Oct 082012

If it hasn’t become apparent by now, I’m quite fond of Admiel Kosman. I’m also currently reading through the collection that bears this poem’s title for an independent study, so expect to see plenty more of Israeli poetry’s favorite heretical dos. If you don’t like it, well, you could always go back to the other Hebrew poetry in parallel translation blogs.

The highly conversational tone in the translation is quite deliberate. The Hebrew features, shall we say, a rather “dudely” cant – which is what makes this poem so particularly memorable.

Admiel Kosman (1957 – )
We Got to God

We got to God.
Totally by accident. Actually, we bumped into him.
We were halfway there, on the mountainside,
the donkeys bearing all the baggage,
and suddenly, where the road curves, when we turned to look,
we bumped into him.

He was looking for us too,
like a precious stone, he said, a pearl,
something that you’d lost.
When just like that, by accident,
completely random, halfway there, we got
to our intended land.
That is, we got to God.
And we found such reprieve from life.
It was totally by accident, that is,
halfway there, as we came down the mountain,
the donkeys and their bundles stood aside,
leaning forward and bent-kneed, at the narrow curve.
You couldn’t bear the heat.

At the path’s edge we bumped into him. To and fro. Standing in the middle.
To and fro. Too tall to say, fine as a hair, in the corner,
at the edge, we bumped into him, desperate, searching for
the precious stone, the pearl.

As far as we were concerned, we were halfway there and set to quit.
It could be we saw a pit. It could be we saw a pit of water,
and for a brief moment, we let ourselves step off the path.

But you couldn’t bear the heat, and the world burnt like a furnace.
And then, it seemed the sky before us was opened with a zipper.
And it fed our scorched eyes

with what no living soul nor mortal being had seen
since God created man to dominate and
rule over all this parched land.

אדמיאל קוסמן
הגענו לאלוהים

הִגַּעְנוּ לֵאלֹהִים.
לְגַמְרֵי בְּמִקְרֶה. לְמַעֲשֶׂה, נִתְקַלְנוּ בּוֹ.
הָיִינוּ בַּחֲצִי הַדֶּרֶךְ, בְּמוֹרַד הָהָר,
עִם כָּל מִטְעַן הַחֲמוֹרִים הָרַב,
וּלְפֶתַע, בְּעִקּוּל הַדֶּרֶךְ, כְּשֶׁהִטִינוּ לְהַבִּיט,
נִתְקַלְנוּ בּוֹ.
גַּם הוּא חִפֵּשׂ אוֹתָנוּ,
כְּמוֹ אֶבֶן יְקָרָה, אָמַר, כְּמוֹ מַרְגָּלִית,
מַמָּשׁ כְּמוֹ אֲבֵדָה.
כְּשֶׁכָּכָה, בְּמִקְרֶה לְגַמְרֵי,
בְּאַקְרַאי גָּמוּר, הָיִינוּ בַּחֲצִי הַדֶּרֶךְ, והִגַּעְנוּ
אֶל הָאָרֶץ הַיְּעוּדָה.
כְּלוֹמַר, הִגַּעְנוּ לֵאלֹהִים.
וּמָצָאנוּ מְנוּחָה גְמוּרָה מִן הַחַיִּים.
הָיָה זֶה לְגַמְרֵי בְּמִקְרֶה, דְּהַיְנוּ,
בַּחֲצִי הַדֶּרֶךְ, כְּשֶׁיָּרַדְנוּ מִן הָהָר,
הַחֲמוֹרִים וְהַשַּׂקִּים עָמְדוּ לְבַד,
שְׁמוּטִים וּכְפוּפֵי-בֶּרֶךְ, בָּעִקּוּל הַצַּר.
הַחֹם הָיָה כָּבֵד מִנְּשֹא.
בִּקְצֵה הַשְּׁבִיל נִתְקַלְנוּ בּוֹ. הוֹלֵךְ וּבָא. מַמָּשׁ בָּאֶמְצַע הוּא עָמַד.
הוֹלֵךְ וּבָא. לְאֵין שִׁעוּר גָּבוֹהַּ, דַּק כְּמוֹ שַׂעֲרָה, בְּקֶרֶן הַזָּוִית,
בִּקְצֵה הַשְּׁבִיל, נִתְקַלְנוּ בּוֹ, בְּחִפּוּשָׂיו הַנּוֹאָשִׁים,
אַחַר הָאֶבֶן הַיְקָרָה, אַחַר הַמַּרְגָּלִית.
אֲנַחְנוּ מִצִּדֵּנוּ כְּבָר הָיִינוּ בַּחֲצִי הַדֶּרֶךְ וְהִטִּינוּ לַחֲזֹר.
אוּלַי רָאִינוּ בּוֹר. אוּלַי רָאִינוּ בּוֹר שֶׁל מַיִם,
וְהִטִּינוּ אֶת עַצְמֵנוּ מִן הַשְּׁבִיל לְרֶגַע קָט.
אֲבָל הַחֹם הָיָה כָּבֵד מִנְּשֹא, וְהָעוֹלָם בָּעַר כְּמוֹ כִּבְשָׁן.
וְאָז, כְּמוֹ נִפְתְּחוּ כָּל הַשָּׁמַיִם לְפָנֵינוּ בִּמְשִׁיכַת רוֹכְסָן.
וְזַנּוּ אֶת עֵינֵינוּ הַשְּׂרוּפוֹת
בְּמַה שֶּׁלֹּא רָאָה אֱנוֹשׁ וּבֶן תְּמוּתָה מֵאָז
בָּרָא הָאֱלֹהִים אָדָם לִשְׁלֹט
עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה הַיְבֵשָׁה הַזֹּאת.


Higáʕnu leilohím.
Le-gámrei be-mikréh. Le-maʕaséh, nitkálnu bo.
Hayínu ba-ḥatzí ha-dérekh, be-morád ha-hár,
ʕim kol mitʕán ha-ḥamorím ha-rav,
u-le-fétaʕ, be-ʕikúl ha-dérekh, keshe-hitínu lehabít,
nitkálnu bo.

Gam hu ḥipéis ‘otánu,
kemó ‘éven yekaráh, ‘amár, kemó margalít,
mamásh kemó ‘aveidáh.
Keshe-kákha, be-mikréh le-gámrei,
be-‘akrái gamúr, hayínu ba-ḥatzí ha-dérekh, ve-higáʕnu
‘el ha-‘áretz ha-yeʕudáh.
Kelomár, higáʕnu leilohím.
U-matzánu menuḥáh gemuráh min ha-ḥayím.
Hayáh zeh le-gámrei be-mikréh, deháynu,
ba-ḥatzí ha-dérekh, keshe-yarádnu min ha-hár,
ha-ḥamorím ve-ha-sakím ʕamdú levád,
shemutím u-khefuféi bérekh, ba-ʕikúl ha-tzár.
Ha-ḥom hayáh kavéid minsó.

Biktzéh ha-shvíl nitkálnu bo. Holéikh u-vá. Mamásh ba-‘émtzaʕ hu ʕamád.
Holéikh u-vá. Le-‘éin shiʕúr gavó’ah, dak kemó saʕaráh, be-kéren ha-zavít,
biktzéh ha-shvíl, nitkálnu bo, be-ḥipusáv ha-no’ashím,
‘aḥár ha-‘éven ha-yekaráh, ‘aḥár ha-margalít.

‘Anáḥnu mi-tzidéinu kevár hayínu ba-ḥatzí ha-dérekh ve-hitínu laḥazór.
‘Ulái ra’ínu bor. ‘Ulai ra’ínu bor shel máyim,
ve-hitínu ‘et ʕatzméinu min ha-shvíl le-régaʕ kat.

‘Avál ha-ḥom hayáh kavéid minsó, ve-ha-ʕolám baʕár kemó kivshán.
Ve-‘áz, kemó nifteḥú kol ha-shamáyim lefanéinu bimshikhát rokhsán.
Ve-zánu ‘et ʕeinéinu ha-serufót

be-máh she-ló ra’áh ‘enósh u-vén temutáh mei-‘áz
bará ha-‘elohím ‘adám lishlót
ʕal penéi ha-‘adamáh ha-yeveisháh ha-zot.

  7 Responses to “Admiel Kosman, “Higanu le-Elohim””

  1. Wow! I love love love that you’ve put this website together and amazed that I bumped into it on the vast internet… What mazzal. I love the mix of medieval and modern Hebrew poetry here, and this poem is really extraordinary.

    One teeny-tiny comment: I happened to notice that it appears as if you missed the mappiq-he in your transliteration. Third stanza, second line: לאין שיעור גבוה should surely be “le-’éin shiʕúr gavó-ah”, no? Mappiq-he functions as a guttural in that it takes a pattaḥ genuva after a u-class vowel, aka the pattaḥ is read “first” just like תפוח is read “tapú-aḥ” and not “tapúḥa”.

    But the poem and your translation are both truly fantastic.

  2. You are correct! I confess, usually by the time I get to the transliteration, I am either tired, a little tipsy, tired of typing accents with the NumPad, or some combination. There are probably more than a few mistakes out there. But I will fix this one.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment and correction. How’d you get here? Nobody gets here. Unless they want to make kubbeh soup, I guess, but they don’t tend to stay for the poetry.

  3. Hey, I just saw this!
    No worries about it… My father is a Hebrew grammar teacher and drilled the rules for qamatz qatan and pattaḥ genuva into my head from an early age.

    I got here through the magic of the internet… I think a link on the “Live from Jerusalem” tumblr. But I love medieval Hebrew poetry (I studied with Jonathan Decter, if the name means anything to you) as well as modern, so I am totally enjoying your posts. And I love kubbeh as well!

  4. Love this poem, too.

    Thank you for sharing it!


  5. It’s a good one, isn’t it? The whole collection, which bears this poem’s title, is excellent, but to my knowledge has never appeared in English (and is out of print in Hebrew). I’ve translated a number of other ones from it on this site, though. Do poke around if you feel like it.

  6. I did get here because of the soup… some 3 hours ago. And I’ve spent them in a time capsule where suddenly I did have space for the Hebrew medieval poetry which my Dad taught me to love, long before I spoke any real Hebrew, and before I acted on his other love Erez Yisroel, made Alia and never had another second for poetry except for Shabbat Zmiros (because we’re so busy building the here and now, you see…)

    I can’t tell you how thankful I feel. Even consoled about the lost workday spent nursing a sick child instead of dazzling conference roomfuls, because for a short (well, three hours) time you brought me back to the beautiful backbone of why we’re here. and the inherent beauty of this language.

    You even reinforced my suppositions about Jews in Jazz. Also, that was to my mind because Jews have had a lot of experience with -1- making do with instruments portable yet high-class, their mothers’ manic demands for technical perfection, and near the guilt, the strident inner demand for wailing for the best and keeping it beautiful. And also, the born aversion for playing it exactly by the book, which is maybe the root of it all.

    Ever remarked on however little stock Jews officially put on aesthetics, at the end of the day the aesthetic (visual, audio, or theoretic) part always are such preponderant in Jewish creations?

    Thanks again

  7. Belated response, but thank you for the very kind reply. I was hoping there would be a few people out there like you to stumble across my quixotic little project and appreciate something in it (and a few have…a few).

    Your remarks on Jewish aesthetics actually in a way cut to the root of this site’s secret mission, never fully stated, which is to demonstrate that [some] “Orthodox” (though historically the term is a misnomer, let’s say “traditional”) Jews spent a great deal of time in the past engaged in the pursuit of beauty for its own sake, not to mention some pretty “unorthodox” behaviors (as I’m sure you know, many of the great poets were also great religious scholars) – yet in modern ultra-Orthodoxy, and more conservative modern Orthodoxy, this past and these pursuits are either denied completely (or simply unknown) or actively discouraged. This militant anti-aesthetic streak is what modern “religious” poets like Kosman (a product of the Israeli religious-Zionist camp) rebel against (something he addresses more directly here), and what caused him to leave/be forced out of a professorship in Talmud at Bar Ilan to teach at the Reform seminary and Potsdam University in Berlin. I have a close Charedi friend to whom I once showed a collection I’d made of medieval Hebrew poetry, and he said “I know all these names [from their halakhic/philosophical works], but I had no idea any of them wrote poetry.” He also said he noticed that Shabbat for the first time that “Lekha Dodi” rhymed and was, in fact, a poem. So that’s something I’m reacting to in my own little way, for my own little reasons. There are a few contemporary Orthodox poets in Israel, though most have strayed somewhat from the community (and are mostly women, for whatever reason) – there’s also a school of young “hilltop youth” (more or less) poets reviving religious poetry, but their poetry doesn’t do much for me and I really don’t like their politics.

    About Jews in jazz, all you said is true, but one should also throw in the facts that European Jews’ indigenous music encouraged improvisation (and featured scales and harmonies beyond the pale of “proper European music,” much as the blues/jazz did), and Jews’ status as societal outsiders in America in the first half of the 20th century (they were also notable gap-bridgers; many of the big white swing bands were led by Jews, and it was Benny Goodman who first “formally” integrated mainstream “pop” jazz – as far as what the bop guys were just starting to get up to at the same time, that was integrated from the start, since it was a technical meritocracy more than anything else). If you haven’t seen Clint Eastwood’s movie “Bird,” you really should; one of the main trumpet players he worked with was Jewish, and there’s a scene at a Jewish wedding that wonderfully displays the whole complicated dynamic at play.

    And as far as the visual arts, well, that’s all a very strange thing, since there is very little history of visual art other than Judaica in post-classical Judaism – why there are so many great Jewish artists, other than the raw power that comes from rebelling against one’s societal norms, remains a mystery to me.

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