Feb 052013
 

A question: did I translate this poem because I like it, or because it offered me a rare point of Homeric intertextuality between Hebrew poetry and my favorite Steely Dan song? I’ll never tell.

Steely Dan - Home at Last
י
See, that’s how you weave literary allusions into pop music (Sting). One thing that’s always bothered me, though: although I love the Calypso-evoking line “she serves the smooth retsina / she keeps me safe and warm,” it belies a certain…lack of familiarity with retsina on Donald Fagen’s part.

Hayim Gouri (1923 – )
Odysseus

And returning to the town of his birth he found seas
and various fish, floating grass on the slow-moving waves
and a sun growing weak at the edge of the skies.

A mistake never fails to return, said Odysseus, deep in his wearying heart
and returned to the crossroads that passed near the neighboring town.
To find the way back to the town of his birth that wasn’t the water.

He went weary as a dreamer, full of longing
among people who spoke different Greek.
The words he had taken as his journey’s provisions meanwhile met their demise.

Once he thought that he’d fallen asleep a long while
and returned unto people who didn’t wonder to see him
and didn’t tear open their eyes.

He asked them with gestures they tried to make sense of
from faraway distances.
The purple grew ever more violet at the edge of those skies.

The adults rose up and gathered the children that stood in a circle around him
and pulled them away.
And light after light in house after house blazed yellow likewise.

The dew came and fell on his head.
The wind came forth kissing his lips.
The water came washing his feet as if old Eurycleia.
Not seeing the scar, it kept on down the slope, the way water does.

חיים גורי
אודיסס

 
וּבְשׁוּבוֹ אֶל עִיר מוֹלַדְתוֹ מָצָא יָם
וְדָגִים שׁוֹנִים וְעֵשֶב צָף עַל הַגַּלִים הָאִטִיִים
וְשֶׁמֶש נֶחֱלֶשֶת בְּשׁוּלֵי שָׁמַיִם.
 
טָעוּת לְעוֹלָם חוֹזֶרֶת, אָמַר אוֹדִיסֵס בְּלִבּוֹ הֶעָיֵף
וְחָזַר עַד פָּרָשַֹת־הַדְּרָכִים הַסְּמוּכָה לָעִיר הַשְּׁכֵנָה.
לִמְצֹא אֶת הַדֶּרֶך אֶל עִיר מוֹלַדְתוֹ שֶׁלֹא הַיְתָה מַיִם.
 
הָלַךְ עָיֵף כְּחוֹלֵם וּמִתְגַעְגֵעַ מְאֹד
בֵּין אֲנָשִׁים שֶׁדִּבְּרוּ יְוַנִית אַחֶרֶת.
הַמִּלִים שֶׁנָּטַל עִמוֹ כְּצֵידָה לְדֶרֶךְ הַמַּסָעוֹת, גָוְעוּ בֵּינְתַיִם.
 
רֶגַע חָשַׁב כִּי נִרְדַם לְיָמִים רַבִּים
וְחָזַר אֶל אֲנָשִׁים שֶׁלֹא תָּמְהוּ בִּרְאוֹתָם אוֹתוֹ
וְלֹא קָרְעוּ עֵינַיִם.
 
הוּא שָׁאַל אוֹתָם בִּתְנוּעוֹת וְהֵם נִסּוּ לְהַבִין אוֹתוֹ
מִתֹּוךְ הַמֶּרְחַקִּים.
הָאַרְגמָן הִסְגִיל וְהָלַך בְּשׁוּלֵי אוֹתָם שָׁמַיִם.
  
קָמוּ הַמְּבוּגָרִים וְנָטְלוּ אֶת הַיְּלָדִים שֶׁעָמְדוּ סְבִיבוֹ בְּמַעְגָל
וּמָשְׁכוּ אוֹתָם.
וְאוֹר אַחַר אוֹר הִצְהִיב בְּבַיִת אַחַר בַּית.
 
בָּא טַל וְיָרַד עַל רֹאשׁוֹ.
בָּאָה רוּחַ וְנָשְׁקָה לִשְׂפָתָיו.
בָּאוּ מַיִם וְשָׁטְפוּ רַגְלָיו כְּאֶבְרִקְלֵיָה הַזְּקֵנָה.
וְלֹא רָאוּ אֶת הַצַּלֶקֶת וְהִמְשִׁיכוּ בַּמוֹרָד כְּדֶרֶךְ הַמַּיִם.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Uv-shuvó ‘el ʕir moladtó matzá yam
Ve-dagím shoním ve-ʕéisev tzaf ʕal ha-galím ha-‘itiyím
Ve-shémesh neḥeléshet be-shuléi shamáyim.

Taʕút le-ʕolám ḥozéret, ‘amár ‘odíseis be-libó he-ʕayéif
Ve-ḥazár ʕad parasát ha-derakhím ha-semukháh la-ʕír ha-shekheináh.
Limtzó ‘et ha-dérekh ‘el ʕir moladtó she-ló hayetáh máyim.

Halákh ʕayéif ke-ḥoléim u-mitgaʕgéiaʕ me’ód
Bein ‘anashím she-dibrú yevanít aḥéret.
Ha-milím she-natál ʕimó ke-tzeidáh le-dérekh ha-masaʕót, gavʕú beintáyim.

Régaʕ ḥasháv ki nirdám le-yamím rabím
Ve-ḥazár ‘el ‘anashím she-ló tamhú bir’otám ‘otó
Ve-ló karʕú ʕeináyim.

Hu sha’ál ‘otám bitnuʕót ve-héim nisú lehavín ‘otó
Mi-tókh ha-merḥakím.
Ha-‘argamán hisgíl ve-halákh be-shuléi ‘otám ha-shamáyim.

Kámu ha-mevugarím ve-natlú ha-yeladím she-ʕamdú sevivó be-maʕgál.
U-mashkhú ‘otám.
Ve-‘ór ‘aḥár ‘or hitzhív be-váyit ‘aḥár báyit.

Ba tal ve-yarád ʕal roshó.
Bá’ah rúaḥ ve-nashkáh lisfatáv.
Bá’u máyim ve-shatfú ragláv ke-‘evrikléiyah hazkeináh.
Ve-ló ra’ú ‘et ha-tzaléket ve-himshíkhu ba-morád ke-dérekh ha-máyim.

  5 Responses to “Hayim Gouri, “Odises””

  1. as a dilettante enthusiast of Classical inclinations, i love this. not that i’m particularly familiar with the Odyssey, but the voice has a modern feel, and gives a more relatable and intimate depth to the legendary character. this poem also hints at the subtle, internal regret that Odysseus must have experienced about the whole campaign against Troy and the veritable lifetime that he spent away from his home and family. in my very limited knowledge of the literature beyond the Iliad itself, i don’t think i’ve ever seen even the implication of Odysseus’ regret over the endeavor as a whole.

  2. It also combines the character of Odysseus, through subtle allusions, with the Mishnaic figure Honi the Circle-drawer, who awakes after sleeping for 70 years to find that nobody recognizes him, and prays for God to kill him. So it’s sort as if Odysseus came to Ithaca to find everyone dead.

    But anyway, the best part of the Odyssey is that Odysseus’ faithful dog lives just long enough to recognize Odysseus and wag his tail before dying of old age. Gets me every time.

    Oh, and that reminds me. There’s a nautical-themed Dan Pagis poem I think you’d like that I should translate.

  3. This is amazing!!! Bringing me back to my days as a Greek major. Seriously I cannot love this more. Tennyson meets Tchernichovsky… I actually once had a first edition of Tchernichovsky’s translation of the Odyssey in Hebrew verse, but I gave it to a dear friend as a wedding present.
    I love his colour imagery, the verbs hisgil and hitzhiv. And good call on the Honi allusion – I see it now that you mention it, although to be embarrassingly honest I’m not sure I would have seen it the first time through, even with the “ma’agal” thrown in.

  4. Don’t feel bad, I would have missed Honi too if I hadn’t read a commentary on this poem.

    I too loved the color verbs. English is kind of frustrating with its lack of them. I did actually want to use “yellowed” and “purpled” at first, but they didn’t wind up fitting the rhythm I fell into.

    And as far as giving away first-edition Tchernichovskies…that must have been a dear friend indeed. Alternate response: why don’t I have any friends who appreciate rare Hebrew poetry volumes as wedding gifts?

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