Posts filed under 'Hebrew literature'

Translation Tuesday: Two Poems by Haim Nachman Bialik 

There is Love in the world, they say. / Love—what is it?

This week features the Hebrew language poetry of Haim Nachman Bialik, a poet and cultural leader who influenced twentieth century Hebrew and Yiddish poetry like few others. Bialik’s commitment to innovation in stylistic Hebrew comes across in these skillful translations, which carry emotion upon a poignant succession of nouns that cover a stirring breadth of emotion in relatively few words. Verdant religious language is foiled by a personal lack. Yearning, the language evokes a sense of constantly thwarted arrival met with evacuation. Yet, the poems brim with hope for the future, foregrounding the hope which gives meaning to the barren condition of the present. Bialik remains the national poet of Israel.

Drops a Sprig in Silence

Drops a sprig in silence
To the fence.
Like him,
I’m mute. Shorn of fruit,
Estranged from branch and tree.
Shorn of fruit, the flower
Memory forgotten,
The leaves do sway,
Sure victims for the gale to slay.
Then the nights do come.
The nightmare—
The gall—
I thrash about in the dark,
I knock my head against the wall.
And spring will come.
Is splendour
A foil
To me, a barren twig,
Which bringeth forth
No fruit, nor flower, nor nill.

Take Me Under Your Wings

Take me under your wings,
Be to me sister and mother.
Let your bosom shelter my head,
Nestle my banished prayers.

Then in twilight, the hour of mercy,
Bend down to me, my anguish I’ll tell thee:
There is Youth in the world, they say.
My youth—where is it?

And another secret I’ll tell:
My soul, it is all burnt out.
There is Love in the world, they say.
Love—what is it?

The stars have all deceived me.
There was a dream, it too has passed.
I have not a thing in the world now.
I have nothing, at last.

Take me under your wings,
Be to me sister and mother.
Let your bosom shelter my head,
Nestle my banished prayers.

Translated from the Hebrew by Dahlia Ephrat 

Haim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934), recognized today as the national poet of Israel, wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish. Born in the former Russian Empire, Bialik, who wrote passionately about the persecution of the Jewish people in Russia, moved to Germany and then to Tel Aviv. He had a relationship with Ira Jan, a painter and writer who followed him to Tel Aviv. After his untimely death in surgery, a massive funeral procession mourned down the street which now bears his name, showing his importance as an icon of an emergent Jewish literary movement and a significant cultural leader. During his productive career, Bialik wrote extensively, and his poems are well known to the Israeli public. On top of his poetry and essays, which have now been translated into more than thirty languages and set to music, Bialik translated a book of Talmudic legends called Sefer Ha’agada (The Book of Legends). 

Dahlia Ephrat lives in Tel Aviv, where she was born. She began writing poetry at a young age, and began work as a translator at eighteen. She has translated scores of English language poetry into Hebrew. She remains interested in Hebrew, and embarks on linguistic studies of Hebrew etymology and thought. 

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Read more translations on the Asymptote blog:

Translation Tuesday: Poems by Ronny Someck

"In his painted eyes you can see a whole herd, / the prey in his dream’s forever-forest."

Bloody Mary 

                   

And poetry is a gun moll

in the back seat of an American car.

Her eyes pressed like triggers, her pistol hair firing blond

bullets down her neck.

Let’s say her name is Mary, Bloody Mary,

words squeeze out of her mouth like the juicy guts of a tomato

whose face was knifed just beforehand

on the salad plate.

She knows that grammar is the police force of language—

her earring transmitter

detects the siren at a distance.

The steering wheel will shift the car from question mark

to period

when she’ll open the door

and stand on the curb as a metaphor for the word

prostitute.

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In Review: Amos Oz’s “Between Friends”

"What Oz does to his readers is what the kibbutz does to his characters: it pulls them in and keeps them close"

I have two confessions to make.

The first is that I’ve never read Amos Oz before. For an Israeli, this is quite shameful. I’m not sure why or how it happened, but somehow, even though everyone I know has read at least some of his work, I’ve managed to miss out on his books. I’ve never had anything against him or any reason to avoid him. I’ve only ever heard brilliant things about him. So how did this happen? Maybe because there was always some other required reading for most of my high school and college years. Maybe because at some point I’d accumulated more books than I could keep up with and had no room for a new author in my life. After a while, I just accepted this shortcoming.

The second confession is that the idea of life on a kibbutz never appealed to me. Though I’ve always considered myself a socialist, or at least prone to socialism, I seemed to have skipped the naïve fascination kibbutz life holds for young Israelis, and headed straight towards cynicism and cringing. I’ve been exposed mostly to art that portrays kibbutz childhoods as traumatic—having to sleep separately from your parents, everyone knowing the details of your life, having not one thing which is entirely your own. Things didn’t look too good for adults, either: conformity was valued and independent thought discouraged. The good of the place, of the community as a concept, was held in higher regard than the well-being of the individuals that made up that community. All of these were elements I felt lucky to have avoided. I’m writing in past tense because this classic idea of a kibbutz is a fading one.

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Hebrew Poetry from Ron Dahan’s Collection “Youth”

Dahan's portrayals of war and daily life in Israel are stirring: precise yet deftly ambiguous, casual yet anguished

A soda machine burns outside a grocery store

and all the Pepsi and the Coke (diet, too) and the Sprite

Explode in all directions like grenades.

The village of Markabe is burnt and bombed like in a war movie.

And like in a war movie

there’s the guy who carries a heavy jerrycan on his back

and the guy with the cigarette between his teeth

and the guy called Nir

and the guy who’s going to die and doesn’t know it so he allows himself to reminisce about that time when

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