Gabriel Preil: Sunset Possibilities (From Hebrew)

This particular poem was inspired by El Greco's famous "A View of Toledo" (here's a jpeg of it), which Gabriel Preil undoubtedly saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to which the painting was donated in 1929 by the Havemeyer family, and where it is now on permanent display. That museum, one of Preil's favorite places in Manhattan, is just a day trip away from his lifelong stomping grounds of Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Sunset Possibilities
By Gabriel Preil
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Nobody would believe me if I described
Such a sunset. They would say
That rhetoric's tired clichés had caught fire
In my brain, that the Great Complicator made me
A simple youth in the pot of poesy.

The renowned clouds of the Creator El Greco1
Did not climb by mountainous heroics.
They were valleys awash
In pearl wavelets, and silence
Flowed through them like a crystalline holy day.

I, the great cloud-connoisseur, conclude
That Toledo is now a city plundered
Of its massed spoils of terror, now sundered in the sky
Are all her oxen-horns, her arrow-storms.
Maybe El Greco too thought of such a possibility.


1-The original contains a pun which simply is too good to be translatable: אל El means "god" in Hebrew. Most of the time, in the modern language as well as older versions of Hebrew, it means "god" with a small G, and can refer to any divinity. In the Bible, when used to refer to the God of Israel, it almost always comes with some epithet attached such as אל שדי El Shadáy "God Almighty", אל עליון El Elyón "God the Most High" etc. Transliterating El Greco's name as "אל–גרקו" in Hebrew script calls this instantly to mind and, in this poem's context, has strong deifying overtones.

The Original:

גבריאל פרייל

איש לא יאמין אמ אספר
על שקיעה כזאת. יאמרו
נדלקו מליצות יגעות
במוחי, בא מסבך–הדברים
ועשה אותי נער בסיר המיתפייט

לא טיפסו בגבורה הררית
ענניו הידועים של אל–גרקו:
הם היו עמקים שהוצפו
אדוות פנינים ודומיה
עברה בהם כחג בדלחי.

אני מומחה העננים הגדול קובע
שטולידו הפכה לעיר שאיבדה
את שלל אימותיה וממעל נשברו
קרני שוריה, קשתות–סער.
אולי חשב אל–גרקו גם על אפשרות כזאת

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