Abraham Sutzkever: A Voice From The Heart (From Yiddish)

This poem, written just before the Vilnius ghetto was established, is a call to resistance in the face of Nazi persecution. The theme of Jewish revolt is one that would for obvious reasons permeate a good deal of Sutzkever's work from the 40s. There is much about this piece, as a Yiddish poem, as a Jewish poem, that could be said in explication. It takes a quasi-biblical and prophetic tone throughout. Its multi-textured allusions subvert pious tradition and supplant it with ideals of secular Jewish resistance in this world. Even the word גאַנג "way, course, manner of walking" seems loaded in context. I could probably fill several pages with detailed commentary. Maybe sometime I will actually do just that. (Poems like this are why The Modern Yiddish Poem Itself is a book that desperately needs to be written. Presumably by somebody whose knowledge of the language and literature is not so uneven, gap-strewn and idiosyncratic as my own.)

Liberties in translation? Yes, I took them, as I often do on days when I have more sense in me. (I'm still wondering if I ought to have rendered the first line as "The heart's voice said: thou shalt believe...")

A Voice From The Heart
By Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

A voice said from the heart: believe
In the now long-debased word "right." 
The lion's distant heir must heave
Against his slavery and fight. 

There is a way. It lies within 
Primeval woods of recollection.
There also is a pathogen
That bears a thousand-year infection. 

You would make sense of all your pain? 
Make of yourself the things it tells.
Hear grandfathers wake sons from chains
As blades of storm strike bronze of bells. 

There is a way: rise, stride. Wayfarer!
Redeem the age-old snare. Kick loose.  
Death will forgive you any error.
But slavishness it can't excuse.

- Vilna, July 1941

The Original:



אַ שטים פֿון האַרץ
אבֿרהם סוצקעווער

אַ שטים פֿון האַרץ באַפֿעלט מיר: גלייב
אין שוין פֿאַרשוועכטן וואָרט גערעכטשאַפֿט
דער ווײַטער יורש פֿון אַ לייב
מוז ווידערשפּעניקן זײַן קנעכטשאַפֿט

ס׳איז דאָ אַ גאַנג. עס ליגט זײַן ציל
אין ווילדן אורוואַלד פֿון זכּרון.
ס׳איז אויך פֿאַראַן אַזאַ באַצילֹ,
וואָס טראָגט דעם סם פֿון טויזנט יאָרן.

און זוכסטו פֿאַר דײַן פּײַן אַ זין– 
פֿאַרוואַנדל זיך אין איר אַנטפּלעקער,
און הער ווי זיידעס וועקן זין
ווי שטורעמהעק אין בראָנדז פֿון גלעקער. 

ס׳איז דאָ אַ גאַנג. איז קלעטער, שפרײַז,
קויף אויס דעם דורותֿדיקן שטרויכל.
דער טויט איז מוחל יעדער גרײַז,
נאָר זײַן אַ קנעכט איז ער ניט מוחל.

ווילנע, יולי 1941


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