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, 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.

Almighty-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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