
‘adartó. Lo nagáʕti. Mi yakhól hayáh
ladáʕat mah she-ló yadáʕti.

Ha-ḥól davák bivgadáv. Bizkanó
histabkhú zeradím. Kaniréh lan
láilah kódem ba-téven. Mi yakhól hayáh
ladáʕat she-be-ʕód láilah yiheyéh
reik kemó tzipór, kashéh kemó ‘éven.

Lo yakhólti ladáʕat. ‘Einéini ma’ashím
‘otó. Lifeʕamím ‘aní margísh ‘otó kam
bishnató, saharurí kemó yam, ḥoléif le-yadí, ‘oméir
li bení.
Bení. Lo yadaʕti she-‘atáh, be-midáh ka-zót, ‘ití.