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. 

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