Nov 302013

By special request. Hey, I do get those sometimes.

Charles Bukowski
oh yes

there are worse things than
being alone
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it’s too late
and there’s nothing worse
too late.

צ’ארלס בוקובסקי
אה כן

יֵשׁ דְּבָרִים יוֹתֵר גְּרוּעִים
אַךְ לָרֹב לוֹקֵחַ עֲשׂוֹרִים
לִקְלוֹט אֶת זֶה
זֶה כְּבָר מְאֻחָר מִדַּי
וְאֵין שׁוּם דָּבָר
יוֹתֵר גָּרוּעַ

Nov 292013

This kind of incorrigible player-hating is what got Yaakov chased out of Mantua. Not that it did much to dissuade him. And good for us, because in the grand and noble history of hating players (but never the game), few have done it with such panache as Yaakov Frances. This is one of several poems Frances wrote against an ideological opponent named Yechiel, whose name Frances wrote in a code of his own devising in the superscriptions above his poems. This one was evidently composed after said Yechiel’s death; the superscription reads: “para a morte de amramb, homim de nenhun virtude e par consequencia enemigo dos virtuosos” — “For the death of ‘amramb’ [Yechiel], a man lacking all virtue and thus the enemy of virtuous men.”

And does Yaakov treat the death of a bitter ideological foe with the grace and dignity one might expect of learned rabbi and man of letters? No. Actually, he writes a sonnet begging the King of Demons to torture the hell out of the motherfucker.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Rise, Ashmodai!

Rise, Ashmodai! Rise up, send out runners,
Speed to your Hell, and throughout every region
Within your domain, charge that now is the season
To gather the tar and the sulfur and timbers;

Order from all of your fleetest taskmasters:
Gather the hosts of the demons, the legions!
This wrathful day is to punish the treasons
Of this hateful villain, this father of jesters!

Spark up the fire, don’t be tender-hearted
If you should recall ere a day he still sent
To fill up your Pit hordes of spirits departed;

Upon necks of princes he trampled unguarded,
And if, Ashmodai, you should think to relent —
By his brazen hands from your crown you’ll be parted!

יעקב פראנשיס
קום אשמדאי

קוּם, אַשְׁמְדַאי! קוּם לָךְ, דְּחֹף רָצִים
אֶל תָּפְתְּךָ מַהֵר, וּבִמְדִינוֹת
מַלְכוּתְךָ פִּתְגָם שְׁלַח לִקְנוֹת
עִטְרָן וְנֵפְטְ, גָּפְרִית וְרֹב עֵצִים.

צַוֵּה עֲלֵיהֶם נוֹגְשִׁים אָצִים
לֶאְסֹף צְבָא שֵׁדִים וְלִגְיוֹנוֹת,
כִּי יוֹם עֲבָרוֹת זֶה וְעֵת עַנּוּת
אִישׁ רַע וְשׂוֹנֵא טוֹב, אֲבִי לֵצִים.

הַצֵּת בְּעֵרָה בּוֹ, וְאַל יֵרַךְ
לִבָּךְ בְּעֵת תִּזְכֹּר אֲשֶׁר אֶתְמוֹל
מִלֵּא נְשָׁמוֹת יַרְכְּתֵי בוֹרָךְ;

עַל צַוְּרוֹנֵי רוֹזְנִים דָּרַךְ
אִישׁ זֶה, וְאִם בּוֹ, אַשְׁמְדַאי, תַּחְמֹל —
מָחָר בְּעַזּוּת יַעֲשֹׁק כִּתְרָךְ.


Qum, ‘Ashmedái! Qum lakh, deḥóf ratzím
‘el toftekhá mahéir, u-vimdinót
malkhutkhá pitgám sheláḥ liqnót
ʕitrán ve-neift, gofrít ve-róv ʕetzím.

Tzavéih ʕaleihém nogshím ‘atzím
le’sóf tzevá sheidím ve-ligyonót,
ki yom ʕavarót zeh ve-ʕéit ʕanút
‘ish raʕ ve-sonéi tov, ‘aví leitzím.

Hatzéit beʕeiráh bo, ve-‘ál yeirákh
libákh be-ʕéit tizkór ‘ashér ‘etmól
miléi neshamót yarketéi vorákh;

ʕal tzavronéi rozním darákh
‘ish zeh, ve ‘im bo, ‘Ashmedái, taḥmól —
maḥár be-ʕazút yaʕashók kitrákh!

Nov 152013

My erstwhile Hebrew professor told me (in somewhat gentler terms) to knock it off with the Shpanishe narishkayt already and go back to translating the Italian Hebrew poets (Sefardishe narishkayt) into English, and translating a poem a day. I guess I’ll meet him halfway, at least.

Did you know I like poetry about the sea? I like poetry about the sea. I like sea poems, and wine poems, and love poems, and ponies.

Hayim Gouri (1923 – )
Silence of the Sea

Silence of the sea.
You’ll leave but not arrive.1

Silence of the sea.
The divers rose
with hands empty.

To the strip of coast
are returning vanquished ships
with sunlight trailing towards the lee.

the years of light
and the deep thoughts of the sea.

At last we’ll rest
our faces
the green weeds of the sea.

חיים גורי
שתיקת הים

שְׁתִיקַת הַיָּם.
אַתָּה תֵּלֵךְ וְלֹא תַּגִּיעַ.
שְׁתִיקַת הַיָּם.
חָזְרוּ רֵיקָם.
אֶל קַו־הַחוֹף
שָׁבוֹת סְפִינוֹת מְנֻצָּחוֹת
וְאוֹר הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בְּגַבָּן.
וּשְׁנוֹת הָאוֹר
וּמַחְשְׁבוֹת הַיָּם.
לִבְסוֹף נָנוּחַ


Shtiqát ha-yám.
Atáh teiléikh ve-ló tagíaʕ.

Shtiqát ha-yám.
ḥazrú reiqám.

‘El qav ha-ḥóf
Shavót sfinót menutzaḥót
ve-‘ór ha-shémesh be-gabán.

Ushnót ha-‘ór
u-maḥshevót ha-yám.

Livsóf nanúaḥ
ʕéisev yam.

  1. The speaker is addressing an unidentified male figure here, not the “silence of the sea” itself.
Nov 142013

You know I actually get more traffic from people searching for Pablo Neruda in Hebrew than I do from people searching for any Hebrew poet in English? Un suspiro.

Speaking of traffic:

DISCLAIMER: The following is in no way to be construed as nor does it constitute an admission on the part of myself, Soul and Gone or any affiliated entities that I watch or appreciate the televised sitcom How I Met Your Mother. It was probably on the TV once or twice back when I lived with two female roommates and happened to pass through the living room on the way to the kitchen, or something plausible like that.

Since this will probably garner me more search engine traffic than any of the hundreds of other translations on this site (un gran suspiro), here come some keywords: this is the Pablo Neruda poem referenced by night security guard Stan in the season four episode “The Three Days Rule” as he aids Barney and Marshall in their text message deception of Ted by improvising a series of panty- (or suit-) melting romantic pronouncements. You will find an English translation from the original Spanish below, which I undertook because the only other English version I saw online in my admittedly cursory search (on the dreaded PoemHunter, may its name and memory be erased) seems to have been composed by a sentient combination of earnest effort and Google Translate. [I would also like to hereby render a shoutout to my main ese Ryan, who is Mexican, not Chilean, but close enough, who helped me realize that a line I was struggling with was untranslatable because of a misprint in the version of the poem I was reading, not because Neruda had used some bizarre Spanish hapax legomenon. This kind of thing happens to me all the time; sometimes I am muy stupid.] If, like Marshall in the aforementioned episode (who, in his defense, had heard the line out of its original context), you are unsure what bread is “doing in there,” bread is a favorite symbol of Neruda’s, frequently recurring in his poetry. Bread, being a staple food of many world cultures, is often used in literature, poetry and oratory (or simply common speech) as a metaphoric device standing in for the basic necessities of existence (cf. “give us this day our daily bread,” “panem et circenses,” “let them eat cake,” y etcétera y etcétera). Neruda tends to employ bread either as something equivalent to love, a sine qua non of human life, or something, indeed, less important than love (basic sustenance, for the poet, is trumped by the necessity of passion). There, I just wrote you your freshman lit paper thesis. Go get ’em, tigres.

Pablo Neruda
Y Porque Amor Combate

Y porque Amor combate
no sólo en su quemante agricultura,
sino en la boca de hombres y mujeres,
terminaré saliéndole al camino
a los que entre mi pecho y tu fragancia
quieran interponer su planta oscura.
De mí nada más malo
te dirán, amor mio,
de lo que yo te dije.
Yo viví en las praderas
antes de conocerte
y no esperé el amor sino que estuve
acechando y salté sobre la rosa.
Qué más pueden decirte?
No soy bueno ni malo sino un hombre,
y agregarán entonces el peligro
de mi vida, que conoces
y que con tu pasión has compartido.
Y bien, este peligro
es peligro de amor, de amor completo
hacia toda la vida,
hacia todas las vidas,
y si este amor nos trae
la muerte o las prisiones,
yo estoy seguro que tus grandes ojos,
como cuando los beso
se cerrarán entonces con orgullo,
en doble orgullo, amor,
con tu orgullo y el mío.
Pero hacia mis orejas vendrán antes
a socavar la torre
del amor dulce y duro que nos liga,
y me dirán: “Aquella
que tú amas,
no es mujer para ti,
por qué la quieres? Creo
que podrías hallar una más bella,
más seria, más profunda,
más otra, tú me entiendes, mírala qué ligera,
y qué cabeza tiene,
y mírala cómo se viste
y etcétera y etcétera.”
Y yo en estas líneas digo:
así te quiero, amor,
amor, así te amo,
así como te vistes
y como se levanta
tu cabellera y como
tu boca se sonríe,
ligera como el agua
del manantial sobre las piedras puras,
así te quiero, amada.
Al pan yo no le pido que me enseñe
sino que no me falte
durante cada día de la vida.
Yo no sé nada de la luz, de dónde
viene ni dónde va,
yo sólo quiero que la luz alumbre,
yo no pido a la noche
yo la espero y me envuelve,
y así tú, pan y luz
y sombra eres.
Has venido a mi vida
con lo que tú traías,
de luz y pan y sombra te esperaba,
y así te necesito,
así te amo,
y a cuantos quieran escuchar mañana
lo que no les diré, que aquí lo lean,
y retrocedan hoy porque es temprano
para estos argumentos.
Mañana sólo les daremos
una hoja del árbol de nuestro amor, una hoja
que caerá sobre la tierra
como si la hubieran hecho nuestros labios,
como un beso que cae
desde nuestras alturas invencibles
para mostrar el fuego y la ternura
de un amor verdadero.1

פבלו נרודה
וכי נלחמת האהבה

וְכִי נִלְחֶמֶת הָאַהֲבָה
לֹא בְּחַקְלָאוּתָהּ הַבּוֹעֶרֶת בִּלְבַד,
אֶלָּא גַּם בְּפִיהֶם שֶׁל גְּבָרִים וְנָשִׁים,
אֲסַיֵּם בִּיצִיאָה אֶל הַדֶּרֶךְ
אֱלֵיהֶם שֶׁבֵּין חָזִי לְנִיחוֹחֵךְ
רוֹצִים לִתְחוֹב אֶת צִמְחָם הָאָפֵל.
עָלַי אֵינָם יֹאמְרוּ לָךְ
שׁוּם דָּבָר יוֹתֵר רַע, אֲהוּבָתִי,
מֵאֲשֶׁר מָה שֶׁאֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָךְ.
בַּעֲרַבוֹת הִתְגּוֹרַרְתִּי
לִפְנֵי שֶׁהִכַּרְתִּיךְ
לְאֲהַבָה אֵינֶנִּי הִמְתַּנְתִּי אֶלָּא יָשַׁבְתִּי בְּמַאֲרָב
וְזִנַקְּתִּי עֲלֵי הַשּׁוֹשַׁנָּה.
מָה עוֹד יוּכְלוּ לוֹמַר לָךְ?
אֲנִי לֹא טוֹב אוֹ רַע, אֶלָּא בֶּן־אָדָם,
וְאָז יַרְבּוּ אֶת סַכָּנַתָם
שֶׁל חַיַּי, שֶׁאַתְּ מַכִּירָה
וּמִמֶּנָּה בִּתְשׁוּקָתֵךְ לָקַחְתְּ חֵלֶק.
טוֹב, סַכָּנָה זוֹ
הִיא סַכָּנַת הָאֲהַבָה, אֲהַבָה מֻחְלֶטֶת,
לְכָל הַחַיִּים,
לְכֻלָּם חַיִּים,
וְאִם אַהֲבָה זוֹ תָּבִיא לָנוּ
אֶת הַמָּוֶת אוֹ אֶת הַסֹּהַר,
אֲנִי בָּטוּחַ שֶׁעֵינַיִךְ הַגְּדוֹלוֹת,
כְּמוֹ בָּעֵת שֶׁאֲנִי מְנַשְּׁקָן,
אָז יֵעָצְמוּ בְּגַאֲוָה,
בְּגַאֲוָה כְּפוּלָה, אֲהוּבָה,
בְּגַאֲוָתֵךְ וְגַאֲוָתִי.
אַךְ מוּל אוֹזְנַי יָבוֹאוּ
לְעַרְעֵר אֶת הַמִּגְדָּל
שֶׁל אַהֲבָה מְתוּקָה וְקָשָׁה שֶׁאוֹתָנוּ מְאַחֶדֶת,
וְיֹאמְרוּ לִי: ״זֹאת
אֲשֶׁר אֲתָּה אוֹהֵב,
הִיא לֹא אִשָּׁה בִּשְׁבִילְךָ,
לָמָּה אֲתָּה רוֹצֶה אוֹתָה? סָבוּרְנִי
שֶׁתּוּכָל לִמְצוֹא אַחַת יָפָה יוֹתֵר,
רְצִינִית יוֹתֵר, עֲמוּקָה יוֹתֵר,
אַחֶרֶת יוֹתֵר, אַתָּה מֵבִין אוֹתִי,
רְאֵה כַּמָּה קַלָּה הִיא,
וְאֵיזֶה רֹאשׁ יֵש לָהּ,
וּרְאֵה אֵיךְ הִיא מִתְלַבֶּשֶׁת
וְכוּלֵי וְכוּלֵי.״
וַאֲנִי בַּשּׁוּרוּת הָאֵלֶה אוֹמֵר:
כָּךְ אֲנִי רוֹצֶה אוֹתָךְ, אֲהוּבָה,
אֲהוּבָה, כָּךְ אֲנִי אוֹהֵב אוֹתָךְ,
כָּךְ כְּפִי שֶׁאַתְּ מִתְלַבֶּשֶׁת,
וּכְפִי שֶׁקּוֻצּוֹתַיִךְ
סְתוּרוֹת וּכְפִי
שֶׁפִּיךְ מְחַיֵּךְ,
קַל כְּמוֹ מֵי
הַמַּעְיָן עֲלֵי הַאֲבַנִים הַטְּהוֹרוֹת,
כָּךְ אֲנִי רוֹצֶה אוֹתָךְ, אֲהוּבָתִי.
מִלֶּחֶם אֵינֶנִּי מְבַקֵּשׁ שֶׁיְּלַמְּדֵנִי
אֶלָּא שֶׁלֹּא יִהְיֶה חָסֵר לִי
בְּכָל יָמֵי הַחַיִּים.
אֵינֶנִּי יוֹדֵעַ כְּלוּם עֲלֵי הָאוֹר, מֵאַיִן
הוּא בָּא אוֹ לְאָן הוּא הוֹלֵךְ,
אֲנִי רַק רוֹצֶה שֶׁהָאוֹר יִזְרַח,
אֵינֶנִּי מְבַקֵּשׁ מֵהַלַּילָה
אֲנִי מַמְתִּין לוֹ וְהוּא עוֹטְפֵנִי,
וְכָכָה לִי אַתְּ, לֶחֶם וְאוֹר
בָּאתְּ אֱלֵי חַיַּי
נוֹשֵׂאת אֶת מָה שֶׁהֵבֵאתְּ
מֵאוֹר וְלֶחֶם וְצֵל הִמְתַּנְתִּי לָךְ,
וְכָךְ אֲנִי צָרִיךְ אוֹתָךְ,
כָּךְ אֲנִי אוֹהֵב אוֹתָךְ,
וּלְאֵלּוּ שֶׁרוֹצִים לִשְׁמוֹעַ מָחָר
אֶת מָה שֶׁלֹּא אַגִּיד לָהֶם, לוּ יִקְרְאוּהוּ כָּאן
וְיִסּוֹגוּ הַיּוֹם, כִּי זֶה כְּבָר מְאֻחָר מִדַּי
בִּשְׁבִיל הַוִּכּוּחִים הָאֵלוּ.
מָחָר נִתֵּן לָהֶם רַק
עָלֶה מִן עֵץ אַהֲבָתֵנוּ, עָלֶה יָחִיד
שֶׁנָּשַׁר עֲלֵי הָאָרֶץ
כְּאִלּוּ נַעֲשָׂה עַל־יְדֵי שִֹפְתוֹתֵינוּ
כְּמוֹ נְשִׁיקָה שֶׁנּוֹשֶׁרֶת
מִן רָמוֹתֵינוּ הַבִּלְתִּי־מְנֻצָּחוֹת
כְּדֵי לְהַצִּיג אֶת הָאֵשׁ וְאֶת הָעֹדֶן
שֶׁל אֲהַבָה אֲמִתִּית.

  1. And because Love battles
    not only in her blazing agriculture,
    but in the mouth of men and women,
    I finish by setting out on the road
    to those who between my chest and your scent
    would interpose their somber plant.
    They’ll tell you nothing worse
    about me, love,
    than what I tell you.
    I lived in the prairies
    before I knew you
    and did not wait for love but rather
    laid my ambush and leapt upon the rose.
    What more could they tell you?
    I am neither good nor bad but a man,
    and so they raise the danger
    of my life, which you well know
    and of which in all your passion took your share.
    And fine, this danger
    is the danger of love, of total love
    for all life,
    for all who live,
    and if this love should bring us
    unto death or prisons,
    I’m sure that your full eyes,
    as when I kiss them
    will close at last with pride,
    with twofold pride, my love,
    with your pride and my own.
    But then they come before my ears
    to undermine the tower
    of that love, sweet and firm, that binds us,
    and tell me: “This one
    whom you love
    is no woman for you,
    why would you want her? I think
    you could find one more beautiful,
    more serious, more profound,
    more other, you understand me, look how light she is,
    and what a head she has,
    and look at how she dresses
    and et cetera and et cetera.”
    And I in these lines say:
    that is how I want you, love,
    love, that is how I love you,
    that way, the way you dress
    and the way your hair
    is mussed and the way
    your mouth starts smiling,
    luminous as the wellspring’s
    waters over purest stones,
    that is how I want you, my beloved.
    I do not ask of bread to teach me
    but only that it not be lacking
    through my life’s every day.
    I do not know a thing of light, whence
    it comes or where it goes,
    I only want the light to shine,
    I do not ask of night
    I await it and it envelops me,
    and that way you, and bread and light
    and shadow are.
    You came into my life
    with all the things you’ve brought,
    of light and bread and shadow I awaited you,
    and that is how I need you,
    that is how I love you,
    and to those who want to hear tomorrow
    what I don’t mean to tell them, may they read it here,
    and then retreat today, for it’s now far too late
    to have these arguments.
    Tomorrow we shall give them but
    a leaf from our love’s tree, a single leaf
    that fell upon the earth
    as if made between our lips,
    like a kiss that falls
    from our unyielding heights
    to show the fire and the softness
    of true love.