Jan 112013
 

The Song of Songs allusion in the first line is fairly direct (“I am asleep; yet my heart is awake”), but I wonder if this sonnet is a sort of modernization of Yosef Tzarfati’s “You’re Asleep” (one of my personal favorites!). Both seem to be poems composed sitting on the edge of the bed, as it were, gazing towards a female partner whose allure is as threatening as it is magnetic. Carmi was certainly a maven in the history of Hebrew poetry, and a Tzarfati admirer (he calls him “the most graceful Hebrew lyricist of the Renaissance” in the Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse). Might be something to it, eh?

T. Carmi (1925 – 1994)
She’s Asleep

She’s asleep; but her hand is awake,
more awake than the palm of a surgeon,
to the pulse, to the smell, to the breathing emerging,
to the whisper a dirge kept concealed might make.

She’s asleep; but her ear is still open
to clinks of cool metal, the twitching, unsteady,
of a too-heavy eyelid. She’s ready
for sudden silences and for confusion.

She’s asleep; but on you, her eye she will keep,
on the rashness of spring, on the autumn leaves falling,
on the next one to die, and the soul of all life…
Oh, peace to her dream,1 she’s asleep.

But her hand, ever skillful, is cutting
until sundown into this living flesh.

ט. כרמי
היא ישנה

 
הִיא יְשֵׁנָה; אֲבָל יָדָהּ עֵרָה
יוֹתֵר מִכַּף־יָדוֹ שֶׁל הַמְנַתֵּחַ
לָרוּחַ וְלַדֹּפֶק וְלָרֵיחַ,
לְרַחַשׁ הַקִּינָה הַמְּסֻתָּרָה.
 
הִיא יְשֵׁנָה; אֲבָל אָזְנָהּ פְּקוּחָה
לְקִישׁ מַתֶּכֶת קְרִירָה וְנִיד
עַפְעַף כָּבֵד. הִיא עֲרוּכָה תָמִיד
לְדוּמִיַּת־פִּתְאֹם וְלַמְּבוּכָה.
 
הִיא יְשֵׁנָה; אֲבָל בְּךָ עֵינָהּ,
בְּפַחַז הָאָבִיב וּבַשַּׁלֶּכֶת,
בַּמֵּת הַבָּא, וּבְנִשְׁמַת־כָּל־חַי…
שָׁלוֹם לַחֲלוֹמָהּ, הִיא יְשֵׁנָה.
 
אֲבָל יָדָהּ הָאֱמוּנָה חוֹתֶכֶת
עַד בּוֹא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בַּבָּשָׂר הַחַי.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Hi yesheináh; ‘avál yadáh ʕeiráh
yotéir mi-káf yadó shel ha-menatéiaḥ
la-rúaḥ ve-la-dófek ve-la-réiaḥ,
le-ráḥash ha-kináh ha-mesutaráh.

Hi yesheináh; ‘avál ‘oznáh pekuḥáh
le-kísh matékhet keriráh ve-níd
ʕafʕáf kavéid. Hi ʕarukháh tamíd
le-dumiyát pit’óm ve-la-mevukháh.

Hi yesheináh; ‘avál bekhá ʕeináh,
be-fáḥaz ha-‘avív u-va-shalékhet,
ba-méit ha-bá, u-ve-nishmát kol ḥai…
Shalóm la-ḥalomáh, hi yesheináh.

‘Avál yadáh ha-’emunáh ḥotékhet
ʕad bo ha-shémesh ba-basár ha-ḥai.

  1. Calls to the mind the phrase shalom le-ʕafarah, “peace to her dust,” said of a dead person in a manner analogous to “may she rest in peace.”

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