Hebrew poetry is an uninterrupted tradition dating back nearly to the beginning of recorded history, a conversation taking place over thirty centuries, and it’s no great struggle to find poems of great aesthetic merit from the age of Judah’s dynasties unto modern Israeli poetry. I like it all, and, congenitally lacking any sense of rhyme or reason, I’ll be tackling it as I see fit. With Hebrew, the distance between 900 BCE and 1900 CE is much shorter than one might think.
I’m open to suggestions!
All translations (and mistakes), including translations from Hebrew to English, translations from other languages to Hebrew, and translations from other languages to English, are my own.
I can lay no claim to any work by any Hebrew poet (except the few by myself) appearing on this site, and indeed one of my goals with Soul and Gone is to make full, vowelled Hebrew poems available to anyone online. If you would like to use the text of one of the Hebrew poems on this site on your own website, for a paper or publication or for any other reason, please feel free. While I strive for accuracy, I do reproduce and vowel the poems by myself (and anyone who has vowelled Hebrew on a computer can attest how slow and laborious it is), so I cannot promise that the inevitable human error hasn’t crept in here and there. If you should get in trouble for a mistake I made, please don’t come with the pitchforks — remember I do this for free, on my own time. An additional warning: poems by living poets or poets with active estates are of course still subject to copyright law; I can get away with it (I hope) because this is a not-for-profit, pedagogically/aesthetically-oriented website, but should you plan to reproduce any poem in a medium where copyright comes into play, I can’t help you there.
That being said, the translations (both to English and to Hebrew) are, as mentioned, entirely my translations. I don’t mind people reproducing a full poem translation or two on their own sites/Tumblrs/what have you (I find it touching, in fact), but please credit the translator (Michael Yaari) and link back to the source. (A note for Google stalkers: I’m not the Michael Yaari who’s some random dudebro, nor am I the Michael Yaari who’s a quack doctor in Brazil. Não sou médico. Por favor, pare de me escrever em Português.) Simply a matter of common courtesy. So far everyone’s been great about this with the poetry, but I’ve been burned by people stealing other portions of this site’s content without accreditation before, so I felt a clearly stated policy was in order.
My transliteration scheme is somewhat idiosyncratic – let’s call it Idealized Israeli Hebrew. In general, it follows modern Israeli Hebrew phonology, except where it doesn’t.
Stress, marked with an acute accent on the relevant vowel, conforms to modern Hebrew, except in instances where the poem departs from conventional Hebrew stress patterns.
Despite the somewhat uncertain status of the letter ayin in Israeli Hebrew, which ranges depending on the speaker and context from a null sound to a glottal stop to the “proper” voiced pharyngeal fricative, I have chosen to transliterate it in all instances as the voiced pharyngeal fricative, [ʕ]. This is partly for purposes of differentiation, but also because, personally, I like to pronounce ayin. You should too. Be awesome.
I have also distinguished between the letters ḥet and khaf, also something of a moving target in modern Hebrew. Classically, ḥet is a voiceless pharyngeal fricative [ħ], a sound retained mostly by Mizrachi Hebrew speakers today. Modern Hebrew speakers do make a slight distinction between the letters, rendering ḥet a velar fricative [x] and khaf a uvular fricative [χ]. In my scheme, ḥet is represented by “ḥ” and khaf by “kh.”
Aleph is treated as a consistent glottal stop, marked by an apostrophe.
I have not consistently differentiated between the segol and the shva naʕ – both are represented by “e.” I think we’ll live.
The sequence “ei” represents the vowel tzeirei, [e].
I’ve chosen to attach “h” to words that end with the letter hei even though the ultimate hei is generally unpronounced.
The following is a correspondence table between my transliteration scheme and the IPA:
e: [ɛ] (for segol) or [ə] (for shva naʕ)
A note on Ashkenazi Hebrew:
Poems written in Ashkenazi Hebrew are transliterated more or less according to what Benjamin Harshav calls “Ashkenazit Tiknit” (Standard Ashkenazic). Key differences between this system of Ashkenazi Hebrew and the standard Hebrew transliteration scheme used here are:
- Stress is altered, generally switching from the ultimate syllable to the penultimate syllable (though in practice it is somewhat more complicated than this). This is the most important change to take note of; reading metered Ashkenazi Hebrew poems in a Sephardi accent destroys their rhythm.
- The letter tav without a dagesh is pronounced [s] rather than [t].
- The vowel qamatz changes from [a] to [o].
- The vowel ḥolam changed from [o] to the diphthong [oɪ], which I have rendered as “oy.”
- No distinction is made between the letters ḥet and khaf; both sounds are transliterated with a “kh” [x].
- Neither alef nor ayin are especially marked; the apostrophe is used to separate adjoining vowel sounds for ease of reading.
Some of the poems I post here I’ve also added to Memrise, an absolutely fantastic tool for learning vocabulary in dozens of languages and committing it firmly to memory. It’s hard to describe it in a way that does it justice; you really have to try it for yourself. Poems with corresponding Memrise entries will have a link at the top.