Nathan Zach: I saw (From Hebrew)

I Saw
By Nathan Zach
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the Hebrew

I saw a white bird up in the black night
And knew that time would soon put out the light
Of my eyes in the black night.

I saw a cloud small as the palm of a man
And knew that I felt rain as I can
Never describe to any man.1

I saw a fallen leaf, a falling leaf.
Time is short. It does not give me grief.

1- For the allusion of rain and a cloud like a man's palm, see I Kings 18:44-45 "And lo, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea like a man's palm...the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain." 

The Original:

נתן זך

רָאִיתִי צִפּוֹר לְבָנָה בַּלַּיְלָה הַשָּׁחוֹר
וְיָדַעְתִּי כִּי קָרוֹב לִכְבּוֹת אוֹר
עֵינַי בַּלַּיְלָה הַשָּׁחוֹר.

רָאִיתִי עָב קְטַנָּה כְּכַף יַד אִישׁ
וְיָדַעְתִּי כִּי אֶת הַגֶּשֶׁם שֶׁאֲנִי מַרְגִּישׁ
עוֹד לֹא הִצְלַחְתִּי לְסַפֵּר לְאִישׁ.

רָאִיתִי עָלֶה אֲשֶׁר נָפַל, אֲשֶׁר נוֹפֵל.
הַזְּמַן קָצָר. אֲנִי אֵינִי קוֹבֵל. 


  1. A very translucent poem. Wonderful.


  2. This is a beautiful translation! The music from the original was beautifully kept. However, I think the last word of the poem is translated in correctly. Kovel means 'to complain'. (Avel is to be in grief). Or is that a meaning that is different from the common use of the word? In any case, the translation is remarkable.
    Yaron (

  3. I agree with yaron that this is a very good translation, but I also think that the last word is incorrectly translated.

  4. The word "grief" is not intended as a translation of קובל. Rather, the phrase "give me grief" is intended as  a play on its normative colloquial American English sense. "Give me grief" in American English suggests a quotidian, exasperating and (from the speaker's point of view) unwarranted verbal harassment as in "Stop giving me grief over that! I told you I'm sorry, okay?" "Give me grief" is a phrase you use when complaining about someone (usually to complain about their complaint), If you're not being given grief- said cause for complaint isn't there.

    The effect in Hebrew is a kind of verbal "well, whatever" shoulder-shrug. My aim was to be faithful to that.

    (Also  לקבול in literary Hebrew, if I remember correctly, can mean not just "complain" but also carry a more serious sense of "protest" or even "cry out against".  קובל, for example, is also the word for a plaintiff in legalese.)

  5. Thank you so much for your interesting reply. You have convinced me! The other point that I had not taken into consideration of course was the rhyme. The last sentence could be translated " And me, I'm not complaining" but that doesn't  fit the rhythm or give a rhyme! That is why you are a translator and not I. I am absolutely amazed at the number of languages you are able to work in and from my knowledge of Hebrew, which is very good and my limited French I think your translations are amazing. What are your original languages that you grew up with?

  6. Thank you for the partially merited compliments. 

    To answer your question, my native language is English- plain humdrum English. Nothing all that exciting. Some other languages, like Spanish, French, Russian, Latin, Greek, Welsh etc. I acquired during my early teens. And some are more recent.

  7. love how you translated it, an amazing choice of words, though the last sentence is incorrect, it means "Time is short, yet I do not complain". The word "קובל" is originated from the word "קובלנה" meaning complaint or accusation . I think that he means although time is short, he saw things, he didn't waste life away, and now although it passes by, he can't complain about ... well, living.