Naim Arayidi: I Returned To The Village (From Hebrew)

"Hebrew is the language of the Bible and in this language it is written: "God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light, and God saw the light that it was good." There is not another language today in which almost every word is loaded with so many possibilities for expression and for meeting the need of human poetry in its eternal quest to speak of the sorrows of man and his wondrous attempts to find meaning in life. At times I have felt the distinctive weight of the Hebrew while reading again the most beautiful love songs in the world; the Song of Songs, and David's elegy on the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. The power of Hebrew does not end here. It begins here. 
I am not sure if the Jewish people in Israel are aware of what I think of the Hebrew language, and this does not concern me. It is not for them that I write in Hebrew, but because of them. As to the question of whether or not I am a Hebrew poet, the answer is very simple: a Hebrew poet, yes, but not a Jewish poet, just as I am too a Druze and an Arab poet. 
However, these questions led me to ponder the importance of the national identity of writers, and of cultural dialogue in general. It became clear to me that in some cases this identity is an issue only when speaking of mediocre writers. Otherwise how would you know of the Jewish identity of Kafka who was born in Prague and wrote in German? And what is the identity of Ionesco, the Rumanian, who was always thought of as a leading French writer? And what about the great Lebanese writer, Khalil Gibran, whose universal fame comes from his writings in English? And that goes for my friends, the good Arab writers from North Africa who compose in French. My dream is to become a writer who will never again be asked about his nationality or religion; or, at least, this shouldn't be the first question. If not that, I dream of creating a chemical-spiritual synthesis of East and West which only art can achieve. I have in mind, for example, my own Arab culture and the virtues of the mystical Druze religion: the secrets and symbols of the Sufis who knew the way to inject into the sinews of the Near East the liquid essence of Greek philosophy as transformed by Buddhist ideas, carrying in their veins the spiritual lifeblood of India and China."
— Naim Arayidi in 1997

I Returned to the Village
By Naim Arayidi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I returned to the village
Where I first learned to cry
I returned to the mountain
Where the scene is nature
With no place for a picture
I returned to my house whose every block
My forefathers had quarried out of rock
By their own hand.
I returned to my own self —
That was the plan. 

I returned to the village
For I had dreamt of a labored birth
For the za'tar forgotten from my poetic lexicon,
And of a harder labored birth
For stalks of grain in the bumpy and forsaken earth.
For I had dreamt about the birth of love.

I returned to the village
Where I was in a former incarnation1
A root to myriad grapevines
On this good solid earth
Before that wind2 came to spirit
Me away, only to return
Me in this incarnation to this earth
Like a returning penitent3
Gone metempsychotic from his berth. 

Oh dream thirty second of mine in number,
Here are the paths that are no more
And houses that grew lofty as the Tower of Babel.
Oh this burden dream of mine
Its roots will not sprout forth a single scion.

Where are the children of poverty
Bereaved of the felled leaves of fall? 
Where now the village that was
Where they gave every path a name
Before the asphalt streets they all became? 

Oh my little village that was

To become a civilized town.
I returned to the village
Where the barking of the dogs had breathed its last
Where the columbarium was now a lighted tower.
The fellahin with whom I wanted to sing
The hay-song in the tune the grapevine pruners croon in spring,4
Had all turned into workers, their throats smoke-burned and sore
Where are they who were and are no more?

Oh this burden dream of mine
For all the while
I returned to the village
As a fugitive from civilization
I came, to the village
As one coming out of exile, into exile5.


1- Arayidi uses the word gilgul "cycle" from galgal "wheel." Gilgul "cycle" is the term used to refer to reincarnation in Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism. Reincarnation, rejected by non-Kabbalistic Jewish thinkers, is nonetheless a part of much Jewish folk belief. It is also common as a literary motif in Yiddish and Hebrew (and possibly other Jewish languages. But I wouldn't know.) Souls are said to reincarnate into different lives to take on different temporal roles according to what is needed for the world, and for the rectification of the particular soul in question. The Druze religion also — unlike the vast majority of Muslim sects — has a doctrine of reincarnation. A soul must continue to be reborn until it is in such a state that it can achieve reunion with the divine.

2- The word for wind, rúaḥ also means more or less "spirit." I've had the wind do some "spiriting" in translation for this reason (and it translates a rather rare, and somewhat Biblical verb to boot.) In Kabbalah, the rúaḥ is also that aspect or part of the soul which is able to distinguish good from evil.

3- The original here has ḥozer bitšuva ("contrite sinner, penitent") which is also the Israeli term for what non-Israeli Jews call a baal bitshuva: a Jew who has gone from secularist non-observance to embracing observant religious Orthodox Judaism.

4- The word zamir could mean "grape-pruning" or "nightingale." The dual meaning, and artistic exploitations of it, are literally ancient in Hebrew (c.f. Song of Songs 2:12)

5- The word for exile here is the Hebrew word normally used to refer to Jewish exile: galut. This makes the title verb of the poem, and its key verb, לחזור take on more resonance. He cannot "return" in the real homecoming sense. He cannot return to what is too well remembered. Only to that which he does not remember at all. There is only חיזור for him. No שיבה.

The Original:
(The vocalized here is taken from Michael Yaari. He, unlike me, has the patience to actually type out fully vocalized Hebrew texts. Which I just can't bring myself to do.)

חזרתי אל הכפר
נעים עריידי

חָזַרְתִּי אֶל הַכְּפָר
בּוֹ יָדַעְתִּי לִבְכּוֹת בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה
חָזַרְתִּי אֶל הָהָר
בּוֹ הַנּוֹף הוּא הַטֶּבַע
וְאֵין מָקוֹם לִתְמוּנָה
חָזַרְתִּי אֶל בֵּיתִי הֶעָשׂוּי אֲבָנִים
אוֹתָן חָצְבוּ אֲבוֹתַי מִסְּלָעִים
חָזַרְתִּי אֶל עַצְמִי —
וְזוֹ הָיְתָה הַכַּוָּנָה.
חָזַרְתִּי אֶל הַכְּפָר.
כִּי חָלָמְתִּי עַל הֻלֶּדֶת קָשָׁה
שֶׁל הַזַּעְתָּר הַנִּשְׁכָּח מִמִּלוֹנִי הַשִּׁירִי
וְעַל הֻלֶּדֶת קָשָׁה יוֹתֵר
שֶׁל שִׁבֳּלִים בַּאֲדָמָה חַתְחַתִּית עֲזוּבָה
כִּי חָלָמְתִּי עַל הֻלַּדְתָּהּ שֶׁל אַהֲבָה.
חָזַרְתִּי אֶל הַכְּפָר
בּוֹ הָיִיתִי בְּגִלְגּוּל קוֹדֵם
שֹׁרֶשׁ מִנִּי רִבּוֹא הַגְּפָנִים
עַל הָאֲדָמָה הַטּוֹבָה
עַד שֶׁבָּאָה הָרוּחַ הַזֹאת
וַתִּדְפֵנִי רָחוֹק וַתַּחֲזִירֵנִי
בְּגִלְגּוּלִי כְּחוֹזֵר בִּתְשׁוּבָה.
הוֹי חֲלוֹמִי הַשְּׁלֹשִׁים וּשְׁנַיִם בְּמִסְפָּר
הִנֵּה הַשְּׁבִילִים שֶׁאֵינָם
וּבָתִּים שֶׁגָּבְהוּ כְּמִגְדַּל בָּבֶל
הוֹי חֲלוֹמִי הַכָּבֵד הַזֶּה —
נֵצֶר מִשֳּׁרָשַׁיךָ לֹא יִפְרֶה!
הֵיכָן הֵם יַלְדֵּי הַעֹנִי
הֵיכָן כְּפָרִי שֶׁהָיָה
וּבוֹ נִתְּנוּ שֵׁמוֹת לַשְּׁבִילִים
שֶׁהָיוּ לִכְבִישֵׁי אַסְפַלְט?
הוֹי כְּפָרִי הַקָּטָן שֶׁהָיָה
לַעֲיָרָה מְתֻרְבֶּתֶת
חָזַרְתִּי אֶל הַכְּפָר
בּוֹ גָּוְעוּ נְבִיחוֹת הַכְּלָבִים
וְהַשּׁוֹבָךְ נַעֲשָֹה מִגְדָּל מוּאָר.
כָּל הַפַלָּחִים שֶׁרָצִיתִי לָשִׁיר אִתָּם
שִׁירַת חָצִיר בְּמַנְגִּינַת הַזָּמִיר
נַעֲשׂוּ פּוֹעֲלִים וְעָשָׁן בִּגְרוֹנָם
הֵיכָן כָּל אֵלֶּה שֶׁהָיוּ וְאֵינָם?
הוֹ חֲלוֹמִי הַכָּבֵד הַזֶּה
חָזַרְתִּי אֶל הַכְּפָר
כְּבוֹרֵחַ מִפְּנֵי הַתַּרְבּוּת
וּבָאתִי אֶל הַכְּפָר
כְּמִי שֶׁבָּא מִגָּלּוּת אֶל גָּלוּת.

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