Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik (1873 – 1934)
Through childhood’s midst I was left unattended,
To spend my days breathing in secrets and silence;
Within the world’s body, I yearned for its luster,
With something – what was it? – like wine in me seething.
I’d seek hidden places. There quiet observing,
As if in the world’s very eye I was looking;
My friends would appear there, I’d gain all their mys’tries,
And in my mute heart seal the sound of their voices.
My friends were so many: each bird bustling skyward,
Each tree with its shadow, each bush in the forest,
The moon’s modest face through the windowpanes shining,
The dark of the cellar, the gate’s creaking whistle;
Each bramble behind ev’ry broken-down paling,
Each beam of gold stretching to reach my eyes, whether
From sunlight, from oil lamps, from crystal cups scattered;
The heights of the attic, the spiderwebbed corner,
The mixture of light with the darkness, in concert
Both sweet and yet daunting, down deep in the well shaft,
Along with my echo and form, the clock striking,
An ivory saw grates amidst murky rafters,
As if with its letters the Name they were utt’ring —
The “Kol Nidrei” pears and the unripened apples
That leaned with their branches from our neighbor’s garden,
A fly’s buzz, “the son of the horse of our Teacher.” —
Each one did I covet as my own companions —
And dearest of all were the sunlight’s bright zephyrs.
In summer it was I’d encounter the zephyrs,
The gossamer cherubs blazed, children of brilliance.
While sailing through sunlight towards water and wheatfield
One day they passed over my face, gay and gleeful,
Their joy cleaved to me and my spirit grew warmer,
My eyes flowed at first as if those of a child.
And I was their friend, to their secrets they drew me —
And oh, how I loved them, and oh, how they loved me!
With sunlight in morning, still caught up in slumber —
They flew to my window and knocked to me: “Wake up!”
While still getting dressed, and not yet having shrugged off
The dreamtime of morning — they’d flit at me: “Faster!”
And ere I could find where my shoes had been flung to —
They’d charm me: “Outside now! Each hour is precious!”
And hastening still that I might then draw near them —
They’d winking call “Scatter!” — with me still behind them.
I turned pure and airy, a wing of light bore me,
Let’s fly, O you pure ones, for I am your brother!
The meadow, the meadow, we’ll sail there, we’ll caper!
We’ll gambol, we’ll roll ’round in its dewy grasses,
We’ll gleam in light scattered and string pearls together,
And roll somersaults upon soft beds of verdure…
We’d fall in the meadow, in lustrous dew rolling —
The field shining sudden with thousands of glimmers,
The grass would then glisten with lights beyond counting
And with seven eyes every thistle would shimmer.
On each thorn stood trembling a stone of pure emerald,
And sunbeams on every bramble’s point sundered
And split into finely wrought golden-hued blossoms.
Abruptly this kingdom of radiance was jolted
Like shaking out sapphires and topaz in sifters,
It blinded the eyes — it stood up and leapt off
‘Twixt plants in the meadow, the calf that was grazing;
The flock of food-diggers, that rabble of chickens
Oblivious shaking the heads of the brambles,
The meadow was glist’ning and flowing and laughing.
And I, wholly radiance, would like a bird tremble,
Like birds in a net my soul’s luster was captured,
Like strings of gold, delicate, soft and refined then
Surrounded me, purified limbs tightly binding.
And in me anew stirred a luminous childhood,
My mouth laughed unbeckoned, within — a sun singing.
From touching the sunbeams, from joy and from brilliance
I gleamed and I flowed and I blushed and I melted.
While yet drunk on radiance, my spirit enraptured
And wrapped up in glimmers — they’d say: “To the wheatfield!”
And flying so nimbly the whole flock of zephyrs
Went scamp’ring and sparkling, and spread through the wheatfield,
Atop stalks of grain growing hairy and bushy,
Now hungry for mischief, they hovered, bright blazing ———
“The glimmering sea is this, wide beyond measure,
Until noontime’s swelter we’ll bathe in it, raucous.
A flock of fleet clouds, the deep musings of heaven,
Will shadow us briefly then keep rolling onwards.”
And once they had vanished, like plumbing the fathoms,
They’d instantly surface, as past times rejoicing,
Their limbs they would shake off then, shooting off flashes,
Each one towards his fellow hot sparks eager spraying.
The field shone with glee: then in flight passed the swallows,
And hasty they blessed us: a “tweet tweet” — then vanished.
And great hosts of lacewings as weightless as feathers
On wings of light glistened and scattered and hovered,
And silent they fluttered and and flit through the wheatfield,
They whitened, they reddened, they yellowed, turned golden,
By brilliance were swallowed, revealed then returning,
As if playful hands now tossed out by the fistful
Fresh garlands of flow’rs ’round the heads of the zephyrs,
While yet in their dance, golden arrows gone wild,
At play with scintillas, propelling them, tossing
To tunes from God’s players, the blazing field’s choir —
The cricket, the grasshopper, leaping and whistling
And bursting forth chiming with rasping and hopping,
And shaking the air at once burning and silent,
And quiv’ring with feeling and trembling hiding ———
And tired of lights then — the flock ever-joyful
Shook off from the meadow, declared: to the pond now!
Too warm have we grown! — and in flight off they sailed
Now unto the pond between reed and stalk spread out.
In bright midday’s heat its deep waters stilled briefly
Beneath the sun’s radiance, in shadows of willows.
And some were as clear as a bright-polished mirror;
The heavens’ blue hammered in, clouds floating slowly
Like pearls in their purity, then simply melting.
It seemed like a world overturned: a new heaven,
The sun’s brilliance cooling, creation’s face modest
Serenity veiled it, a dream of calm endless
Within placid waters so limpid now sunken —
The whole was so clear, and so tranquil, so dreamlike! ——
Ensconced yet were others by darkness of shadows,
And green were the waters and bathed in contentment.
‘Twixt this and ‘twixt that with their shadows would darken
The banks of the pond this whole world that lay under.
Inverted and doubled, reflected beneath me
The reeds, the rocks’ bumps and the tree’s very visage,
The boat lashed around the stump of a tree hewn,
The hillock enwrapped by the tendrils of tree roots,
And two wild geese and a crane, lone and a single,
Her pure feathers cleaning like beating out laundry —
The whole was so cool, and so fresh, and so wat’ry!
And some — golden waters and brilliance, enchantment
And traces of sunlight and small pools of shimmers
Like scales of pure gold, finely-wrought chains of aurum
The shards of two twin suns, and fragments of fragments
Of crystal and clear glass, of gleaming and glowing —
The whole was so sparkling, so radiant, so light-clothed!
The pond, to the pond! — and the pond would be stirring,
The depths of the gold and the radiance aquiver.
A rabble of glimmers with glimmers entangled,
Irate from the colors and shades by the thousands.
They moved beneath pure heaven’s tapestry, teeming
And so moved its sun, which was shattered in seven,
And these seven suns moved so each faced another.
And instantly — sun upon sun — and completely
They crumbled together; the world that lay under
Was swept off and drowned in the void and the chaos,
The flood of the radiance, the wide seas of brightness.
In this sea of fire, this torrent of radiance
I also dove down to soak in the sea’s brilliance,
And cleansed sevenfold, purified I emerged then.
With springs bursting forth and a thousand strong sources
Of gladness and joy, my whole leapt for the waters,
Like bold songs of dance that go mischievous sweeping,
That spring all at once from the violins, legion —
Sunk down I would sit ‘twixt the pond’s leafy verdure,
Observing the silt of its waters, returning
To rest. Yet one more modest movement now inlays
Their surface and beats in the jewels of their chainwork,
Igniting within tongues of fire and blazes,
And tossing a whisper of embers among them,
A little bit stirring them — dwindling — and stopping.
And silent the pond fell, to its source returning,
Once more it was smooth and bright-polished and sleeping,
Again it was made up of ripples on ripples
And folded beneath it the world fallen silent
In hideaways reedy and shadowing willows.
Before me, across this pond’s new incarnation,
A fisherman, hoary, is straddling the bright depths
And from within drawing a fine net still spraying,
He shakes it — and towards my eyes, colored like rainbows,
It shakes loose the sparks, it enchants and unfurls them;
As if the old man stirred a charmed pot of radiance,
And strained a gold soup to the bowl’s shining crystal,
And spraying towards earth were more drops fiercely flaring —
And towards my eyes like a dream, light and sweet, flowing.
From the pond I saw then sudden
On the water’s tranquil surface
Rose arrayed a flawless column
Of the little zephyrs.
Pure of limb, and holy, lucid,
As if today they had been shaken
From off a holy cherub’s feathers
That above us flew.
And once more from their eyes was spark’ling
Highest radiance, godly brilliance,
And so holding hands they gathered
And in their tongues sheer gladness:
Oh, come to us, child!
Oh, come to us, beauty!
You thirsting for brilliance —
Until the day’s gone.
We’ll dip you in radiance,
Lower you, bring you
To treasures of light hid
In deepest of depths.
To towers of glass.
To castles of crystal.
To temples of diamond
And topazes — ruby.
From this hidden brilliance,
The seven days’ brightness,
You’ll drink from our gold cup
Exposing you whole.
‘Til’t comes out your nose,
And sprays from your eyes,
And works through your bones
And heart, like the entrance
Of ten thousand soft kisses
From ten thousand sunbeams
Far too sweet to contain
Too heavy to bear.
Still sinking in my soul was their pleasant chorus —
And they slipped away to the neighboring forest,
Bestowing on me a glance seeming like solace
That said: “To the morning!” and scatt’ring they vanished.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And one day — though when I can’t seem to remember,
And still don’t know why — I beheld all their faces
And pity for me colored ev’ry one, gloomy,
And leaving — the look they gave said to me nothing.
In morning, the light shook me out of my slumber
And seared my two lips and hot pierced through my eyelids…
I looked through the window — and lo, it was blazing,
I waited, I yearned ’til ashamed — they weren’t coming.
The song of the radiance forever fell silent —
Yet deep in my heart hides its sound’s faintest echo,
And deep in my pupils I kept its light’s brightness;
And in this wide world, all my life’s dreams’ rare sweetness,
The worth of my visions — are drawn from its fountain,
And flow from its source, pure and quenching and blessèd.