Dan Pagis: As It Was Written in Pencil While Pent in the Sealed Railway Car (From Hebrew)

This poem, Pagis' most famous, is one of the greatest of Holocaust poems written in Hebrew (and considering how many Hebrew poets wrote about the Holocaust, that's saying a lot.) The English translation presented here works somewhat differently and reverberates differently from the Hebrew, as it has to if it is to be a poem at all.

As It Was Written in Pencil While Pent in the Sealed Railway Car
By Dan Pagis
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the poem in Hebrew

Here in this carload
I Eve
Am with my son Abel
If you see my firstborn son
Cain son of Man
Tell him I am...

The Original:

כתוב בעפרון בקרון החתום
דן פגיס

כאן במשלוח הזה
אני חוה
עם הבל בני
אם תראו את בני הגדול
קין בן אדם
תגידו לו שאני


  1. I love this poem!

  2. it could also be "I am Eve."
    and "ben adam" is human being, no?  i mean son of man is literal but human being is usually what is meant in modern Hebrew.   

    But here, it has a double meaning, literally "son of Adam" (aka Cain's actual father) and human being.  I'm not sure how you could convey that in English though.  In the English son of man has some kind of Christian resonance. 

    Interesting poem. 

    (btw apparently I'm reading this 9 months after you posted it.)

  3. Something that went lost in the translation is that the poem can be read circularly. In Hebrew the last line can be read just before the first, so it creates on long repeating line. So maybe end it as "Tell him I am". Otherwise, this is a great translation.

  4. It's a bit impossible to translate this, because בן אדם has two meanings, one- Human, and the other- Son of Adam.
    The whole point is to question the Humanity of Cain, is to question where Adam is...
    Also, I would suggest adding "am" after "Tell him I" because the whole point is for the poem to be a loop "Tell him I am..." "Here in this carload"
    meaning it's a never ending thing.... written in pencil, which is temporary.