Uri-Tzvi Greenberg: "Under the Tooth of their Plough" (From Hebrew)

Uri-Tzvi Greenberg began his career as an avant-garde Yiddish poet in Poland, before emigrating to Palestine in 1923 after he watched his own parents murdered in a Pogrom and he himself faced anti-semitic hardship in Warsaw. He was at first a Socialist, with sympathies for the Labour party and for the Arab population of Palestine. Indeed, one of his early Yiddish poems contains the lines

איך וואלט ברודערקלאג געהויבן צום אראבער–פאלק קיין אזיע
קומט אונדז פירן צו דער מדבר, אזוי ארעם ווי מיר זענען
"I want to raise a brother's plea to the Arab peoples of Asia:
Come and lead us to the desert, poor though we may be"

However, after the Arab uprising of 1929 (during which a great many Jews were massacred in Hebron) he joined the far-right Revisionist party- whose version of Revisionist Zionism (more honestly termed Judeo-Fascism) advocated the re-conquest à la Joshua of all of historical Israel. Several return trips to Poland (the last in 1939 during Hitler's invasion) strengthened his sense of the impending horror about to befall Jews there, and consequently (by way of gross irony) his own belief in the "eternal enmity" between "the Star of David" on the one hand and "the Cross and the Crescent" on the other. Indeed, Greenberg's Zionism, along with that of his political compadres, grew more extreme as the horror of Nazism shredded Europe and as strife with Arabs continued. (The end result of that process was an even more obsessive and downright racist Revisionist Zionism, an ideological obscenity for which a more honest appellation would be "Judeo-Fascism".) Throughout the 40s he served in the ranks of Étsel, a Jewish terrorist group founded and run by a Russian intellectual-turned-thug named Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Then, in 1949, a year after Étsel was disbanded, Greenberg, -being just the kind of rational, stable guy you'd want as a lawmaker- was elected to the Knesset on the ticket of the חרות Ḥerút "freedom" party, which later merged with Likud in the 80s.
It will have become apparent now that Greenberg was, in many ways, a sad sack of a character, as odious as he was pitiful- an embodiment of the Israeli tragedy. But out of Greenberg's extremism, his militant temperament and his wholesale obsession with a Jewish-Messianic destiny, there rose a potent poetry which drew on the resources of biblical prophecy, kabbalistic symbolism, and medieval Hebrew dirges. For all his bile and irrationalist bloodfire in politics and philosophy, Greenberg's art- which strove toward what he once termed ספרות גורלות sifrút goralót "a literature of destinies"- made him a poet of not just novelty and vision but also of terrifying power, rather as if Walt Whitman wielded a sword of fire. Indeed, because so much of his work is laced with, and made of, echoes of Jewish tradition, a lot of his greatest work is veritably untranslatable, and even if translated as well as possible technically, would cease to be meaningful when not in a language where ancient words have specifically Jewish resonances. 

In the poem translated here (one of the few of his poems which I've managed to do successfully) the power of Greenberg's talent is fused with the sorrow, hatred and horror of his reaction to the aftermath of the Holocaust. It is a lament for the loss of European Jewry, as well as a bitter and ironic condemnation of the anti-Semitism that remained pestilent in Eastern Europe even after the Holocaust had extirpated the Jews there. I also sense a note of sickened bewilderment that God somehow favored the Christians over the Jews and let the latter suffer, as if Christianity has managed in some way to convert/pervert God, who in turn has transformed the erstwhile Chosen People into the Cursed People.

Under the Tooth of their Plough
By Uri-Tzvi Greenberg
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Hebrew

Once more the snows have melted there...and the murderers now are farmers.
There they have gone out to plough their farmlands, all of which are my graveyards.
If the tooth of their plough, rolling skull-like over the furrow, should churn up
A skeleton of mine, the ploughman will not be saddened or shocked,
But will grin and recognize it, recognize the mark where his tools struck.

Spring anew over land: bud and bulb and lilac and warbling birds.
By the shining stream of shallow waters, the resting place of herds,
The roving Jews are no more: no more with their beards and side-curls.
They are no more in the inns with tallit and tsitsit over their shirts;
They are no more in the grocery store or the clothing store,
They are no more in their workshops and traincars now,
They are no more in the synagogue, even, or in the marketplace,
They are all under the tooth of the Christian plough.
For the Lord doth visit His chosen goys with grace.

But spring will be spring- and summer comes fatly ever after,
The roadside trees are fruit-fat as garden trees, as never before.
The fruit has never been as red or juicy as it is now
That the Jews are no more.

The Jews didn't have any bells to beckon God by1
Blessèd are the Christians, for theirs are the bells on high,
Bells whose voice booms gravely through the plain there now in spring,
Thickly spewed through the breadth of lands that fragrance and colors cover.
It is almighty and master of all: there is nothing more to pass over
As once He passed over the roofs of the Jews.

Blessèd are the Christians, for theirs are the bells on high,
To honor a God who loves all Christians and all of humankind.
And all of the Jews are corpses under the tooth of their plough
Or under the grass of pastures.

Or in the forest's graves
On river banks, on river bottoms, or dumped along
The roads where they belong.

O praise ye your dear sweet Jesus
With the bang of your big bells:


1- the sound of Church-bells has often struck religious Jews as a blasphemous desecration, a perversion of the solemnity appropriate to the act of worship.

The Original:

תחת שן מחרשתם
אורי צבי גרינברג

שוב הפשירו שלגים שם... והמרצחים הם עכשו– אכרים.
המ יצאו שם לחרוש שדותיהם, שדות קברי השדות הם!
אמ בשן מחרשתם יחופר וגולגל על התלם
אחד משלדי, לא יעגם החורש, לא יחרד.
יחיך...יכירהו... את מכת כליו הוא יכיר בו.

שוב אביב שם בנוף: פקעים ולילך וצפצוף צפרים.
מרבץ עדרים עלי נחל נוצץ ומימיו רדודים...
אין–עוד יהודים עוברי–ארח זקנים ופאות.
בקרצסמיס אינם בטלית–וציצית על כותנת;
ואינם בחנויות הסידקית אריגימ ומכולת;
אינם בבתי מלאכתם, אינם ברכבת;
אינם בשוקים, אינם בבתי כנסת;
הם מתחת לשן מחרשתם של נוצרים
פקד אלהים את גוייו ברוב חסד––

אבל אביב הוא אביב – והקיץ אחריו מדושן.
דשנים גמ עצי–ירכתי– הדרכים כבגנים.
מימיהם לא היו אדומים הפרות כאשר הם
אחרי שאינם היהודים––

ליהודים לא היו פעמונים לצלצל לאלהים,
ברוכה הנצרות, כי לה יש פעמונים בגבוהים!
וקולם החולך במישור באביב–שם עכשו
בכבדות זרומה במרחבי נוף זיו וניחוח
הוא אדיר ושליט על הכול: אין על מה עוד לפסוח
כאש פעמ פסח על גגות יהודים––

ברוחה הנצרות, כי לה יש פעמונים בגבוהים!
לכבוד אלהים המיטיב לנוצרים והכל...
וכל וכל היהודים תחת שן מחרשתם מונחים
או תחת עשבי המירעה;

או בקברות היער!
או על גדות נחלים ואם בם..
או בצדי דרכים.

הללו ליזוניו בפעמוני הכובד – בים בם!

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