Psalm 23 (From Biblical Hebrew)

Yahweh the Shepherd
Psalm 23
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Yahweh shepherds me I want for naught.
He lets me lie down  in grassy meadows,
He guides me out  by quiet waters.
He brings my life back.  
He leads me straight on Justice's footpaths
For his name's sake. 
Though I tread  in the death-shadow vale
I dread no harm:  for you are with me.
Your shepherd's crook,  Your walking-staff...
These things are my solace.  
You lay out a table to feed me  in the face of my foes.
You moisten my head with ointment. My cup overflows.
Let naught but goodness and kindness  flock with me
All the days of my life 
And the House of Yahweh  be my abode
For many long days. 

Audio recording of me chanting the original in reconstructed Tiberian Hebrew pronunciation:



The Original:


יְהוָה רֹעִי, לֹא אֶחְסָר.
בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא, יַרְבִּיצֵנִי;
עַל-מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי.
נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב;
יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי-צֶדֶק,
לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ.
גַּם כִּי-אֵלֵךְ
בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת,
לֹא-אִירָא רָע--
כִּי-אַתָּה עִמָּדִי;
שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ,
הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי.
תַּעֲרֹךְ לְפָנַי, שֻׁלְחָן--
נֶגֶד צֹרְרָי;
דִּשַּׁנְתָּ בַשֶּׁמֶן רֹאשִׁי,
כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה.
אַךְ, טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי
כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּי;
וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה,
לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים.

Shmuel ben Hoshaˁna: "On Resurrection" (From Hebrew)

The payṭan Shmu'el ben Hoshaˁna (known also as Hashlishi "the Third", the ultimate rank he attained at the Yeshiva) was one of the central figures of the Eretz Israel Yeshiva in Jerusalem in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, and a prolific author of Hebrew liturgical poetry. The Yotzer is a sequence of poems which adorn the benedictions associated with the morning reading of the Shemaˁ.

This brief piyyūṭ is an ahava, the fourth in such a sequence, introducing the second benediction before the Shemaˁ, dealing with God's love for Israel. (Whence Israel as the "beloved" of the final verse). Like many ahavot, it includes an alphabetic acrostic. In this case, though, the letters occur in reverse order, evoking the Resurrection's reversal of death at the end of days. It draws on the Bible heavily for its language, and the effect of its language (e.g. for the ending see Hosea 14:5).

My translation is fairly free and interpretative. For example, the Messiah is not directly mentioned in this poem by that title. Rather his coming is mentioned in oblique form "with (the) Nūn of (the verb) Yinnōn" which means more or less something like "when the Messiah's reign begins" or perhaps "when the Messiah is born" depending on which way you swing the mysticism. Yinnōn is an obscure verb occurring only once in the Hebrew Bible (Ps. 72:17). Some (see e.g. B. Sanhedrin 98b) took it to be the Messiah's name, and Yinnōn is frequently used as a byword for the Messiah in piyyūṭīm. The letter nūn wound up especially associated with the Messiah in this connection, in part on account of the fact that n-w-n was taken to be the verb's root.

The audio recording is chanted in a reconstruction of Tiberian Hebrew. Shmuel, being a member of the Palestinian Yeshiva (which had recently been moved to Jerusalem from Tiberias) would have been well positioned to know this pronunciation of Hebrew. (Although readers who could teach this pronunciation were to quickly become impossible to find outside of Palestine.) It is not hard to picture Shmuel using it in reading his own Yotzerot.

An Ahava on the Resurrection
Shmuel Ben Hoshaˁna
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

You turn man back to dust,
but will turn back in kind
with kindness that we hymn.
You will bind back his bones,
extend again his tendons,
defend and fend for him.
You will fit him with flesh, 
you will screen him with skin
at the Messiah's dawn.
Then will your beloved
blossom like the lily,
cast root like Lebanon.


Audio recording of me chanting the original in Tiberian Hebrew:


The original:



דַּכָּא תָּשֵׁב אֱנוֹשׁ וְתָשׁוּב תָּחֹן וְתַחֲנֹן.
גְּרָמִים תְּדַבֵּק, גִּידִים תִּמְתַּח, וְגָנוֹן תִּגְנֹן,
בָּשָׂר תַּעֲלֶה, וְהָעוֹר תַּקְרִים בְּנוּן יִנּוֹן.
אֲהוּבְךָ יִפְרַח כַּשּׁוֹשַׁנָּה, יַךְ שָׁרָשָׁיו כַּלְּבָנוֹן.

Phonetic transcription in Tiberian Hebrew:

dakkʰɔː tʰɔːʃeːv ʔɛnoːʃ vaθɔːʃuːv tʰɔːħoːn vaθaːħanoːn
gaʀɔːmiːm tʰaðabbeːq giːðiːm tʰimtʰaːħ vaʁɔːnoːn tʰiʁnoːn
bɔːsɔːr tʰaːʕalɛː vɔhɔːʕoːʀ tʰaqʀiːm banuːn jinnoːn
ʔahuːvχɔː jifʀaːħ kʰaʃʃoːʃannɔː jaːχ ʃɔːʀɔːʃɔːv kʰallavɔːnoːn

Uri Tzvi Greenberg: On A Night of Rain In Jerusalem (From Hebrew)

To comment properly on this nigh-untranslatable poem would require an essay of considerable length. Suffice it to say that one should remember that this was written before Israel gained control of East Jerusalem (and with it, the Old City.) 

On A Night of Rain in Jerusalem
By Uri Tzvi Greenberg
Requested by Daniel Harpaz  (thank you for your support)

The few trees in the yard moan like trees of a woodland,
River-laden, the loud deep thunderclouds reign.
The Angels of Peace guard my slumbering children
In the moan of the trees, and dark gathering of rain.

Out there: Jerusalem - city of Abraham's trial and glory
Where he bound his Son on a mount when time came.
The fire kindled at dawn still burns on the mountain.
The rains quench it not: the covenant's flame..

"Should God command me now as once He commanded
My Father of old, I will surely obey"
Sing my heart and my flesh in this night of rain
And Angels of Peace guard my children till day!

What can equal this glory, this miracle zeal
For Mount Moriah - alive from that ancient day on?
The covenant's blood sings in this father in prayer
Prepared for a Temple Mount offering at dawn. 

Out there: Jerusalem, and the moaning trees of God
Felled there by enemies in all generations. 
The river-laden clouds bear sunders of lightning
And thunder. These in this rainstruck night are my tidings
From the Almighty's Mouth till the end of generations.

-1954


Audio recording of me reading the original Hebrew:



The Original:


בְּלֵיל גֶּשָׁם בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם

עֲצֶי מְעַט בֶּחָצֵר הוֹמִים כַּעֲצֵי יַעַר,
כִּבְדֵי נְהָרוֹת עֲנָנִים מָרְעָמִים,
מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁלוֹם לִמְרַאֲשׁוֹת יְלָדַי
בְּהֶמְיַת הָעֵצִים וְחַשְׁרַת הַגְּשָׁמִים

בַּחוּץ– יְרוּשָׁלַיִם: עִיר מַסַּת הוֹד הָאָב
וַעֲקֵדַת בְּנוֹ בְּאַחַד הֶהָרִים
הָאֵשׁ–מִשַּׁחֲרִית עוֹד דּוֹלֶקֶת בָּהָר
הַגְּשָׁמִים לֹא כִבּוּהָ: אֵשׁ בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים

אִם אֵל יְצַוֵּנִי כָּעֵת כְּשֶׁצִּוָּה"
לְאָבִי הַקַּדְמוֹן– אֲצַיֵּת בְּוַדַּאי"
רַן לִבִּי וּבְשָׂרִי בְּלֵיל הַגֶּשֶׁם הַזֶּה
וּמַלְאֲכֵי הַשָׁלוֹם לִמְרַאֲשׁוֹתֵי יְלָדַי

מַה מֵּהוֹד מַה מָּשָׁל לְזֶה רֶגֶשׁ פִּלְאִי
חַי מִקֶּדֶם שַׁחֲרִית עַד כָּעֵת אֶל הַר מֹר:
מִתְרוֹנֵן דַּם הַבְּרִית בְּגוּף אָב תְּפִלִּי
נָכוֹן לְקָרבַּן הַר הַבַּיִת עִם אוֹר!

בַּחוּץ  – יְרוּשָׁלַיִם...וְהֶמְיַת עֲצֵי יָהּ
שֶׁכְּרָתוּם הָאוֹיְבִים בָּהּ מִכָּל הַדּוֹרוֹת
עּנָנִים כִּבְדֵי נְהָרוֹת: בָּם בְּרָקִים
וּרְעָמִים, שֶׁהֵם לִי בְּלֵיל גֶשֶׁם – בְשׂוֹרוֹת
מִפִּי הַגְּבוּרָה עַד סוֹף הַדּוֹרוֹת



Psalm 117 (From Biblical Hebrew)

Psalm 117
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Praise Yahweh, nations all
 Salute Him, peoples all
For His kindness overcomes us
 and Yahweh's truth is forever.
  Praise the Lord.

Audio recording of me chanting the original in reconstructed Tiberian Hebrew pronunciation:


The Original:
 הַלְלוּ אֶת-יְהוָה, כָּל-גּוֹיִם;    
שַׁבְּחוּהוּ, כָּל-הָאֻמִּים.
 כִּי גָבַר עָלֵינוּ, חַסְדּוֹ   
וֶאֱמֶת-יְהוָה לְעוֹלָם: 
הַלְלוּ-יָהּ.

Eisig Silberschlag: On Heathen Footsteps (From Hebrew)

On Heathen Footsteps
Eisig Silberschlag
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Sun and wind and sea
And your body burning on sand,
Sun and wind and sea
And your body's wordless demand,
Sun and wind and sea
And your body in power of it all,
Sun and wind and sea—
Ah, a life without God, without thrall.


Audio recording of me reading the original Hebrew:


The Original:

בְּעִקְּבוֹת עַכּוּ״ם

שֶׁמֶשׁ וְרוּחַ וְיָם
וְגוּפֵךְ הַלּוֹהֵט עַל הַחוֹל,
שֶׁמֶשׁ וְרוּחַ וְיָם
וְגוּפֵךְ הַתּוֹבֵעַ בְּלִי קוֹל,
שֶׁמֶשׁ וְרוּחַ וְיָם
וְגוּפֵךְ הַחוֹלֵשׁ עַל הַכֹּל,
שֶׁמֶשׁ וְרוּחַ וְיָם —
הָהּ, חַיִּים בְּלִי אֵל וּבְלִי עֹל.

Eugenio Montale: Hitler Spring (From Italian)

Hitler Spring
By Eugenio Montale
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Nor she to see whom the sun turns about..
— Dante (?) to Giovanni Quirini

The dense white cloud of moths whirls crazy around
the whitish lights and over the parapets,
spreading a blanket on the ground that crackles
like sprinkled sugar underfoot. Now coming summer frees
the nightfrosts held in lockdown of the dead
season's secret cellars and in the gardens
that climb down from Maiano to these sandpits.

A hellsent herald just flew over the avenue
to a war-whoop of goons. A gaping orchestral pit, firelit
and decked with swastikas, seized and gulped him down.
Windows are shuttered up, shabby and harmless
though even they are fitted with guns and war toys;
the butcher who laid berries on the snouts
of slaughtered baby goats has closed. The feast day
of killers meek and mild, still ignorant of blood, has turned
to a sick contra dance of shattered wings,
of shadow larvae on the sandbars, and
the water goes on eating at the shore
and nobody is blameless anymore.

So, all for nothing? And the Roman candles
at San Giovanni slowly whitening
the skyline, and the vows and long farewells
as binding as a baptism in dismal
wait for the horde (but a gem scored the air,
strewing your ice, the edges of your coasts,
with the angels of Tobias, the seven,
seed of the future) and the heliotropes
born of your hands — all of it burned away,
sucked dry by a pollen that shrieks like fire
and stings like hail on wind....

                                                 Oh the wounded spring
is still a festival if it can freeze
this death back into death. Look up again
Clizia: it is fate, it is the fate
of changed you keeping up your changeless love,
until the sightless sun you bear within you
is dazzled in the Other and consumed
in Him, for all. Perhaps the sirens, the bells
tolling to hail the monsters on this eve
of all hell breaking loose already blend
with the sound loosed from the heavens that descends
and conquers—with breath of a dawn that may break
for all, tomorrow, white but without wings
of horror, on scorched rockbeds of the south.

The Original:

La Primavera Hitleriana

                Né quella ch’a veder lo sol si gira…
                — Dante (?) a Giovanni Quirini

Folta la nuvola bianca delle falene impazzite
turbina intorno agli scialbi fanali e sulle spallette,
stende a terra una coltre su cui scricchia
come su zucchero il piede; l’estate imminente sprigiona
ora il gelo notturno che capiva
nelle cave segrete della stagione morta,
negli orti che da Maiano scavalcano a questi renai.

Da poco sul corso è passato a volo un messo infernale
tra un alalà di scherani, un golfo mistico acceso
e pavesato di croci a uncino l’ha preso e inghiottito,
si sono chiuse le vetrine, povere
e inoffensive benché armate anch’esse
di cannoni e giocattoli di guerra,
ha sprangato il beccaio che infiorava
di bacche il muso dei capretti uccisi,
la sagra dei miti carnefici che ancora ignorano il sangue
s’è tramutata in un sozzo trescone* d’ali schiantate,
di larve sulle golene, e l’acqua seguita a rodere
le sponde e più nessuno è incolpevole.

Tutto per nulla, dunque? – e le candele
romane, a San Giovanni, che sbiancavano lente
l’orizzonte, ed i pegni e i lunghi addii
forti come un battesimo nella lugubre attesa
dell’orda (ma una gemma rigò l’aria stillando
sui ghiacci e le riviere dei tuoi lidi
gli angeli di Tobia, i sette, la semina
dell’avvenire) e gli eliotropi nati
dalle tue mani – tutto arso e succhiato
da un polline che stride come il fuoco
e ha punte di sinibbio…
                                                Oh la piagata
primavera è pur festa se raggela
in morte questa morte! Guarda ancora
in alto, Clizia, è la tua sorte, tu
che il non mutato amor mutata serbi,
fino a che il cieco sole che in te porti
si abbacini nell’Altro e si distrugga
in Lui, per tutti. Forse le sirene, i rintocchi
che salutano i mostri nella sera
della loro tregenda, si confondono già
col suono che slegato dal cielo, scende, vince –
col respiro di un’alba che domani per tutti
si riaffacci, bianca ma senz’ali
di raccapriccio, ai greti arsi del sud…

T. Carmi: Awakening (From Hebrew)

Awakening
By T. Carmi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Come pass your hand across my lips. 
For I am not accustomed to this light. 

Our love is batlike, beats about the dark. 
It does not miss its mark. Your face defines
My hands to me. What can I know by light? 
Rise, pass your hand across me.

My sleep (what time is it?) held your childhood in my arms.
It's ten o'clock between the sea and night,
Midnight between us, seven between the dawn-slit blinds.
Oh no, I'm not accustomed to this light

That comes to open up my eyes like cold 
Eyelets. On the gunsights' scales I'll weigh
My blind gaze and the terror of your clay.
Rise, pass your hand through me.

Face to face, will I still have a face?
Perhaps I'll speak. Perhaps I will stay quiet. 
Come pass your hand across my lips. 
For I am not accustomed to this light. 


Audio recording of me reading the original Hebrew:

The Original:

יקיצה
ט. כרמי

בּוֹאִי, הַעֲבִירִי אֶת יָדֵךְ עַל פִּי.
אֲנִי אֵינִי רָגִיל בָּאוֹר הַזֶּה.
 
עֲטַלֵּפִית אַהֲבָתֵנוּ, סְחוֹר וַאֲפֵלוֹת,
וְלֹא תַחֲטִיא. פָּנַיִךְ מַסְבִּירוֹת לִי
אֶת יָדַי. מָה אָבִין בָּאוֹר?
קוּמִי, הַעֲבִירִי אֶת יָדֵךְ עָלַי.
 
שְׁנָתִי (מָה הַשָּׁעָה?) חָבְקָה אֶת יַלְדוּתֵךְ.
עֶשֶֹר בֵּין יָם לְלַיְלָה, חֲצוֹת בֵּינִי
לְבֵינֵךְ, שֶׁבַע בֵּין חֲרַכֵּי־הַשַּׁחַר.
הוֹ לֹא, אֵינִי רָגִיל בָּאוֹר הַזֶּה
 
הַבָּא לִפְקֹחַ אֶת עֵינַי כַּחֲרִירִים
קָרִים. בְּמֹאזְנֵי־הַכַּוֶּנֶת אֶשְׁקֹל
אֶת עִוְרוֹנִי וּפַחַד־עֲפָרֵךְ.
קוּמִי, הַעֲבִירִי בִּי יָדֵךְ.
 
פָּנִים־אֶל־פָּנִים, הַאִם עוֹד יִהְיוּ לִי?
אֲנִי עָלוּל לִשְׁתֹּק, אוֹ לְדַבֵּר.
בּוֹאִי, הַעֲבִירִי אֶת יָדֵךְ עַל פִּי.
אֲנִי אֵינִי רָגִיל בָּאוֹר הַזֶּה.

Amir Gilboa: Isaac (From Modern Hebrew)

Isaac
By Amir Gilboa
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

In early morning, the sun strolled out in the forest
Together with me and father,
My right hand in his left.

A knife like lightning flamed out through the wood,
And I was so scared of my eyes' terror, facing the blood on the leaves.

Father! Father! Come quick and save Isaac
And nobody will be missing at lunchtime.

It is I who am slaughtered, my son
And my blood is already all over the leaves.
And father's voice was stifled
And his face pale.

And I wanted to scream, writhing not to believe,
As I ripped my eyes open.
And I awoke.

And my right hand had run right out of blood.


Audio recording of me reading the original Hebrew:


The Original:


יצחק
אמיר גלבע

לִפְנוֹת בֹּקֶר טִיְּלָה שֶמֶש בְּתוֹך הַיַעַר
יַחַד עִמִּי וְעִם אַבָּא
וִימִינִי בִּשְׂמֹאלוֹ.

כְּבָרָק לָהֲבָה מַאֲכֶלֶת בֵּין הָעֵצִים.
וַאֲנִי יָרֵא כָּל-כָּך אֶת פַּחַד עֵינַי מוּל דָּם עַל הֶעָלִים.
אַבָּא אַבָּא מַהֵר וְהַצִּילָה אֶת יִצְחָק
וְלֹא יֶחְסַר אִיש בִּסְעֻדַּת הַצָּהֳרַיִם.

זֶה אֲנִי הנִּשְׁחָט, בְּנִי,
וּכְבָר דָּמִי עַל הֶעָלִים.
וְאַבָּא נִסְתַּם קוֹלוֹ.
וּפָנָיו חִוְרִים.

וְרָצִיתִי לִצְעֹק, מְפַרְפֵּר לֹא לְהַאֲמִין
וְקוֹרֵעַ הָעֵינַיִם.
וְנִתְעוֹרַרְתִּי.

וְאָזְלַת-דָּם הָיְתָה יַד יָמִין

Habakkuk 1:1-4 "Why, God? Why?" (From Biblical Hebrew)

Just a little more Biblical poetry, this time from one of the Twelve "Minor" Prophets. The recording continues my habit of reading the Bible in a reconstruction of medieval Tiberian Hebrew phonology.

Audio recording of me chanting the original text in Tiberian Hebrew


"Why, God?"
Habakkuk 1:1-4
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The message that came in a vision upon prophet Habakkuk:

 How long, Yahweh, shall I cry out
  and You not listen?
 I shriek OUTRAGE to You,
  and You do not deliver!
 Why do You show me horror,
  tolerate godawful things?
 Plunder and outrage are all before me
  combat and conflict all about.
 So the laws as taught are crippled,
  and justice comes out never.
 For the wicked are closing in on the good
  so justice comes out crooked.

The Original:

הַמַּשָּׂא֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חָזָ֔ה חֲבַקּ֖וּק הַנָּבִֽיא׃ 
עַד־אָ֧נָה יְהֹוָ֛ה שִׁוַּ֖עְתִּי וְלֹ֣א תִשְׁמָ֑ע 
אֶזְעַ֥ק אֵלֶ֛יךָ חָמָ֖ס וְלֹ֥א תוֹשִֽׁיעַ׃ 
לָ֣מָּה תַרְאֵ֤נִי אָ֙וֶן֙ וְעָמָ֣ל תַּבִּ֔יט 
וְשֹׁ֥ד וְחָמָ֖ס לְנֶגְדִּ֑י וַיְהִ֧י רִ֦יב וּמָד֖וֹן יִשָּֽׂא׃ 
עַל־כֵּן֙ תָּפ֣וּג תּוֹרָ֔ה וְלֹא־יֵצֵ֥א לָנֶ֖צַח מִשְׁפָּ֑ט 
כִּ֤י רָשָׁע֙ מַכְתִּ֣יר אֶת־הַצַּדִּ֔יק 
עַל־כֵּ֛ן יֵצֵ֥א מִשְׁפָּ֖ט מְעֻקָּֽל׃ 

Psalm 137 "By The Streams of Babylon" (From Biblical Hebrew)

Another Biblical one, and again I've included an audio recording of me reading the text in reconstructed Tiberian Hebrew pronunciation. I think I'll do that with all my Biblical Hebrew stuff from now on.

By the Streams of Babylon
Psalm 137
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Audio recording of me chanting the original text using reconstructed Tiberian Hebrew pronunciation


By the streams of Babylon,
There we sat and oh did we weep
When we recalled our Zion.
There, on the branches of the poplars
We hung up our lyres.
For there our captors asked us to sing,
Our plunderers bade us rejoice:
"Sing us one of your Zionite songs!"

But how can we sing the song of Yahweh 

On foreign soil?
If I should forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand fall paralyzed!
Let my tongue cleave up to my palate
If I do not recall you,
If I do not keep Jerusalem
At the peak of all my joys.

Recall, O Yahweh, the Edomites
On that day of Jerusalem, saying:
"Flatten it, flatten it
Down to the foundation"

O Daughter of Babylon!
Daughter destroyer!
Happy the man who deals in kind
With you as you dealt with us.
Happy the man who seizes and smashes
Your babies against the boulders.


The Original:

עַל נַהֲרוֹת, בָּבֶל
שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ, גַּם-בָּכִינוּ:
בְּזָכְרֵנוּ, אֶת-צִיּוֹן.
עַל-עֲרָבִים בְּתוֹכָהּ--
תָּלִינוּ, כִּנֹּרוֹתֵינוּ.
כִּי שָׁם שְׁאֵלוּנוּ שׁוֹבֵינוּ, דִּבְרֵי-שִׁיר
וְתוֹלָלֵינוּ שִׂמְחָה:
שִׁירוּ לָנוּ,
מִשִּׁיר צִיּוֹן.
אֵיךְ--נָשִׁיר אֶת-שִׁיר-יְהוָה:
עַל, אַדְמַת נֵכָר.
אִם-אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם
תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי.
תִּדְבַּק-לְשׁוֹנִי, לְחִכִּי-
אִם-לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי:
אִם-לֹא אַעֲלֶה, אֶת-יְרוּשָׁלִַם
עַל, רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי.
זְכֹר יְהוָה, לִבְנֵי אֱדוֹם--
אֵת, יוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם:
הָאֹמְרִים, עָרוּ עָרוּ
עַד, הַיְסוֹד בָּהּ.
בַּת-בָּבֶל
הַשְּׁדוּדָה
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם-לָךְ
אֶת-גְּמוּלֵךְ, שֶׁגָּמַלְתְּ לָנוּ
אַשְׁרֵי, שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ אֶת-עֹלָלַיִךְ
אֶל-הַסָּלַע.

Song of Songs: [8:5-7] "The Seal of Love" (From Hebrew)

The Seal of Love
Song of Songs [8:5-7]
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Audio recording of me chanting the original text using reconstructed Tiberian Hebrew pronunciation


(He speaks:)
Who is that coming up from the wildlands,
Her head on her lover's shoulder?

(She speaks:)
Beneath the apple tree I aroused you.
Beneath that tree I received you
There where your mother conceived you
Where your mother gave birth to you.
Bind me now as a seal on your heart,
As an amulet upon your arm.
For love is fierce as death,
But jealousy cruel as the grave.
Even its shards are the sparks of fire,
Of an almighty flame.
Whole oceans cannot put love out,
Nor any river sweep it away.
Any man who tried
To barter his live savings for love,
Would be paid in full with shame.


The Original:

מִי זֹאת, עֹלָה מִן-הַמִּדְבָּר,
מִתְרַפֶּקֶת, עַל-דּוֹדָהּ;

תַּחַת הַתַּפּוּחַ, עוֹרַרְתִּיךָ-
-שָׁמָּה חִבְּלַתְךָ אִמֶּךָ,
שָׁמָּה חִבְּלָה יְלָדַתְךָ.
שִׂימֵנִי כַחוֹתָם עַל-לִבֶּךָ,
כַּחוֹתָם עַל-זְרוֹעֶךָ-
כִּי-עַזָּה כַמָּוֶת אַהֲבָה,
קָשָׁה כִשְׁאוֹל קִנְאָה:
רְשָׁפֶיהָ-רִשְׁפֵּי אֵשׁ
שַׁלְהֶבֶתְיָה.
מַיִם רַבִּים, לֹא יוּכְלוּ
לְכַבּוֹת אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה
, וּנְהָרוֹת, לֹא יִשְׁטְפוּהָ;
אִם-יִתֵּן אִישׁ
אֶת-כָּל-הוֹן בֵּיתוֹ, בָּאַהֲבָה
בּוֹז, יָבוּזוּ לוֹ

Aleksey Zhokhov: Arctic End (From Russian)

Aleksey Nikolayevich Zhokhov (1885-1915) was my first cousin thrice removed (my great grandfather's cousin). He was a Russian arctic explorer and cartographer who participated in the first polar expedition to navigate the entire Arctic coast from end to end. He discovered a small Siberian island which was posthumously named after him. He himself died on the expedition, and was buried in the Arctic. In this poem of his, the speaker imagines the lonely death of a wanderer in the Arctic. Aleksey was of course unaware that he himself would die such a death, and that this spookily prescient poem would be inscribed on a metal plaque over his grave.

Arctic End
By Aleksey Zhokhov
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Under an icy clod of cold Taymyr
Where a snowfox, startled to a somber bark,
Alone speaks of the drear life of this world
A bleary poet rests in peace and dark.

Morning Aurora's beam will shine no gold
On the forgotten singer's lyre beneath these skies.
The grave is deep as Tuscarora's Rift,
Deep as one woman's dear, beloved eyes.

If only he could reverence them once more,
Gaze on them even from afar across this sweep,
Then death herself would not be so severe,
The bottom of the grave would not seem deep.

The Original:

Под глыбой льда холодного Таймыра,
Где лаем сумрачным испуганный песец
Один лишь говорит о тусклой жизни мира,
Найдет покой измученный певец.

Не кинет золотом луч утренней Авроры
На лиру чуткую забытого певца —
Могила глубока, как бездна Тускароры,
Как милой женщины любимые глаза.

Когда б он мог на них молиться снова,
Глядеть на них хотя б издалека,
Сама бы смерть была не так сурова
И не казалась бы могила глубока.

Imru' al-Qays: From the Muˁallaqa: The Thunderstorm (From Arabic)

A terrific thunderstorm rages over the mountains on the northern edge of the Najd. The scene is imagined over so vast an area that it must be poetic fiction. (As the medieval commentators note:  Sitār, Yaḏbul and Qaṭan cannot possibly all be seen from the same place.) 

From the Muˁallaqa: A Mountain Storm
Attributed to Imru' al-Qays
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Friend, can you see the lightning? There: its flash
bolting like hands in a crownbright cloudheap, quick
to shed light on all things; there: like the lamps
of a hermit who has oiled each coily wick.
I sat to watch it with my friends, between
Ḍārij and Al-ˁUdhayb. Oh I gazed far
enough to see the storm raise its right arm
on Mount Qaṭan, and its left on Al-Sitār,
dumping its rainload hard around Kutayfa
and blowing flat the great Kanahbul trees.
Its shower bucked out over Mount Qanān
panicking all the whitefoot Ibices.
At Taymā' it left not one palm-trunk standing
nor rampart made of anything but rock,
Mount Thabīr in its water-onslaught stood
like a tribe's chieftain in a stripelined cloak.
Come dawn, the upper peaks of Al-Mujaymir
stood spindle-whirled with storm-debris all round,
the flood's bale flung on Al-Ghabīṭ like cloth-sacks
dropped by a Yemeni merchant to the ground.
Come morning, finches noised about the dales
as if blind drunk on pepper-fiery wine.
Come evening, raptors lay drowned at its edge
like squill-roots twisted into a freakish twine.

Audio recording in reconstructed Early Classical Arabic pronunciation

A more rhythmicized recitation


The Arabic of my audio recording is in what I choose to call "Early Classical Arabic" pronunciation. To put it grandiosely, it is a kind of Arabic that hasn't been heard for over a thousand years. To put it plainly, it is a speculative reconstruction of the kind of Arabic pronunciation the grammarian Sibawayh might have used, based on his description of Arabic speech-sounds, and augmented with some inference based on typology. The main differences from textbook Classical Arabic as it is taught and learned today are as follows:

The ج was /ɟ/ (not /dʒ/)
The ش was /ɕ/ (not /ʃ/) 
The ص was (for an indeterminate number of speakers including Sibawayh) an affricate /t͡sˤ/ rather than the fricative /sˁ/.  (For reasoning behind this reconstruction see this article by Ahmad Al-Jallad).
The ض was a pharyngealized lateral, probably /ɮˤ/ or /d͡ɮˤ/ (the modern /dˁ/ pronunciation is much more recent)
The ت and ك appear to have been quite strongly aspirated /kʰ tʰ/. 
In addition to the familiar three vowels /a: i: u:/ there existed /e:/ for many speakers (and, more marginally, /o:/ for some.) 
The vowel /a:/ was optionally raised to [e:] due to i-mutation under a complex of different circumstances, partially neutralizing the contrast between /a:/ and phonemic /e:/ and giving the realizations of /a:/ a range and distribution not commonly heard in modern elevated poetic recitations. 

Although I render ش as alveolo-palatal /ɕ/, full disclosure requires noting that another possibility would be a true palatal non-sibilant /ç/, which is what many (perhaps most) posit based on a strict interpretation of Sibawayhi's statement. Now, Sibawayhi, who doesn't get enough credit as a phonetician, could probably have distinguished palatal from alveolo-palatal articulation. But whether he would have cared to is a different question. Although he groups ي ش ج at the same place of articulation, it is only ش which causes assimilation of the definite article. Thus there was something about šīn that made it pattern, for assimilation purposes, with the coronals rather than the dorsals. The most straightforward interpretation would be that this is because šīn was indeed a sibilant. Sibilants as an articulatory class involve a centerline grooved tongue focusing the airstream such that it strikes the teeth. Whereas non-sibilant fricatives do not involve the teeth as a secondary articulator. Sibilants, probably because of the need to involve the teeth, are always coronal. Alveolo-palatal articulation sits uneasily in a no-man's land between the dorsal and coronals, and is as far back as you can go and still produce a sound that behaves acoustically and structurally like a sibilant. For /ç/ to function as a sibilant, it must thus have front articulation [ç̟], which (notational and theoretical games aside) makes it functionally /ɕ/. 

One phonologically interesting way in which Sibawayhi's Arabic was likely counterintuitive from the standpoint of many modern accents of the standard language, and doubly so for non-native Arabic speakers given how they tend to be taught, is that what we normally think of as voiced plain stops /b d ɟ/ and voiceless plain stops /t k/ did not — strictly speaking — have presence or absence of voicing per se as their distinguishing feature. In this, Sibawayh's Arabic would align with certain modern dialects like San'ani Arabic. (See Phonation and glottal states in Modern South Arabian and San’ani Arabic by Janet Watson and Barry Heselwood for this and more, including a good explanation of a crucial articulatory category in Sibawayh's description.) The chief featural distinction between the two sets was probably aspiration in the latter and non-aspiration (with adductive glottal tension) in the former. In a dialect like this, although /b d ɟ/ probably did not have fully specified voicing, much of the time this would be of little phonetic consequence since in most positions voicing would be triggered positionally. In post-pausal position, however, although /b d ɟ/ would trigger a glottal prephonation state, their actual voice-onset time would not necessarily be different from that of a voiceless non-aspirated stop. 


The Original:

أصَاحِ تَرَِى بَرْقاً أُرِيْكَ وَمِيضَـهُ
كَلَمْـعِ اليَدَيْنِ فِي حَبِيٍّ مُكَلَّـلِ
يُضِيءُ سَنَاهُ أَوْ مَصَابِيْحُ رَاهِـبٍ
أهَانَ السَّلِيْـطَ بِالذُّبَالِ المُفَتَّـلِ
قَعَدْتُ لَهُ وصُحْبَتِي بَيْنَ ضَـارِجٍ
وبَيْنَ العـُذَيْبِ بُعْدَمَا مُتَأَمَّـلِ
عَلَى قَطَنٍ بِالشَّيْمِ أَيْمَنُ صَوْبِـهِ
وَأَيْسَـرُهُ عَلَى السِّتَارِ فَيَذْبُـلِ
فَأَضْحَى يَسُحُّ المَاءَ حَوْلَ كُتَيْفَةٍ
يَكُبُّ عَلَى الأذْقَانِ دَوْحَ الكَنَهْبَلِ
ومَـرَّ عَلَى القَنَـانِ مِنْ نَفَيَانِـهِ
فَأَنْزَلَ مِنْهُ العُصْمَ مِنْ كُلِّ مَنْـزِلِ
وتَيْمَاءَ لَمْ يَتْرُكْ بِهَا جِذْعَ نَخْلَـةٍ
وَلاَ أٌجُماً إِلاَّ مَشِيْداً بِجِنْـدَلِ
كَأَنَّ ثَبِيْـراً فِي عَرَانِيْـنِ وَبْلِـهِ
كَبِيْـرُ أُنَاسٍ فِي بِجَـادٍ مُزَمَّـلِ
كَأَنَّ ذُرَى رَأْسِ المُجَيْمِرِ غُـدْوَةً
مِنَ السَّيْلِ وَالأَغثَاءِ فَلْكَةُ مِغْـزَلِ
وأَلْقَى بِصَحْـرَاءِ الغَبيْطِ بَعَاعَـهُ
نُزُوْلَ اليَمَانِي ذِي العِيَابِ المُحَمَّلِ
كَأَنَّ مَكَـاكِيَّ الجِـوَاءِ غُدَّبَـةً
صُبِحْنَ سُلافاً مِنْ رَحيقٍ مُفَلْفَـلِ
كَأَنَّ السِّبَـاعَ فِيْهِ غَرْقَى عَشِيَّـةً
بِأَرْجَائِهِ القُصْوَى أَنَابِيْشُ عُنْصُـلِ

Homeric Hymn to Ares (From Greek)

Hymn to Ares
(C. 2nd-4th century A.D.)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

God-brawned Ares, gold-helmed driver
of the chariot in the stars.  Stout-spirit shieldman
bronzed in armor!  Bulwark of Olympus,
Guardian of cities  and spear-potent
Father of Victory, the fine dame at war!
Enemy-harrowing ally of Justice,
the righteous man's commander in chief,
scepter-master   of manly good
wheeling Your fireball  amid the wayfaring
planets' seven  paths through cosmic
air where Your firesteeds  forever bear You
over the thirdmost orbit immortal.

Hear me, bequeather of brave youth's bloom,
matchless ally  of mortalkind,
blaze a gentle beam from Your planet
straight into our life with strength of war
to finally beat the bite of cowardice
now and ever from out my skull.

Give my mind clout to crush the soul's
treacherous impulses, help me temper
the spirit-furies that spur me into
bloody mayhem, and make me brave
enough to keep within the kindly
laws of peace,  O Lord of War. 
Help me flee the fray of foul rancor,
and dodge the wraiths of a violent death.

The Original:

Ἆρες ὑπερμενέτα, βρισάρματε, χρυσεοπήληξ,
ὀβριμόθυμε, φέρασπι, πολισσόε, χαλκοκορυστά,
καρτερόχειρ, ἀμόγητε, δορισθενές, ἕρκος Ὀλύμπου,
Νίκης εὐπολέμοιο πάτερ, συναρωγὲ Θέμιστος,
ἀντιβίοισι τύραννε, δικαιοτάτων ἀγὲ φωτῶν,
ἠνορέης σκηπτοῦχε, πυραυγέα κύκλον ἑλίσσων
αἰθέρος ἑπταπόροις ἐνὶ τείρεσιν, ἔνθα σε πῶλοι
ζαφλεγέες τριτάτης ὑπὲρ ἄντυγος αἰὲν ἔχουσι:
κλῦθι, βροτῶν ἐπίκουρε, δοτὴρ εὐθαρσέος ἥβης,
πρηὺ καταστίλβων σέλας ὑψόθεν ἐς βιότητα
ἡμετέρην καὶ κάρτος ἀρήιον, ὥς κε δυναίμην
σεύασθαι κακότητα πικρὴν ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῖο καρήνου,
καὶ ψυχῆς ἀπατηλὸν ὑπογνάμψαι φρεσὶν ὁρμήν,
θυμοῦ αὖ μένος ὀξὺ κατισχέμεν, ὅς μ᾽ ἐρέθῃσι
φυλόπιδος κρυερῆς ἐπιβαινέμεν: ἀλλὰ σὺ θάρσος
δός, μάκαρ, εἰρήνης τε μένειν ἐν ἀπήμοσι θεσμοῖς
δυσμενέων προφυγόντα μόθον Κῆράς τε βιαίους.

Homeric Hymn to Poseidon (Greek)

Hymn to Poseidon
(Ca. 6th century BC)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My song begins for great Poseidon
the Earthmover,  endless shifter
of the gaping deep; god of waters,
Lord of Helicon, homed in the expanse
of ancient Aegae.  Earthshaker, you
the gods endowed with double honor
to be tamer of steeds and savior of ships.
Hail, Poseidon sire of waveroads
the blue-haired god  who girds the earth.
Blessed one, I pray your broad kind heart
take care of us who cross your seas.

The Original:

Εἲς Ποσειδῶνα

ἀμφὶ Ποσειδάωτα, μέγαν θεόν, ἄρχομ᾽ ἀείδειν,
γαίης κινητῆρα καὶ ἀτρυγέτοιο θαλάσσης,
πόντιον, ὅσθ᾽ Ἑλικῶνα καὶ εὐρείας ἔχει Αἰγάς.
διχθά τοι, Ἐννοσίγαιε, θεοὶ τιμὴν ἐδάσαντο,
ἵππων τε δμητῆρ᾽ ἔμεναι σωτῆρά τε νηῶν.
χαῖρε, Ποσείδαον γαιήοχε, κυανοχαῖτα,
καί, μάκαρ, εὐμενὲς ἦτορ ἔχων πλώουσιν ἄρηγε.

Abraham Sutzkever: To Say A Prayer (From Yiddish)

To Say A Prayer
By Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Yiddish

I have the urge to say a prayer. I do not know to whom.   
He who once gave me comfort will not hear it, should it come.  
   To whom, then, would I pray? 
   I am its choked-up prey.  

Maybe I should entreat a star up there: "old distant friend,  
Come substitute for my lost speech. I am at my words' end."  
   That good star deep in ether 
   Won't hear my prayer either.  

But I have got to say a prayer. Someone very near,  
Somebody in my soul is tortured, and demands a prayer.  
   So I jabber on and on 
   Senselessly until dawn.

- Vilna Ghetto, January 1942


The Original:
גלוסט זיך מיר צו טאָן אַ תּפֿילה
אבֿרהם סוצקעווער

גלוסט זיך מיר צו טאָן אַ תּפֿילה – ווייס איך ניט צו וועמען,
דער, וואָס האָט אַ מאָל געטרייסט מיך וועט זי ניט פֿאַרנעמען, 
   ווייס איך ניט צו וועמען – 
   האַלט זי מיך אין קלעמען. 

אפֿשר זאָל איך בעטן בײַ אַ שטערן: ’’פֿרײַנד מײַן ווײַטער,
כ׳האָב מײַן וואָרט פֿאַרלוירן, קום און זײַ אים אַ פֿאַרבײַטער!‘‘
   אויך דער גוטער שטערן
   וועט עס ניט דערהערן. 

נאָר אַ תּפֿילה זאָגן מוז איך, עמעץ גאָר אַ נאָנטער
פּײַניקט זיך אין מײַן נשמה און די תּפֿילה מאָנט ער, –
   וועל איך אָן אַ זינען
   פּלאַפּלען ביז באַגינען. 

ווילנער געטאָ, יאַנואַר 1942

Abraham Sutzkever: Song for the Men Taking to the Woods (From Yiddish)

For Rokhl. Wherever you are these days, רחלע, this one is for you. 

A poem for Jews who had escaped the Vilna ghetto and fled to the forests, in order to participate in bushwhacking guerrilla warfare against the Nazis. Sutzkever dated all his wartime poems. This one, importantly, is dated two days before Sutzkever and his wife would follow the men here hymned, escaping to the woods themselves, eventually joining a Jewish resistance unit commanded by Moshe Rudnitski.

Song For the Men Taking to the Woods
By Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Yiddish

Sprout up! Staunch heroes, adamantine lads, go take your ground.
Sprout up! Sons of the future, make the world know what you are,
For all the will of all a people, swallowed underground,
Condenses — swelling lava in your breast beneath a scar. 

Now, if the sword has gone to rust in vagabond confusion,
Then file off all the yesterdays, and sharpen its today. 
Never is it too late to show the people's retribution.
Redeem the age-old sin with steel. There is a price to pay.  

Cities have all flown their true colors, turned to stone betrayers,
And riveted your way to sizzling graves at every hand. 
But forests welcome you with singing leaves to safer lairs:
"Come, come to us our darlings, and refine your fair demand."

Our new anointed Jewish rangers, striders of the trees, 
Against the brink that lay in wait, your feet kick back with No. 
Such glory glints within you! Glory of the Maccabees
As once it did in our land two millennia ago. 

There always will be those who bend to earth, who tire, who kneel.
Pity the slave that rests his hope in mercy from a slave.
Be men and Maccabees. Blast for rebellion, and in steel
Let honor shine again with every melée of the brave.

— Vilna Ghetto, September 10th, 1943

The Original:




באַגלייטליד בײַם אַוועקגיין אין וואַלד
אבֿרהם סוצקעווער

וואַקסט אַרויס, איר העלדן — פֿעסטע אײַנגעשפּאַרטע יונגען
וואַקסט אַרויס, איר צוקונפֿטזין, און זײַט דער וועלט באַוואוסט!
גאָר דער ווילן פֿונעם פֿאָלק, אין אונטערערד פֿאַרשלונגען,
קלייעט זיך — אַ לאַוועדיקער שטראָם אין אײַער ברוסט. 

אויב עס האָט פֿאַרזשאַווערט אין דער וואָגלעניש דאָס אײַזן
פֿײַלט פֿון אים אַראָפּ די נעכטנס און אים שלײַפֿט אַצינד. 
קיין מאָל איז ניט שפּעט דעם פֿאָלקס נקמה צו באַווײַזן, 
אויסצוקויפֿן מיט געווער די דורותֿדיקע זינד. 

ס׳האָבן שטעט פֿאַרוואַנדלט זיך אין שטיינערנע פֿאררעטער
צוגעשמידט צו זידנדיקע גריבער אײַער גאַנג. 
האָבן וועלדער אײַך באַגריסט מיט זינגענדיקע בלעטער:
— קומט צו אונדז, איר טײַערע, און לײַטערט דעם פֿאַרלאַנג.

לויב צו אײַך, איר נײַ-געזאַלבטע גבֿורהדיקע גייער,
אײַער פֿוס האָט אָפּעשטופּט דעם לאָקערדיקן ראַנד.
ס׳האָט אין אײַך אַ גלאַנץ געטאָן דער רום פֿון מכּבּייער,
ווי מיט יאָרן צווייטויזנט צוריק אין אייגן לאַנד.

שטענדיק זענען דאָ צו דר׳ערד געבויגענע און מידע. 
וויי דעם קנעכט אין האָפֿענונג אויף רחמים — בײַ אַ קנעכט. 
ווי די מכּבּייער בלאָזט פֿונאַנדער די מרידה,
זאָל דער כּבֿוד אויפֿלויכטן אין שווערדיקן געפֿֿעכט!

ווילנער געטאָ, 10טן סעפּטעמבער 1943

H Leivick: The Holy Poem (From Yiddish)

(This translation first appeared in Asymptote Magazine)

The Holy Poem
By H. Leivick
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Yiddish

With my holy poem
Clenched between my teeth
From my wolfcave — my hole, my home —
I go out and I roam
From street to street:
As a wolf with a wretched bone
Clenched between his teeth alone.

There is prey enough in the street
to sate a wolven hate,
and sweet
is the humid blood that drips
from flesh, but sweeter still
is the dry dust settling
down on jammed lips.

Struggle on the street,
The call of throats.
Let me this once come out tonight,
A deathtooth bite.
That bite is me.
But I don't come to gnaw.
I hunch into my little self
With head beneath my paw.

Back to my hole I head
And lump onto my bed,
But I am awake,
Untired from holding clenched
Between my teeth alone
This holy poem
As the wolf his wretched bone.

The Original:


מיטן הייליקן ליד
צווישן געקלאַמערטע ציין,
פֿון וואָלפֿישער הייל – מײַן הויז –
לאָז איך אַוועק זיך
גאַס אײַן, גאַס אויס,
ווי אַ וואָלף מיט אַן עלנטן ביין
צווישן געקלאַמערטע ציין. 

אין גאַסן – פֿאַר וואָלפֿישער שנאה
גענוג איז דאָ רויב,
און זיס איז פונ לײַבער
דאָס דאַמפֿיקע בלוט;
נאָר זיסער דער טרוקענער שטויב
אויף א ליפּן פֿאַרהאַקטע, וואָס רוט. 

אויף ראָגן – געראַנגלֹ, 
פֿון העלדזער – דער רוף:
זאָל איין מאָל שוין קומען
דער טויטלעכער ביס,
דער ביס דאָס בין איך,
נאָר – איך קום ניט. 
איך האָרבע צוואַמען מײַן גוף,
דעם קאָפּ ביז אַרונטער די פֿיס. 



H. Leivick: "Gates, Open" (From Yiddish)

H. Leivick (the pen name of Leivick Halpern) was born in 1888 in Chervyn, in the Russian Empire. In 1905 he joined the revolutionary Jewish Bund. The next year, he was arrested by Russian Imperial authorities for distributing revolutionary literature. He refused any legal assistance during his trial and instead delivered a thunderous speech denouncing the tsarism and autocracy. He was sentenced to four years of hard labor (in Minsk, Moscow and St. Petersburg) followed by permanent exile in Siberia, to which he was forcibly marched, on foot, in 1912, over the course of four months. He was finally smuggled out of Siberia with aid of Jewish revolutionaries in the US, and sailed to the America in the summer of 1913. He returned in 1925 to what was by then the Soviet Union, where he was welcomed as a great denouncer of tsarism, and his works printed widely. The feeling, however, was not at all mutual. He returned to the US, quite un-enthusiastic about the Soviet Union, about Soviet life, and about the future of Soviet Jews.

The poem here is the first in his book Lider Fun Gan Eydn: 1932-1936 "Lyrics from Eden: 1932-1936" (downloadable in Yiddish here) a collection of poems written during his four-year stay in a tuberculosis Sanatorium in Colorado a few years after his return from the Soviet Union.
The steppes of Siberia and of Colorado are fused and confused in the poet's mind. Part of him is still in the snow of Siberian exile, even as his body is in the flames of tubercular fever in Colorado. The poem calls to mind the ninth part of his long cycle אין שניי In Snow about his Siberian experience. In that poem, he comes to a gate and asks to be allowed in, to warm himself from the freezing cold, but is denied after people ask who he is and why he is on the road. Here, after having door on door shut to him, as a Russian Jew, as a political prisoner, then again as a Jew rejected while freezing his way through Siberia, he finds the gates and doors open to him in America — a country which he came to love probably more deeply and gratefully than any non-immigrant ever could. But what do these gates and doors in "The Land Colorado" lead to? Life or death? Unknown. As he survived the snow of Siberia, can he survive the tubercular fire here in Colorado? America is also where in the end he is to lay down his burden, his זאַק מיט געשריי, the sack of ache and screams he has born on his proverbial shoulders.
The first line also calls to mind the Nileh, the prayer recited on Yom Kippur, which reads פתח לנו שער בעת נעילת שער כי פנה יום psakh lonu shaar b'eys nilas shaar ki fono yoym "open to us the gates at the time of closing gates wherefore the day has turned." The referent is the gates of heaven, which are about to be closed, but the supplicant asks that they be open for just a bit longer to receive the final prayers. Here, however, he asks the gates themselves to open, not God (as in the prayer) or any corporeal resident (as in In Snow) to open them for him. The celestial is supplanted by, transformed into, the terrestrial.
There is also the matter of the שוועל shvel — the threshold. The liminal place where worlds meet. The poet does not know whether he will leave the sanatorium dead or alive. That shvel is — as we find out in later poems in the collection — a meeting-place of death and life, and of God and Man (or would be if God could ever meet with Man.) This becomes important in later poems in the book which deal with Spinoza and Spinoza's God.
That an avowed unreligious secularist who loathed the chains of tradition should allude to Jewish prayer and mysticism in this fashion, and even demonstrate a mystical yearning, is not in the least surprising. He would also have had every reason to expect his secular readers, many of them, to "get it."

Gates, Open
By H. Leivick
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Yiddish

Gates, open! Draw closer, 
Threshold! You'll tell. 
I come once again
To my snug little cell.

My body — fire,
My head — snow;
And on my shoulders
A sack of woe. 

Goodbye. Goodbye.
Hands. Eyes. That day.  
Farewell on the lips
Burnt out — burned away.

Farewell to whom?
Fled whom? What past?
The eternal questions...
This time do not ask. 

In fire, in flames
The steppeland spreads,
And snow in the flames
On the mountains' heads. 

Look: gate and door
Are open to me!1
Hospital or prison?   
Or a monastery?  

I lay down at your feet
My sack of woe,
Land Colorado
Of fire and snow!

1 - Language-play here. In Yiddish, בײַ אים איז אָפֿן טיר און טויער ba im iz ofn tir un toyer "door and gate are open to him" is a way of saying "he's doing well in life, he's made it."


The Original:


עפֿן זיך טויער
ה. לייוויק

עפֿן זיך, טויער,
נעענטער זיך, שוועל, –
איך קום צו דיר ווידער,
צימערל–צעל. 

מײַן לײַב – פֿײַער,
מײַן קאָפּ – שנײ;
און אויף מײַנע אַקסלען
אַ זאַק מיט געשריי.

אָפּשייד. אָפּשייד. 
אויגן. הענט.
אַדיע אויף די ליפּן 
דערברענט – פֿאַרברענט. 

מיט וועמען צעשיידט זיך? 
פֿון וועמען אַוועק? – 
דאָס אייביקע פֿרעגן
דאָס מאָל ניט פֿרעג. 

אין פֿײַער. אין פֿלאַקער
אַרומיקער סטעפּ. 
און שניי אינעם פֿלאַקער
אויף בערגיקע קעפּ. 

זע, ס׳איז שוין אָפֿן
טויער און טיר; – 
שפּיטאָל ווידער תּפֿיסה? 
צי גאָר מאָנאַסטיר?

איך לייג צו די פיס דיר
מײַן זאַק מיט געשריי,
לאַנד קאָלאָראַדאָ,
פֿון פֿײַער און שניי.