Natan Zach: Self-Destruction (from Hebrew)

Another Hebrew poem which, like well over half of all (semi)secular Hebrew poetry, weaves its effects out of Biblical allusions. The title of this poem in modern spoken Hebrew, "כשלון" kishalón, literally means "Failure" or perhaps "Fiasco." But, as this is one of those poems that plays heavily and peculiarly with Biblical resonances, it is worth noting that "כשלון" kishalón occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible, in Proverbs [16:18], a passage so famous (in Christianity as in Judaism) that a truncated form of it has even entered the English language as an idiom: Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Moreover, the general theme of this poem is the same as parts of Proverbs 16. The speaker's own recklessness makes his destruction inevitable. When acted upon, the compulsions of the human heart are sure to end in cataclysm. The stronger the desire, the more certain the perdition and ultimate failure to attain satisfaction.

By Natan Zach
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the poem in Hebrew

Seven times did the wolf cry unto the kid1:
"Stop." Only then did he devour.

What drove me to be drawn so
To whatever the heart is drawn to.

What drove me to attempt to sever
Waters from waters2, which never

Can be severed and nowhere
But in the heavens

Are changed into air.

Only the heart remains, fragile
As ever, stuck,
And all that never rose to the bait3
Pinned on its hook.


1- The sacrifice of a kid was a Mosaic prescription for repenting for a sin. Also, see Isaiah 11:6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;.

2- See Genesis 1:6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters., also Exodus 14:21 where Moses parts the Red Sea.

3- Yes, these last two lines play with a colloquial fishing-related idiom in the original Hebrew too. Lord knows how I lucked out in finding a somewhat suitable one in English for the translation.

The Original:

נתן זך

שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים אָמַר הַזְּאֵב לַגְּדִי,
חֲדַל. רַק אַחַר-כָּךְ טָרַף.

מַה הִכְרִיחַ אוֹתִי לְהִמָּשֵׁךְ כָּךְ
אֶל מַה שֶּׁהַלֵּב נִמְשַׁךְ.

מַה הִכְרִיחַ אוֹתִי לְנַסּוֹת לְהַפְרִיד
בֵּין מַיִם לְמַיִם

שֶׁאִי-אֶפְשָׁר לְהַפְרִיד
וְרַק בַּשָּׁמַיִם
הֵם נֶהְפָּכִים לַאֲוִיר.

נִשְׁאַר רַק הַלֵּב, שָׁבִיר
וְכָל מַה שֶּׁלֹּא עָלָה

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