Lera Yanysheva: Stone Children (From Lovara Romani)

Stone Children
By Lera Yanysheva
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

It hurts. It's crushing me. Forgive me. Please.   
How can you have just left me all at once?
I didn't know I would give death to you.
Oh God what have I done? Forgive me, sons.

My sons, they've paid for sins that I committed.
Gone through agony because of me. 
I wanted the fine life, the house, the money.
Some other Lovara live in luxury....

I wanted you to not want for a thing,
A fortune to keep my boys set for life. 
So I went and sold my soul to a foul man
And started selling heroin as a wife. 

What good is all this money to me now? 
Oh Christ! What have they gone and done? Why, those
Boys knew exactly where to score some smack. 
They shot each other up and overdosed.

I bought them this luxurious monument.
This is the marble that they sleep below.
I had to bury you, my boys, my babies.
Fortune and fine life left me long ago.

Standing and staring at the iron crosses
I've locked my heart and blown away the keys.
You were so lively, boys. Now you're all stone.
It hurts. It's crushing me. Forgive me. Please.

The Original:

Барунэ щавора

Мангэ пхаро-й…Чак эртэчия мэ манглэм….
Состар гэлан-тар — мангэ-й э гэчина,
Кэ щявора мэрэна — чи жянглэм!
Со мэ кэрдэм? Мангав мэ эртэчия.

Лэ бэзэха мурэ са потиндэ лэ щавора,
Лэ щявора пал мандэ кинозынас.
Камос ви мэ о сумнакай тай лэ кхэра,
Лэ авэра ловара барвалэс траинас.

Э бахт тумэнгэ тэ кэрав камлэм,
Дэ сар барвалипэ лэ щяворэнгэ тэ рэсав?
Лэ бивужэскэ ди мэ бикиндэм,
Кэздысардэм дылэ драба мэ тэ бикнав.

Пэ сос, ромалэ, мангэ сумнакай?
О Свунто драго Дэл! Со вон кэрдэ?
Вон аракхлэ драба, кэ жяннас — кай,
Эк лэ каврэс кодол драбэнца пусадэ.

Мурмунцы лэнгэ барвалэ мэ кэрадэм,
Са андо мраморо лэ щявора совэн.
Яй, драги — мэ тумэн прахосардэм,
Ай бахт тай траё мандар дур нашэ́н.

Тай сар дыкхав мэ трушула лэ саструнэ,
Муро йило пэ кия пхандадэм.
Щявэ сас жювиндэ, дэ аканик-и барунэ!
Мангэ пхаро́-й…Чак эртэчия мэ манглэм…
Barune Šavora

Mánge pharó-i...čak ertečíja me manglem...
Sóstar gelántar — mánge-i e gečína,
Ke šavora meréna — či žaglem!
So me kerdem? Mangav me ertečíja...

Le bezexa mure sa potinde le šavora,
Le šavora pal mánde kinozínas.
Kamos vi me o sumnakaj taj le khera,
Le avera Lovára barvales trajínas.

E baxt tuménge te kerav kamlem,
De sar varvalipe le šavorénge te resav?
Le bivužéske dji me bikindem,
Kezdisardem dile draba me te biknav.

Pe sos, Romále, mánge sumnakaj?
O Svúnto drágo Del! So von kerde?
Von arakhle draba, ke žanas kaj,
Ek le kavres kodol drabénca pusade.

Murmúncî lénge barvale me keradem,
Sa ándo mrámoro le šavora soven.
Jaj, drági — me tumen praxosardem,
Aj baxt taj trájo mándar dur našen.

Taj sar dikhav me trušula le sastrune,
Muro jilo pe kíja phandadem.
Šave sas žuvinde, de akanik-i barune!
Mánge pharó-i...Čak ertečíja me manglem...

Bible: David's Lament (From Hebrew)

The books of Samuel are beset with textual problems. The texts we have are in several places quite corrupt. To me it seems fairly likely that we do not have the "original" text of this poem, nor will we ever. In such circumstances, the translator of biblical literature is stuck between a Rock and a God Place, between having to choose among a dizzying array of possible emendations and paleographic possibilities, or trying to deal with the text as it now is.

I would have liked to be able to accept with confidence the radical emendations proposed by some. For example, those of Hollyday in Form and Word-Play in David's Lament over Saul and Jonathan if for no other reason than that some of his propositions make for interesting poetry. Hollyday and Gurvitz take the entire song to start one line earlier, and emend 2 Sam 1:18 with this in mind. Hollyday for example proposes יְלַל מַר בְּכֵי יְהוּדָה קְשַׁת נְהִי סְפֹד לְיָשָׁר ("A howling bitter weep, O Judah! Pangs of a wailing dirge for the upright man!")

Such proposals, though not by any means implausible, don't strike me as very convincing in their totality. The text I give is the Masoretic text. My translation, however, reflects some emendations (for example "the square" of Gath here.)

My reading of lines 1 and 23 here is quite at odds with the traditional reading (most translations begin with something more like "Glory O Israel likes slain on your heights.") At issue is the fraught and labyrinthine question of what במה actually means. My approach basically follows from the data given and conclusions drawn by W. Boyd Barrick in BMH as Body Language:  A Lexical and Iconographical Study of the Word BMH When Not a Reference to Cultic Phenomena in Biblical and Post-Biblical Hebrew. I take במה, when not referring to a cultic site, to have a primarily anatomical sense — as it does elsewhere in Semitic. This poem is actually used as the locus probans for reading the word as meaning "hill." But this seems untenable for reasons Barrick lays out.

David's Lament 
(From 2 Samuel 1:19-27)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Gazelle of Israel
 slain on your back! 
 How the heroes have fallen!

Don't speak of it in the squares of Gath
Don't spread the news in the streets of Ashkelon
Or the daughters of the Philistines  will rejoice 
Or the daughters of the ungodly  will gloat

  Mountains of Gilboa!
Be there no dew nor rain on you
And on your slopes  no fertile field!
For there was the shield  of heroes defiled
The shield of Saul no more anointed
From blood of the slain from the breast of the foe
The bow of Jonathan never recoiled
The blade of Saul never returned undyed

Jonathan and Saul beloved men
Dearly beloved  in life they were
Inseparable so  in death they are
Swifter than eagles stronger than lions

Now daughters of Israel weep for Saul 
Who clothed you in scarlet  who robed you in finery
Who adorned all the folds  of your garments with gold

How the heroes are fallen  in the thick of battle
Jonathan laid low slain on your back!

Oh I grieve for you  Jonathan, brother
Dear to me you were, and for me
More wonderful your love than the love of women

How the heroes have fallen 
How the arms of war are lost! 

The Original:



שיר הקשת

הַצְּבִי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל-בָּמוֹתֶיךָ חָלָל
אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבּוֹרִים

אַל-תַּגִּידוּ בְגַת
אַל-תְּבַשְּׂרוּ בְּחוּצֹת אַשְׁקְלוֹן
פֶּן-תִּשְׂמַחְנָה בְּנוֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּים
פֶּן-תַּעֲלֹזְנָה בְּנוֹת הָעֲרֵלִים

הָרֵי בַגִּלְבֹּעַ
אַל-טַל וְאַל-מָטָר עֲלֵיכֶם
וּשְׂדֵי תְרוּמֹת
כִּי שָׁם נִגְעַל מָגֵן גִּבּוֹרִים
מָגֵן שָׁאוּל בְּלִי מָשִׁיחַ בַּשָּׁמֶן
מִדַּם חֲלָלִים מֵחֵלֶב גִּבּוֹרִים
קֶשֶׁת יְהוֹנָתָן לֹא נָשׂוֹג אָחוֹר
וְחֶרֶב שָׁאוּל לֹא תָשׁוּב רֵיקָם

שָׁאוּל וִיהוֹנָתָן
הַנֶּאֱהָבִים וְהַנְּעִימִם בְּחַיֵּיהֶם
וּבְמוֹתָם לֹא נִפְרָדוּ
מִנְּשָׁרִים קַלּוּ
מֵאֲרָיוֹת גָּבֵרוּ

בְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-שָׁאוּל בְּכֶינָה
הַמַּלְבִּשְׁכֶם שָׁנִי עִם-עֲדָנִים
הַמַּעֲלֶה עֲדִי זָהָב עַל לְבוּשְׁכֶן

אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבֹּרִים בְּתוֹךְ הַמִּלְחָמָה
יְהוֹנָתָן עַל-בָּמוֹתֶיךָ חָלָל

צַר-לִי עָלֶיךָ אָחִי יְהוֹנָתָן
נָעַמְתָּ לִּי מְאֹד
נִפְלְאַתָה אַהֲבָתְךָ לִי
מֵאַהֲבַת נָשִׁים

אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבּוֹרִים
וַיֹּאבְדוּ כְּלֵי מִלְחָמָה

Bialik: Just a Ray (From Hebrew)

Just A Single Ray
By Haim Nachman Bialik
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Just a single ray of sun upon you,
And you grew to glory, rose near-divine.
One ray unfurled your lure, your flesh
And you ripened like a fruited vine.

Just a single night of storm in spoil
Has ravished your flush and bud away.
In your lime beauty vile dogs afar
Can smell your cadaverous decay.


The Original:

רַק קַו-שֶׁמֶשׁ אֶחָד עֲבָרֵךְ,
וּפִתְאֹם רוֹמַמְתְּ וְגָדָלְתְּ;
וַיְפַתַּח חֶמְדָּתֵךְ וּבְשָׂרֵךְ,
וּכְגֶפֶן פֹּרִיָּה בָּשָׁלְתְּ.

וְרַק סַעַר לֵיל אֶחָד עֲבָרֵךְ,
וַיַּחְמֹס אֶת-בִּסְרֵךְ, נִצָּתֵךְ;
וּכְלָבִים נְבָלִים בַּהֲדָרֵךְ
יָרִיחוּ מֵרָחוֹק נִבְלָתֵךְ –

Bialik: Stars Flicker (From Hebrew)

Stars Flicker
By Haim Nachman Bialik
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Stars flicker and go out.
Men in the dark decay.
In my heart and everywhere
See the dark take sway. 

Dreams sparkle and fade out.
Hearts flower and decay.
In my heart and everywhere
See the ruins splay. 

Everyone prays for the light. 
Their lips rot as they pray. 
This is a tired old tale
Repeated every which way. 

How slow the nights drag! Not even 

The broken moon can stay
Without yawning wearily,
Waiting in slumber for day. 

The Original:


כוכבים מציצים
חיים נחמן ביאליק

כּוֹכָבִים מְצִיצִים וְכָבִים,
וַאֲנָשִׁים בַּחֲשֵׁכָה נְמַקִּים;
הַבִּיטָה בַכֹּל וּבִלְבָבִי –
מַחֲשַׁכִּים, יְדִידִי, מַחֲשַׁכִּים.

וְנוֹצְצִים חֲלֹמוֹת וְנוֹבְלִים,
וּפוֹרְחִים וּרְקֵבִים לְבָבוֹת;
הַבִּיטָה בַכֹּל וּבִלְבָבִי –
חֳרָבוֹת, יְדִידִי, חֳרָבוֹת.

וְהַכֹּל מִתְפַּלְּלִים לְאוֹרָה,
וְנֹבְלוֹת שְׂפָתַיִם בִּתְפִלָּה;
וִיגֵעִים הַדְּבָרִים וַאֲרֻכִּים,
וְהֵם נִשְׁנִים וְחוֹזְרִים חֲלִילָה.
וְהַלֵּילוֹת – הוֹי, כַּמָּה עֲצֵלִים!
אֲפִלּוּ הַלְּבָנָה הַפְּגוּמָה –
גַּם-הִיא מְפַהֶקֶת עֲיֵפָה
וּמְצַפָּה לַיּוֹם מִתּוֹךְ תְּנוּמָה

Bialik: I Know (From Hebrew)

Bialik prophesies in rage in the wake of the 1905 Odessa pogrom.

I Know
By Haim Nahman Bialik
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I know on some misted night I will wink out suddenly as a star
And not a star shall know my grave
But in my aftermath my wrath shall smoke on like a volcano
After its fires expire.
It will dwell among you so long as thunder rings the zodiac
And waves rage ocean-wide.
O let your mighty sorrow be held too tight, so tight
In the bosom of all the world
That the wilderness of the sky, the wilderness of earth,
Their stars and their grasses,
Drink their fill of it, 
That it might live in them, quicken them, grow old and grow anew with them
Wither like them, return hither like them and blossom again;
Let that sorrow, formless and nameless and groundless, bear 
Witness, unto the final generation, of your iniquity;
Let it shriek wordless and voiceless, to all hell and to all heaven
To block the world's redemption.
And when, come the end of days, the two-faced sun of fraudulent justice shines
On the graves of your slaughtered
And the banner of revolting blandishment, dyed in your blood, flies shameless 
In the face of the heavens and over your slaughterer's heads
And the counterfeit seal of God carved on the banner
Gouges the sun's eyes,
When the prideful dance and pomp of the festival of lies 
Rattles your holy bones down in the tomb-
When the firmament's splendor trembles and goes dark of a sudden with your sorrow,
When with the stain of your pure blood the sun has set 
The Mark of Cain upon the brow of the world,
The mark of failure on the broken arm of the Lord,
When star cries quaking to star —behold the lie almighty —
Behold us in our sorrow —
Then, then shall the God of Vengeance arise,
Roaring with wounded heart,
And with his great sword
Stride forth.



The Original:

יָדַעְתִּי, בְּלֵיל עֲרָפֶל כַּכּוֹכָב אֶכְבֶּה פִתְאֹם
וְלֹא יֵדַע כּוֹכָב אֶת-קְבוּרָתִי,
וְאוּלָם חֲרוֹנִי עוֹד יֶעְשַׁן אַחֲרַי כְּפִי הַר-פְּרָצִים
אַחֲרֵי כְבוֹת לַהֲבוֹ,
וִיחִי בֵינֵיכֶם כָּל-עוֹד יְמֵי הָרַעַם בַּגַּלְגַּל
וְזַעַף גַּלִּים בְּאֻקְיָנוֹס.
הָהּ, מִי יִתֵּן וְיֵאָצֵר גַּם יְגוֹנְכֶם הַגָּדוֹל
בְּחֵיק הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ,
וְרָווּ מִמֶּנּוּ עַרְבוֹת שָׁמַיִם וְעַרְבוֹת שָׂדַי,
כּוֹכָבִים וּדְשָׁאִים,
וְחַי בָּהֶם, וִיפַעֲמֵם, וְנוֹשַׁן וְהִתְחַדֵּשׁ עִמָּם,
וּכְמוֹהֶם יִבֹּל וְיָשׁוּב וְיִפְרָח,
וּבְלֹא-שֵׁם וּבְלֹא-דְמוּת וּבְלֹא אֶרֶץ מוֹלֶדֶת
לְעֵד חֲמַסְכֶם עַד-דּוֹר אַחֲרוֹן יַעֲמֹד,
וּבְלֹא קוֹל וּדְבָרִים אֶל-הַשְּׁאוֹל וְאֶל-הַשָּׁמַיִם יִצְעַק
וִיעַכֵּב אֶת-גְּאֻלַּת הָעוֹלָם;
וּבִזְרֹחַ לְקֵץ הַיָּמִים שֶׁמֶשׁ רְמִיָּה שֶׁל צִדְקַת שָׁוְא
עַל קִבְרֵי חַלְלֵיכֶם,
וְנֵס הַחֲנֻפָּה, חֲמוּץ דְּמֵיכֶם, בְּחֻצְפָּה כְלַפֵּי שָׁמַיִם
עַל-רָאשֵׁי זֹבְחֵיכֶם יִתְנוֹפֵף,
וְחוֹתַם אֱלֹהִים הַמְזֻיָּף חָרוּת עַל-הַנֵּס
אֶת-עֵינֵי הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ יְנַקֵּר,
וּמְחוֹל רֶגֶל גַּאֲוָה וּתְרוּעַת חַג הַשֶּׁקֶר יְזַעְזְעוּ
אֶת-עַצְמוֹתֵיכֶם הַקְּדוֹשׁוֹת בַּקָּבֶר –
וְרָעַד זֹהַר הָרָקִיעַ וְקָדַר פִּתְאֹם בִּיגוֹנְכֶם,
וְנֶהְפַּךְ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לְכֶתֶם דִּמְכֶם הַנָּקִי,
אוֹת קַיִן עַל מֵצַח הָעוֹלָם וְאוֹת כִּשָּׁלוֹן
לִזְרֹעַ אֱלֹהִים הַשְּׁבוּרָה,
וְכוֹכָב אֶל-כּוֹכָב יֶחֱרָד: הִנֵּה הַשֶּׁקֶר הַנּוֹרָא!
הִנֵּה הַיָּגוֹן הַגָּדוֹל!
וְאֵל נְקָמוֹת, פָּצוּעַ בִּלְבָבוֹ, יָקוּם וְיִשְׁאָג –
וּבְחַרְבּוֹ הַגְּדוֹלָה יֵצֵא

Yehuda HaLevi: My Heart is in the East (From Hebrew)

This poem, the first from the poet's cycle מכבל ערב mikkebel ˁarab "Out of Arabian Bonds", is one of his most famous today. If you're gonna translate Halevi, you've got to do Libbi Bămizraḥ. Well Ok. Fine. Here you go. Here, you even get me reading it to you in reconstructed Andalusi Hebrew pronunciation. Happy?  

My Heart Is In The East
By Yehuda HaLevi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in Andalusi Hebrew

My heart is in the east, and the rest of me at the edge of the west.
How can I taste the food I eat? How can it give me pleasure? 
How can I keep my promise now, or fulfill the vows I've made
While Zion remains in the Cross's reign1, and I in Arab chains? 
With pleasure I would leave behind all the good things of Spain,
If only I could gaze on the dust of our ruined Holy Place.

Note:

1- The poet had made a vow to leave Spain behind and journey to Jerusalem, which was at the time held by the Crusaders. The Crusaders, when they took the city of Jerusalem in 1099, had forbidden Jews to reside there.

The Original:

לבי במזרח
יהודה הלוי 
يهوذا اللاوي

לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב
אֵיךְ אֶטְעֲמָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר אֹכַל וְאֵיךְ יֶעֱרָב
אֵיכָה אֲשַׁלֵּם נְדָרַי וָאֱסָרַי, בְּעוֹד
צִיּוֹן בְּחֶבֶל אֱדוֹם וַאֲנִי בְּכֶבֶל עֲרָב
יֵקַל בְּעֵינַי עֲזֹב כָּל טוּב סְפָרַד, כְּמוֹ
יֵקַר בְּעֵינַי רְאוֹת עַפְרוֹת דְּבִיר נֶחֱרָב.

Nizar Qabbani: "Less Beautiful" (From Arabic)

Completely revised this translation as a result of my encounter with Stephen Frug's take on my original attempt

Less Beautiful
By Nizar Qabbani
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the Arabic

Whenever I see you, I despair of my verse.
I only despair of my poems
When I am with you.
Beautiful you are...so much
So that when I think about what awe you strike... I gasp for breath.
As my language gasps
And my lexicon gasps
For breath.
Deliver me from these problematics!
Be less beautiful
So I can recover my poetics.
Be a typical woman
Of kohl, perfume, pregnancy and childbirth.
Be a woman
Like any other,
And reconcile me with my language
And my tongue.

The Original:


اقل جمالا
نزار قباني

كلّما رأيتُكِ... أيأس من قصائدي
إنني لا أيأسُ من قصائدي
إلّا حين أكون معكِ...
جميلة انت... إلى درجة أنني
حينُ أفكِّر بِرَوعتِك...ألهَثُ...
تَلهثُ لغتي...
وتَلهَثُ مفرداتي...
خلِّصيني من هذا الإشكال
كوني اقلَّ جَمالاً...
حتّا أستردَّ شاعريتي
كوني امرأةً عادية
تَتَكحَّل وتتعطَّر...وتحبل...وتَلِد
كوني
امرأة مثلَ كلِّ النساء
حتى أتصالحَ مع لغتي
ومع فمي.

Yehuda Amichai: Death of My Father (From Hebrew)

Death of My Father
By Yehuda Amichai
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me read the Hebrew aloud

My father of a sudden from all places
Departed for his strange and distant spaces. 

He had gone to call upon his God
So He might come to our aid with staff and rod.  

And God took up the burden, coming soon
Hanging His jacket up on the hook of moon,

Though nevermore will God let our father go
Who left to fetch Him for us here below. 

The Original:

מוֹת אָבִי
יהודה עמיחי

אָבִי פִּתְאֹם, מִכָּל הַחֲדָרים
יָצָא לְמֶרְחַקָּיו הַמּוּזָרִים. 

הָלוֹךְ הָלַךְ לִקְרֹא לֵאלֹהָיו,
שֶׁהוּא יָבוֹא לַעֲזֹר לָנוּ עַכְשָיו. 

וֵאלֹהִים כְּבָר בָּא, כְּמוֹ טוֹרֵחַ,
תָּלָה אֶת מְעִילוֹ עַל וַו-יָרֵחַ.

אַךְ אֶת אָבִינוּ, שֶׁיָּצָא לְהוֹבִילוֹ,
יַחֲזִיק הָאֱלֹהִים לָעַד אֶצְלוֹ. 

Haim Lensky: Near the Mill (From Hebrew)

Another by the Russian Hebrew poet Haim Lensky. Many of his poems, like this one, give the impression of being "Russian poems in Hebrew" just as Preil's give the impression of being American poems in Hebrew. Even when writing — as here — about Jewish concerns, his mental universe and linguistic aesthetic seem to be Russian through and through.

Then again, what is Russian, really? That question ultimately has no better answer than that of what is really American.

Cossacks, with their habits of raiding Jewish quarters, were much feared by Russian Jews.

Near the Mill
By Haim Lensky
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Glitter of metal, clatter of hoofs on the hill. 
The Ataman1 to his Cossacks2 said
"The miller's a kike!"3 They leapt ahead.
Black were the boots that entered the mill. 
The boots that left dripped red. 

Glitter of metal, clatter of hoofs on the hill. 
A Red Army lad said "what's the harm 
In checking up on my dad." For a lark 
He jumped and hastened into mill. 
The day when he left was dark. 

Glitter of metal, clatter of hoofs on the hill. 
The soldier returned to his camp and flag. 
The fall wind scattered the flour of the mill, 
The flour from his coat, his hair that will 
Never again be black. 


Note:

1- Ataman — A term for a leader of cossack groups, and the official term for generals of cossack armies in the Russian Empire. The word, which is left unvocalized in the Hebrew text I have, could be interpreted either as "Hetman" or as "The Ataman" though the later makes a bit more sense.

2- Cossacks — the original actually says "haydamaks." I've chosen a term that would be more familiar in English.

3- "Kike" here translates a Russian loanword žid in the Hebrew text. Žid is not easily translated into English. The best way to describe it is that Russian žid is to "Jew" as American English nigger is to "Black." English doesn't have quite the anti-Semitic repertoire that Eastern European languages do. Many anti-semitic slurs simply have no translation that quite conveys to the English speaker the level of disrespect and hate implicit in them. This word has not been pejorative at all times in all places however (as demonstrated by e.g. the Ukrainian Jewish surname Zhydenko.) In medieval Russian it was a quite neutral term, as Polish żyd is to this day. (In Polish, benevolence and malevolence can only be shown in the plural. The benevolent plural is the native Polish plural żydzi. The malevolent plural is the Russian loan żydy.)

The Original:

מִסָּבִיב לָרֵחַיִם
חיים לנסקי

הֹלֶם טֶרֶף-סוּס וְנִצְנוּץ כְּלֵי-זַיִן...
נְאוּם האטמן אֶל כַּת הַיְדַּמָּקָיו:
”הַטּוֹחֵן הוּא זִ׳יד.“ קָפְצוּ מִן הָאֻכָּף...
שְׁחוֹרֵי מַגָּף פָּרצוּ אֶל הָרֵחַיִם
יָצְאוּ סְמוּקֵי מַגָּף–

הֹלֶם טֶרֶף-סוּס וְנִצְנוּץ כְּלֵי-זַיִן...
בָּא סַיָּר צָעִיר מִן הַחַיִל הָאָדֹם: 
”אֶל אָבִי אָסוּר, אֶפְקְדֵהוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.“–
פָּזִיז וְקַל קָפַץ אֶל הָרֵחַיִם,
יָצָא–קָדַר לוֹ יוֹם– 

הֹלֶם טֶרֶף-סוּס וְנִצְנוּץ כְּלֵי-זַיִן...
שָׁב סַיָּר צָעִיר אֶל מַחֲנֵהוּ, אֶל דִּגְלוֹ. 
רוּחַ-סְתָו חָבְטָה הַקֶּמַח מִמְּעִילוֹ,
חָבְטָה מִכּוֹבָעוֹ, אַךְ הַצְּדָעַיִם
לֹא עוֹד יַשְׁחִירוּ, לֹא!–



Gabriel Preil: Celebration Beyond Things (From Hebrew)

Back to Gabriel Preil, the most famous Hebrew poet of America, who has the distinction of being the only Hebrew poet ever to write an entire series of poems about the state of Maine.

A Celebration Beyond Things
Gabriel Preil
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

A celebration beyond things, 
A play on worded things beyond the light, the heavy,
beyond bread, table, car.
This mist, for example, or that sun. 
(And it is not important if the New York mist
is much different from that of Oregon, or 
for that matter, if Oregon's sky
has reservations about Maine's.) 
The thing of it is
I'm almost ready to swear 
The variations in the skies can drive
The clouds themselves crazy,
Or me, in any case,
Attentive as I am to the gamut of shades
Seduced by the weathers of
Poems and loves.

Even the rain-sluiced stone

Now celebrates something.


The Original:

חַג שֶׁמֵּעֵבֶר הַדְּבָרִים
גבריאל פּרייל

חַג שֶׁמֵּעֵבֶר הַדְּבָרִים
מִשְׂחַק דְבָרִים שֶׁמֵּעֵבֶר לַקַּל, לַכָּבֵד
מֵעֵבֶר לַלֶּחֶם, לַשֻּׁלְחָן, לַמְּכוֹנִית
הָעֲרָפֶל הַזֶּה,לְמָשָׁל, הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ הַזֹּאת
(וְלֹא חָשׁוּב אִם הָעֲרָפֶל הַנְּיוּ-יוֹרְקִי
שׁוֹנֶה בְּהַרְבֵּה מִזֶּה שֶׁבְּאוֹרֶגוֹן, עֵת
כְּמוֹ לְפִי תוֹר, אוֹרֶגוֹן מִסְתַּיֶּגֶת מִשְּׁמֵי מֵין). 
הָעִקָּר שֶׁאֲנִי כִּמְעַט-מוּכָן לְהִשָּׁבַע
שֶׁסּוּגֵי רְקִיעִים יְכוֹלִים לְשַׁגֵּעַ
גַּם אֶת עַצְמָם, בְּכָל-אֹפֶל אוֹתִי
הַקַּשּׁוּב לְמַעַבְרֵי הַגּוֹנִים,
מְפֻתֶּה מִזְגֵי-אֲוִיר שֶׁל
שִׁירִים וַאֲהָבוֹת. 

אֲפִלּוּ הָאֶבֶן הַגְּשׁוּמָה
חוֹגֶגֶת עַכְשָׁיו מָה. 

Hillel Bavli: Seagulls in My Heart (From Hebrew)

Born in Lithuania, Hillel Bavli came to the United States in 1912 and attended Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he earned a doctorate in Hebrew literature. He joined the faculty of the Seminary in 1920. In 1954, he was awarded the Lamed Prize in Hebrew literature for his translation of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” He died in 1961 at the age of 69 after a period of illness. 

Seagulls in My Heart
By Hillel Bavli
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Seagulls in my heart
Peck me, squawk and draw me toward the shore. 
The creaking shrieking ships,
The sloshing waves,
Wayward breezes breathing of sulfur and salt,
Bustling sailors, cussing poets. 
No yoke of yore, no daily decrees. 
Blurring mists of the ages of ages,
The bonds of place and time dissolve.
I'm drawn away.
Seagulls in my heart.

The Original:


שחפים בלבבי
הלל בבלי

שְׁחָפִים בִּלְבָבִי
מְנַקְּרִים בִּי, צוֹרְחִים, מוֹשְׁכִים לִשְׂפַת הַיָּם.
סְפִינוֹת חוֹרְקוֹת־שׁוֹרְקוֹת,
גַּלִּים מְשַׁכְשְׁכִים,
רוּחוֹת־הֶפְקֵר נוֹשְׁמִים רֵיחוֹת גָּפְרִית וּמֶלַח
וְסַפָּנִים הוֹמִים, פַּיְטָנֵי־גִּדּוּפִים.
אֵין עֹל־עָבָר, אֵין גְּזֵרַת־יוֹם.
אֵדֵי־עוֹלָם מִטַּשְׁטְשִׁים,
מִתְמַסְמְסִים חַבְלֵי מָקוֹם וּזְמָן.
אֲנִי נֶחֱלָץ.
שְׁחָפִים בִּלְבָבִי.

Ḥaim Lensky: A St. Petersburg White Night (From Hebrew)

Too often it is assumed that modern Hebrew literature is the same thing as Israeli literature. But just as many Israelis write in other languages, such as Arabic and Russian, so too have many Hebrew poets lived outside of Israel. Haim Lensky is one of many Hebrew poets who wrote on Russian soil in the early 20th century. He eventually starved to death in a labor camp for the crime of writing in Hebrew. Here translated is a sonnet about a St. Petersburg white night. 

The Day Descended 
By Ḥaim Lenski
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The day descended the cold steps of stone
To bathe in the Neva, but hardly found
Itself half in before it plunged and drowned.
The furrowing funeral of waves began. 

Complete silence descended in half-darkness 
Again. Then, rounded, gilded and agleam
St. Isaac's dome sank into the blue stream
As if a diving bell dropped by a harness.

The Admiralty like a golden ball
Feels its way through the water- spires and all.
A gurgle. Then the river runs in twilight.  

Then up with the cadaver that they haul
Out, with blue frozen lips and face of white.
They know him, and they call him the white night. 

The Original:


הַיּוֹם יָרַד בְּמַדְרְגוֹת-הָאֶבֶן
אֶל תְּכוֹל מֵימֵי הַיְאוֹר לִפְחֹץ וּבְטֶרֶם
כִּלָּה לִטְבֹּל צָלַל פִּי תְהוֹם. וְתֶלֶם
גַּלִּים עָבַר בְּתַהֲלוּכַת-אֵבֶל. 

יָרְדָה דְמָמָה שְׁלֵמָה וַחֲצִי אֹפֶל,
וַעֲגֻלָּה, מוּפֶזֶת וּמַזְהֶרֶת, 
שָׁקְעָה כִּפַּת אִיסַאֲקִי תּוֹךְ הַזֶּרֶם
כְּפַעֲמוֹן אָמוֹדַאי מְשֻׁלְשַׁל-חֶבֶל. 

וּכְמוֹ כַּדּוּר-זָהָב מְגַשֵּׁשׁ בַּמַּיִם
חֹד גַּג הָאַדְמִירַלְיָה. בַּעְבּוּעַ.
שׁוֹטֵף הַיְאוֹר בְּזֹהַר בֵּין-עַרְבָּיִם. 

הֹעֲלָה הַמֵּת, הִנֵּהוּ הַטָּבוּעַ;
אָרֹךְ, לְבֶן-פָּנִים וּכְחֹל-שׂפָתַיִם. 
׳הַלַּיְלָה הַלָּבָן׳ – כֹּה יִקְרָאוּהוּ. 

Todros Abulafia: Love's Labor Pangs (From Hebrew)

This little poem poem is a subversion of the morning blessing ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני אשה Blessed art Thou Lord our God, King of the Universe, that hast not made me a woman. It is not the only such subversion in medieval Hebrew letters. Qalonymos ben Qalonymos has another, much longer one, in which he too expresses the wish to have been born a woman.

Love's Labor Pangs
Todros Abulafia (13th cent.)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

On an Arab girl whom I'd love to have as a lover, whom I saw with other women kissing one another. 

I've known love's labor pangs, but brought forth naught. 
I'm in the snares of her, an Arab fawn.
My soul so longs for kisses from her mouth
That I long to turn myself into a female
For it is women that she'll woo and kiss
But I am lost. For I was born a male. 

The Original:

באהבה חלתי
טודרוס אבולעפיה
طدروس ابو العافية

על בת ערב ערבה לי אהבתה, ובתוך עלמות ראיתי אותה, משיקות אשה על אחותה.

בָּאַהֲבָה חַלְתִּי וְלֹא יָלַדְתִּי,
וּבְפַח צְבִיָּה בַּת עֲרָב נִלְכַּדְתִּי.
לִנְשֹׁק בְּפִיהָ אִוְּתָה נַפְשִׁי עֲדֵי
לִהְיוֹת נְקֵבָה בַעֲדָהּ חָמַדְתִּי —
כִּי הַנְּקֵבוֹת הִיא מְנַשֶּׁקֶת, וּבִשְׁ־
בִיל שֶׁאֲנִי זָכָר, אֲנִי הִפְסַדְתִּי!



José Martí: Two Countries (From Spanish)

Two Countries
By José Martí
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish

I have two countries: Cuba and the night. 
Or are they one? No sooner does the sun 
withdraw its majesty than, dressed in long  
veils with a carnation in her hand, 
Cuba appears to me a silent widow.  
I know what that bloodstained carnation is 
atremble in her hand. My breast is empty. 
Sundered it is, and empty where the heart 
once was. The hour is already come 
to begin dying. Night is a good time 
to say goodbye. Light is impediment 
as is the human word. The universe  
speaks better than man.  
          Like a flag that calls
to battle on the field, the candle's flame 
flutters ablaze in red. I open windows 
feeling such tightness. Crushing the carnation's 
petals in silence, like a cloud befogging 
the heavens, widow Cuba passes by. 




Random notes on the Spanish:

Un clavel en la mano — echoes the phrase un clavo en la mano "a nail in the hand" and has a slightly ghastly feel to it.  The terms clavel and clavo are in fact related (see here.)

La llama roja / de la vela flamea — a masterful bit of wordplay. vela means three things: "wakefulness," "candle" and "sail." Flamear means both "flare, blaze (of a candle)" and "flutter (of a sail)." Note also that vela is one gender and one vowel away from the velos (veils) in which Cuba is garbed.

The words Cuba, muda, viuda, nube are sonically linked by having the deep /u/ vowel followed by a fricative.

The Original:

Dos Patrias

Dos patrias tengo yo: Cuba y la noche. 
¿O son una las dos? No bien retira 
su majestad el sol, con largos velos 
y un clavel en la mano, silenciosa 
Cuba cual viuda triste me aparece. 
¡Yo sé cuál es ese clavel sangriento 
que en la mano le tiembla! Está vacío 
mi pecho, destrozado está y vacío 
en donde estaba el corazón. Ya es hora 
de empezar a morir. La noche es buena 
para decir adiós. La luz estorba 
y la palabra humana. El universo 
habla mejor que el hombre. 
             Cual bandera
que invita a batallar, la llama roja 
de la vela flamea. Las ventanas 
abro, ya estrecho en mí. Muda, rompiendo 
las hojas del clavel, como una nube 
que enturbia el cielo, Cuba, viuda, pasa... 

Werich & Voskovec: Hey Royal Highness (From Czech)

A song from between the two World Wars, from Werich and Voskovec's Balada z hadrů (Rag Ballad) a theatrical work drawing on the life, times and work of François Villon, but inspired as much as anything by the Great Depression. My translation is free, as is my wont when working with song lyrics. I have deemphasized the medievalism. I have included modernity-specific terms. I have, in fact, turned the song into something a bit different than what it was in Czech.

Leslie Jameson, the donor who requested this, asked that I translate one poem from a language I don't know well. Granted, Czech is quite easy for me to understand in its written form. So here it is.

Hey, Royal Highness
By Jan Werich and Jiří Voskovec
Requested by Leslie Jameson
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
(YouTube link to a cover version of this song)

So here's a topic for you, researchers and scholars
Of the academy: does it say in your books
Why it is just the poor they put in prison-collars,
When rich homes have a wealth of free white collar crooks?

If His Highness knew poor folks' pain, he'd deign
Just once to honestly explain.

Hey, Royal Highness, quit your lounging,
Don rags, come down into our slum,
Learn how we live by drudging, scrounging,
The filth you see will set you howling,
And you won't sleep till Kingdom Come.

And all you sirs of moneyed breeding
Come see us in our neighborhoods.
See what we pay for life you're leading
How misery turns men to thieving
And wolves burst hungry from the woods

You think we're nothing since we're poorer.
You don't yet fear the working class.
But one day you'll be ripped with horror
When this shout shakes your windows' glass:

Hey, fat cats, pigs and portly weasels,
You've had enough. Now pay the bill. 
Yes sirs, you brought about the evil
Misery that makes wolves of people,
And that makes you our juicy kill.

The Original:

Hej Pane Králi
Jan Werich

Bereme na potaz učené bakaláře.
Et item doktory, et item rektory.
Proč jenom chudák trhan patří do žaláře?
Vždyť mezi boháči jsou také potvory!

Kdyby nás chudáky lépe znal pán král,
snad by nám odpověď dal.

Hej, pane králi, nebuď líný,
vem hadry a jdi mezi lid,
poznáš, co je živořit z dřiny,
uvidíš za den tolik špíny,
do smrti nebudeš mít klid.

A vůbec velkomožní páni,
přijďte se na nás podívat,
vy páni, kteří jste tím vinni,
že bída z lidí lotri činí,
že vlky z lesů žene hlad.

Myslete si, že jsme jen lůza,
že se nás nemusíte bát.
Jednou však popadne Vás hrůza,
až pod okny vám budeme řvát.

Hej, křečkové a bařtipáni,
je čas, budeme účtovat,
pánové, sami jste tím vinni,
že bída z lidí vlky činí,
že nás proti vám žene hlad.

Yehuda Amichai: "The lips of dead men..." (From Hebrew)

"The lips of dead men..."
By Yehuda Amichai
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The lips of dead men whispered thoughtlessly
A single word of silence in the earth.
Already every flower, every tree
Has wildly overdone its springtime birth.

Bandages are torn off, again undressed
The earth does not want healing. It wants pain.
Spring is not peace at all. Spring is not rest
At all. Spring is enemy terrain. 

We went with other lovers on patrol
To see if we could reach our goal.
We were sent to the End of Rainbow Land, 

Though we already knew: the dead return;
Though we already knew: the storm is borne
Out of a young girl's open hand.

The Original:

שפתי מתים
יהודה עמיחי

שִׂפְתֵי מֵתִים אָמְרוּ מִלָּה בְּלַחַשׁ
בָּאֲדָמָה, שִׂיחָה לְפִי תֻּמָּם,
וּכְבָר הָאִילָנוֹת, בְּלִי כָּל יַחַס,
הִגְזִימוּ נוֹרָאָה בִּפְרִיחָתָם.

הַתַּחְבּוֹשׁוֹת שׁוּב נִקְרָעוֹת בְּכֹחַ,
הָאֳדָמָה אֵינָהּ רוֹצָה מַרְפֵּא, רוֹצָה כְּאֵב.
וְהָאָבִיב אֵינֶנּוּ שֶׁקֶט, לֹא מָנוֹחַ,
וְהָאָבִיב הוּא אֶרֶץ הָאוֹיֵב.

נִשְׁלַחְנוּ עִם זוּגוֹת הָאוֹהֲבִים, 
פַּטְרוֹל אֶל אֶרֶץ-עֵבֶר-קֶשֶׁת,
לִרְאוֹת הַאִם אֶפְשָׁר לָגֶשֶׁת.

וּכְבָר יָדַעְנוּ, הַמֵּתִים שָׁבִים,
וּכְבָר יָדַעְנוּ, גַּם הַסְּעָרָה
יוֹצֵאת עַכְשָׁו מֵחֹפֶן נַעֲרָה. 

Rilke: From a Stormy Night (From German)

This translation was done when I was 16 or so. I'm posting it as is.

From a Stormy Night
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Frontispiece

Roused by the risen storm, the night
expands and begins its climb
from otherwise lying compressed in a tight
and tiny crevice of time.
No bar of stars can end it in space,
It doesn't begin in the grove
Nor in the features of my face
Nor in the way you move.
The lanterns stammer and blindly ask:
"Are we faking light?
Has the one real thing for millennia been
The night?"

I.

In such nights you can come across a few
Future ones on the sidewalks- pale and peaked
Visages that do not acknowledge you
And mutely let you pass,
Though if they were to speak,
You’d be long forgotten
As you stood there,
And long rotten.
Yet they keep the silence of deadmen
Though they are the ones to come.
The future hasn’t been yet.
They can only plunge their faces in time’s
Suboceanic light and cannot hope
To see, but endure it a while
To discern in submersion: a speeding file
Of fish and a ripple of rope.

II

In such nights comes an opening of jails,
And through the nightmares of the guards, one after
The other, with sneered laughter,

Men walk who scorn the warden’s force.
Forest!
They seek their sleep in you, to hide their tracks,
The years of sentence loaded on their backs,
Forest!

III.

In such nights opera houses fall ablaze
And like a basilisk the monstrous space
With its upholding pillars, tiers and rows,
Begins to chew on those
Pent in its den.
Women and men
Struggle and choke,
Piled on each other in the lobby’s smoke
Till stone implodes on them. Nobody knows
Who took the heaviest of cascading blows;
When someone has already shredded
His heart, his ears still ring with noises headed
For it.

IV.

In such nights, as in ages long gone by,
The hearts within the shut sarcophagi
Of bygone princes start to beat anew:
Their reinvigorated pulses hit
So hard at every coffin’s sturdy lid
As to compel the golden capsules through
Dusk and disintegrating damask cloth.
The church and spires sway blackly back and forth.
Doors shake and slap. The belfry feels each bell
Claw for a hold and hang like birds at bay.
Columns are clenched by struts and can’t give way:
As if the whole disturbed foundation lay
Upon a blind sea-turtle’s shifting shell.

V
In such nights those who have no cure
Know that: We were...
And they go think among the ill
A simple thought of good will,
Resuming where it broke off.
But of their sons the youngest may
Have to walk the loneliest way;
For these nights are
As though he’s never had a thought before:
He’s long lain in a leaden shroud,
But all his sight will soon uncloud,
And thoughts of celebration crowd his
senses...

VI

In such nights every city is alike,
Each full of flags
Caught by the bestial storm in wind that drags
It off as if by hair to be thrown
To some far off land of unknown
Hills and rills and dikes.
There in each yard the same pond lies,
By each pond the same house of stone,
In each house the same lantern’s flame,
All people look the same
As their hands cover their eyes.

VII

In such nights the minds of the dying clear,
As their hands probe through their growing hair
Whose roots shoot up from the ailing skull
In these days tired and dull,
As if to keep the sphere
Of death below.
That gesture runs through the house as though
All things were a mirror there;
And as they gently ply their hair,
Their moved hands exhaust
What strength they’d gathered from year to year,
Now lost.

VIII.

In such nights my dear sister grows some more
Who was before me, and before me died.
Many such nights since then have passed me by:
She will be beautiful. Soon someone’s sure
To marry her.


The Original:

Aus einer Sturmnacht

            Titelblatt

Die Nacht, vom wachsenden Sturme bewegt,
wie wird sie auf einmal weit -,
als bliebe sie sonst zusammengelegt
in die kleinlichen Falten der Zeit.
Wo die Sterne ihr wehren, dort endet sie nicht
und beginnt nicht mitten im Wald
und nicht an meinem Angesicht
und nicht mit deiner Gestalt.
Die Lampen stammeln und wissen nicht:
lügen wir Licht?
Ist die Nacht die einzige Wirklichkeit
seit Jahrtausenden...

I

In solchen Nächten kannst du in den Gassen
Zukünftigen begegnen, schmalen blassen
Gesichtern, die dich nicht erkennen
und dich schweigend vorüberlassen.
Aber wenn sie zu reden begännen,
wärst du ein Langevergangener
wie du da stehst,
langeverwest.
Doch sie bleiben im Schweigen wie Tote,
obwohl sie die Kommenden sind.
Zukunft beginnt noch nicht.
Sie halten nur ihr Gesicht in die Zeit
und können, wie unter Wasser, nicht schauen;
und ertragen sie's doch eine Weile,
sehn sie wie unter den Wellen: die Eile
von Fischen und das Tauchen von Tauen.

I

In solchen Nächten gehn die Gefängnisse auf.
Und durch die bösen Träume der Wächter
gehn mit leisem Gelächter
die Verächter ihrer Gewalt.
Wald! Sie kommen zu dir, um in dir zu schlafen,
mit ihren langen Strafen behangen.
                                    Wald!

III

In solchen Nächten ist auf einmal Feuer
in einer Oper.       Wie ein Ungeheuer
beginnt der Riesenraum mit seinen Rängen
Tausende, die sich in ihm drängen,
zu kauen.
Männer und Frauen
stauen sich in den Gängen,
und wie sich alle aneinander hängen,
bricht das Gemäuer, und es reißt sie mit.
Und niemand weiß mehr wer ganz unten litt;
während ihm einer schon das Herz zertritt,
sind seine Ohren noch ganz voll von Klängen,
die dazu hingehn...

IV

In solchen Nächten, wie vor vielen Tagen,
fangen die Herzen in den Sarkophagen
vergangner Fürsten wieder an zu gehn;
und so gewaltig drängt ihr Wiederschlagen
gegen die Kapseln, welche widerstehn,
dass sie die goldnen Schalen weitertragen
durch Dunkel und Damaste, die zerfallen.
Schwarz schwankt der Dom mit allen seinen Hallen.
Die Glocken, die sich in die Türme krallen,
hängen wie Vögel, bebend stehn die Türen,
und an den Trägern zittert jedes Glied:
als trügen seinen gründenden Granit
blinde Schildkröten, die sich rühren.

V

In solchen Nächten wissen die Unheilbaren:
wir waren...
Und sie denken unter den Kranken
einen einfachen guten Gedanken
weiter, dort, wo er abbrach.
Doch von den Söhnen, die sie gelassen,
geht der Jüngste vielleicht in den einsamsten Gassen;
denn gerade diese Nächte
sind ihm als ob er zum ersten Mal dächte:
lange lag es über ihm bleiern,
aber jetzt wird sich alles entschleiern -,
und: dass er das feiern wird,
                        fühlt er...

VI

In solchen Nächten sind alle die Städte gleich,
alle beflaggt.
Und an den Fahnen vom Sturm gepackt
und wie an Haaren hinausgerissen
in irgend ein Land mit ungewissen
Umrissen und Flüssen.
In allen Gärten ist dann ein Teich,
an jedem Teiche dasselbe Haus,
in jedem Hause dasselbe Licht;
und alle Menschen sehn ähnlich aus
und halten die Hände vorm Gesicht.

VII

In solchen Nächten werden die Sterbenden klar,
greifen sich leise ins wachsende Haar,
dessen Halme aus ihres Schädels Schwäche
in diesen langen Tagen treiben,
als wollten sie über der Oberfläche
des Todes bleiben.
Ihre Gebärde geht durch das Haus
als wenn überall Spiegel hingen;
und sie geben - mit diesem Graben
in ihren Haaren - Kräfte aus,
die sie in Jahren gesammelt haben,
                        welche vergingen.

VIII

In solchen Nachten wächst mein Schwesterlein,
das vor mir war und vor mir starb, ganz klein.
Viel solche Nächte waren schon seither:
Sie muss schon schön sein. Bald wird irgendwer
                        sie frein.

Yonatan Ratosh: Dirge (From Hebrew)

Yonatan Ratosh was born in 1908 in Warsaw, and emigrated to Palestine in 1921. In 1939 he founded the Canaanite movement, which rejected both Judaism and Zionism in favor of a new "Canaanite" identity which was, as Yatosh believed, more organic to the Fertile Crescent, and which sought to liberate all who lived the region from the stranglehold of Abrahamic monotheism. The Canaanite movement cultivated an archaic Biblical (or, theoretically, pre-Biblical) diction modeled to some degree on the language of Ugaritic epic (c.f. in this poem the Ugariticizing terms קרש מלך אב שנים and נרת אלים השמש in this poem. Both of which are identical to phrases found in Anat's lamentation for Baˁl in the Ugaritic Baal cycle.)

This dirge was written for the poet's father, and is envisioned as a hymn for the pall-bearers. It describes how the dead father is carried westward beyond the sea to the dwelling of El, the head of the Canaanite pantheon.

The title of this poem in Hebrew is Et Nišmat, literally "The Soul of." (The form with et is in the accusative, and cannot normally stand alone in Hebrew anymore than the accusative form Requiem can stand alone in Latin.) It comes from the beautiful prayer El Mole Raḥamim "God Full of Mercy." That prayer is recited by a cantor at Jewish funerals, and is also traditionally recited during the walk up to a person's grave. Line 7 begins Et Nišmat "The Soul Of" followed by a place where one is to utter the actual name of the deceased. This poem is an alternative to that prayer, a polytheistic (neo-)Canaanite dirge.

I felt it appropriate to make the recording for this poem using an archaizing pronunciation of Hebrew. In addition to the pharyngeal fricatives, I distinguish כ from ק in all cases, and realize the historical geminates as such.

I could make many notes about the resonant vocabulary here used. Two examples will have to suffice, since I haven't my usual commentary energy at the moment.
The first words of this poem are a direct quote from Psalm 85:14 tsédeq lep̱anav yehalleḵ veyasem leḏéreḵ peˁamav "Righteousness shall go before him, and shall set the way of his steps." Here, however, Justice/righteousness is personified.
The word עולם ˁolam means not only "world" but also "eternity" or "all that one lives through." In the phrase leˁolamo "to his eternity" it means something more like "to his repose." (בית עולם "house of the world/eternity" is a term for "graveyard.")

Dirge
By Yonatan Ratosh
Requested by Victor Leibowitz
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Hebrew

Righteousness shall go before him
Making clear his way
Righteousness the shield-bearer before him in the darkness
Righteousness shall walk before him.

Now to the god of the Sea Winds
Now to the god of the West Spirits
In the heart of the twin abysses
In the heart of heaven and earth
To the god whose wing makes evening gloam,
Whose beard is the grey of seething foam.

Up with the lamp of the gods you've come
Now you course
Down with the lamp of the gods, the sun
To its source. 

Unto the end of all mighty waters
The fountainhead of all the world's earth
Of every road ascending to the heavens
Of every road descending to Sheol.

Unto the god of the Sea Winds
Unto the god of the West Spirits
In the timbered hall of the father of time
In whose hand is the soul of all flesh 
At whose feet bow all living things.

This man has known
Affliction and its rod.
This man has ceased his labors 
Bound for home. 

Righteousness shall go before him

Making clear his way
Righteousness the shield-bearer before him in the darkness
Righteousness shall walk before him.

Into the heart of the twin abysses
Into the heart of heaven and earth
To the timbered hall of the father of years,
Whose hand gave the crown of Baal
Whose hand gave the might of Anat
Whose hand gave the wisdom of Kothar
Whose hand gave the good of Astarte
At his right hand — the horn of Baal
At his left hand — the weight of Mot.

Mighty-pinioned El
Who shade the corners of the world
Who deal justice in your depths,
Justice in heaven and earth, 
Bless him who returns to his kin.

Bless the soul o
Your servant
Gone forever
To his repose. 

Righteousness shall go before him
Making clear his way
Righteousness the shield-bearer before him in the darkness
Righteousness shall walk before him.


The Original:



יונתן רטוש
את נשמת
צֶדֶק לְפָנָיו יְהַלֵּךְ
יְפַלֵּס אָרְחוֹ מִישׁוֹר
צֶדֶק בַּמָּגֵן לְפָנָיו בָּאַשְׁמַנִּים
צֶדֶק לְפָנָיו יְהַלֵּךְ
אֶל אֱלֹהֵי רוּחוֹת יָם
קֶרֶב אֲפִיק תְּהֹמוֹתַיִם
אֲשֶר בִּכְנָפוֹ מַעֲרִיב עֲרָבִים
שֵׂיבַת זְקָנוֹ עוֹלָה קָצֶף
עִם נֵרַת אֵלִים עָלִיתָ
גַּם תָּבוֹא
עִם נֵרַת אֵלִים הַשָּׁמֶשׁ
בַּמָּבוֹא
אֶל סוֹף כָּל מַיִם רַּבִּים
אֶל רֹאשׁ עַפְרוֹת כָּל אָרֶץ
רֹאשׁ כָּל דֶּרֶךְ הוֹלֶכֶת שָׁמַיִם
רֹאשׁ כָּל דֶּרֶךְ יוֹרֶדֶת שְׁאוֹל
אֶל אֱלֹהֵי רוּחוֹת יָם
קֶרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ אַב שָׁנִים
אֲשֶׁר בְּיָדוֹ נֶפֶשׁ כָּל בָּשָׂר
לִפְעָמָיו יִשְׁתַּחוּ כָּל חָי
זֶה הַגֶּבֶר
רָאָה עֹנִי וְשִׁבטוֹ
זֶה הָאִיש חָדַל מִמַּעַשׂ
לְבֵיתוֹ – –
צֶדֶק לְפָנָיו יְהַלֵּךְ
יְפַלֵּס אָרְחוֹ מִישׁוֹר
צֶדֶק בַּמָּגֵן לְפָנָיו בָּאַשְׁמַנִּים
צֶדֶק לְפָנָיו יְהַלֵּךְ
קֶרֶב אֲפִיק תְּהֹמוֹתַיִם
קֶרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ אַב שָׁנִים
אֲשֶׁר מִיָּדוֹ נֵזֶר בַּעַל
אֲשֶׁר מִיָּדוֹ עֹז עֲנָת
אֲשֶׁר מִיָּדוֹ חָכְמַת כּוֹשָׁר
אֲשֶׁר מִיָּדוֹ טוּב אֲשֵרָת
אֲשֶׁר מִימִינוֹ קֶרֶן בַּעַל
אֲשֶׁר מִשְֹּמֹאלוֹ כֶּבֶד מוֹת
אֵל אַדִּיר אֲבָרוֹת
מֵצֵל כַּנְפֵי עוֹלָם
הָעוֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט בִּתְהוֹמָיו
בָּרֵך אֶת הַבָּא אֶל עַמָּיו
אֶת נִשְׁמַת
עַבְדְּךָ
שֶׁהָלַךְ
לעוֹלָמוֹ –
צֶדֶק לְפָנָיו יְהַלֵּךְ
יְפַלֵּס אָרְחוֹ מִישׁוֹר
צֶדֶק בַּמָּגֵן לְפָנָיו בָּאַשְׁמַנִּים
צֶדֶק לְפָנָיו יְהַלֵּךְ

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