Haim Lensky: Near the Mill (From Hebrew)

Another by the Russian Hebrew poet Haim Lensky. Many of his poems, like this one, give the impression of being "Russian poems in Hebrew" just as Preil's give the impression of being American poems in Hebrew. Even when writing — as here — about Jewish concerns, his mental universe and linguistic aesthetic seem to be Russian through and through.

Then again, what is Russian, really? That question ultimately has no better answer than that of what is really American.

Cossacks, with their habits of raiding Jewish quarters, were much feared by Russian Jews.

Near the Mill
By Haim Lensky
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Glitter of metal, clatter of hoofs on the hill. 
The Ataman1 to his Cossacks2 said
"The miller's a kike!"3 They leapt ahead.
Black were the boots that entered the mill. 
The boots that left dripped red. 

Glitter of metal, clatter of hoofs on the hill. 
A Red Army lad said "what's the harm 
In checking up on my dad." For a lark 
He jumped and hastened into mill. 
The day when he left was dark. 

Glitter of metal, clatter of hoofs on the hill. 
The soldier returned to his camp and flag. 
The fall wind scattered the flour of the mill, 
The flour from his coat, his hair that will 
Never again be black. 


1- Ataman — A term for a leader of cossack groups, and the official term for generals of cossack armies in the Russian Empire. The word, which is left unvocalized in the Hebrew text I have, could be interpreted either as "Hetman" or as "The Ataman" though the later makes a bit more sense.

2- Cossacks — the original actually says "haydamaks." I've chosen a term that would be more familiar in English.

3- "Kike" here translates a Russian loanword žid in the Hebrew text. Žid is not easily translated into English. The best way to describe it is that Russian žid is to "Jew" as American English nigger is to "Black." English doesn't have quite the anti-Semitic repertoire that Eastern European languages do. Many anti-semitic slurs simply have no translation that quite conveys to the English speaker the level of disrespect and hate implicit in them. This word has not been pejorative at all times in all places however (as demonstrated by e.g. the Ukrainian Jewish surname Zhydenko.) In medieval Russian it was a quite neutral term, as Polish żyd is to this day. (In Polish, benevolence and malevolence can only be shown in the plural. The benevolent plural is the native Polish plural żydzi. The malevolent plural is the Russian loan żydy.)

The Original:

מִסָּבִיב לָרֵחַיִם
חיים לנסקי

הֹלֶם טֶרֶף-סוּס וְנִצְנוּץ כְּלֵי-זַיִן...
נְאוּם האטמן אֶל כַּת הַיְדַּמָּקָיו:
”הַטּוֹחֵן הוּא זִ׳יד.“ קָפְצוּ מִן הָאֻכָּף...
שְׁחוֹרֵי מַגָּף פָּרצוּ אֶל הָרֵחַיִם
יָצְאוּ סְמוּקֵי מַגָּף–

הֹלֶם טֶרֶף-סוּס וְנִצְנוּץ כְּלֵי-זַיִן...
בָּא סַיָּר צָעִיר מִן הַחַיִל הָאָדֹם: 
”אֶל אָבִי אָסוּר, אֶפְקְדֵהוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.“–
פָּזִיז וְקַל קָפַץ אֶל הָרֵחַיִם,
יָצָא–קָדַר לוֹ יוֹם– 

הֹלֶם טֶרֶף-סוּס וְנִצְנוּץ כְּלֵי-זַיִן...
שָׁב סַיָּר צָעִיר אֶל מַחֲנֵהוּ, אֶל דִּגְלוֹ. 
רוּחַ-סְתָו חָבְטָה הַקֶּמַח מִמְּעִילוֹ,
חָבְטָה מִכּוֹבָעוֹ, אַךְ הַצְּדָעַיִם
לֹא עוֹד יַשְׁחִירוּ, לֹא!–

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