Sargon Boulus: Du Fu in Exile (From Arabic)

In Arabic, this poet's use of the words manfā "exile" and nakbāt "catastrophes, ordeals" has a very contemporary political undertone to my ear, evoking (but not exactly invoking) the catastrophic upheavals and displacements that have taken place in the Arab world over the past century.

Du Fu in Exile
By Sargon Boulus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

"The smoke of war is blue
White the bones of men" 

The village Du Fu came to
Was a bastion where the fire was almost out
He came knowing that Words
Like his hungry horse, without feed,
Might not have much light left in them 
After so many ordeals
So many battlefields 

He came across, where bleak winds bleach
The bones of a horseman jumbled up
With horse bones. Soon enough, grass would hide the rest

A fire where two hands were warming,
As his head hung low, the heart all firewood...

He'd started wandering in his twenties
And never once found a place to stay
Wherever he was, a war was on. And on.

His daughter died in a famine
In China, they say he wrote like the gods

Another village Du Fu came to
Poured smoke up from its kitchens
As hungry people waited in front of the baker's

The bakers' sweat-soaked faces: mirrors
Bearing witness to the heat of their fires

Du Fu. You, sir, are Lord of Exile. 

The Original:

تو فو في المنفى
سِركُون بولص

"دخانُ الحرب أزرق
بيضاء عظامُ البشر."

قريةٌ يَصلُ إليها تو فو
دَسْكرةٌ فيها نارٌ تكادُ تنطفئْ
يَصلُ اليها عارفاً أنّ الكلمة
مثلَ حصانه النافق، دون حَفنة من البَرسيم
قد لا تبقى مزهرةً بعدَ كلّ هذه النـَكبات!

كم ساحة معركة
مرّ بها تصفُرُ فيها الريح
عظامُ الفارس فيها اختلطتْ
بعظام حصَانه، والعشبُ سرعان ما أخفى البقيّة!

نارٌ تتدفّأ عليها يَدان
بينما الرأسُ يتدلّى والقلبُ حَطب

هو الذي بدأ بالتِّيه في العشرين
لم يجد مكاناً يستقرّ فيه حتى النهاية.
حيثما كان، كانت الحربُ وأوزارُها.
ابنتهُ ماتت في مجاعة. . .

ويُقالُ في الصين أنه كان يكتبُ كالآلهة!

قريةٌ أخرى يصلُ اليها تو فو
يتصاعدُ منها دخانُ المطابخ
وينتظر الجياعُ على أبواب مَخبَز.
وجوهُ الخبّازين المتصبّبة عرَقاً، مرايا
تشهدُ على ضَراوة النيران.

تو فو، أنت، أيّها السيّد، يا سيّد المنفى.
توفو في المنفى ديوان عَظمة أخرى لكلب القبيلة

Anonymous: "Waiting on Him: A Dunhuang Song" (From Chinese)

A popular song from the mid-Tang dynasty, from a collection recovered in a scroll-cave at Dunhuang. Unlike most Song verse in this genre in the early period (but like most other lyrics in the peculiar collection it is taken from, the 雲謠集) this lyric appears to have been actually composed by a woman, rather than by a man in a woman's voice. The obscenity in the last line is not of course in the original. But it fit the tone and real

Waiting On Him (To the tune of "Bowing to the Moon")
By Anonymous
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Off to another land my wayward man has gone
  But now the new year has well-nigh come
And he hasn't made it home
  I hate his love that runs like water 
So reckless and so ready to roam 
He couldn't care less for home 
 Beneath the flowers I turn and pray
  To the powers of heaven and earth and say 
  Till this very day
He has left me in this empty room alone 

 I see above me the blues of heaven's dome
 I am sure the moon and stars and sun  
Must know about my pain 
 I lean at the window-screen alone  
 And let the tears come streaming down
  On my gold-beaded silken gown
And cry away at unlucky fate
  And how fucked-up my karma has become
Still I pray I see his face
  And I swear I'll give him hell when he gets home

The Original:




Wang Guowei: Lyrics to a Forgotten Tune (From Chinese)

Wang Guowei in the early 20th century realizing as he writes in the classical style, that what he's saying doesn't match what he's thinking. The traditional poetry once had a vital social function, served as a means of refined expression, and was normally taken to be non-fictional. Now it corresponds to no reality whatever. It's become a heap of clichés that don't align with the world he knows, an arabesque of refined wordgames.

Lyrics to a Forgotten Tune

Wang Guowei
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Is there something real in the words  
                 to these new songs of yours?
To maiden heads those fancy phrases 
                  are laughably soft-core*
"Lamplight o'er a broken heart..." 
               just who'd you write that for?
Behind my desk I peer around  
               at recent works of mine
Then dim the lights and reckon out 
               the joys of bygone times
All trivial affairs of the heart 
             where not one line aligns

* This line is a pun about puns. The term 綺語 means either "ornate writing, fancy phrasing" or more euphemistically "smutty language, erotica." The term 胡盧 means "loud laughter" or "calabash, bottle gourd" (in this latter sense also written 葫蘆.) Calabash may be used to allude to the closed world of women, to various hidden forbidden delights, or to the vagina and the delights sequestered therein. It could be read to mean "ornate writing like this is just hilarious" or else something like "this kind of innuendo belongs between the sheets." To top it off 綺語 is also a homophone for 岐語 "double entendre"

The Original:



Dafydd ap Gwilym: The Ruin (From Welsh)

The Ruin
By Dafydd ap Gwilym
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Battered hovel  bare-holed you stand
Between the moor  and meadowland
They sorrow who once  saw your prime
As a comely little  cottage of pastime
To see you a shattered  shack today
With ramshackle roof  and rafters agley.

Near your cheerful wall  there was a day 
I do recall   —  rebuke of pain —
When you were more  merry inside
Than now, unsightly   little sty,
When I caught sight  (and sang bright praise)
In your corner there  of a fair face  
A maiden, as noble  a lady can be,
Shapely and lively  she lay with me
Each one's arm   (oh did I love her)
Knotted a bond   about the other
The girl's arm fine  as flurried snow
Pillowed the ear of her praise-poet so
And mine, a simple  trick, I laid
At the cute left ear  of that courtwise maid.
Good times we had   in your greenwood heyday
But no, today  is not that day.

The Ruin Speaks:
"With shelter's magic  moan I do
Bewail the way  the wildwind blew.
Spawned of the east     a stormwind squall
Smacked the stones  of my slender wall.
On wrathful path grim wind groaned 
From the south and turned me  out of a home."

The Poet Speaks
"So it was the late wind wrought such riot?
Well, it gnashed the thatch  of your roof all night.
Ripped your lathing  like a leaf.
The world is always illusion and grief. 
Your corner which gives  my cause to cry
Was once our bed  not a wildhog's sty.
You stood that day  sturdy and stalwart
Snug above  my noble sweetheart
Yet in plain truth,   by Peter, today
You are ravished  of roof and doorway.
Some things cause instant  insanity
Is this smashed shack  some fantasy?"

The Ruin Speaks:
"The household is gone with their livelihood
To the grave, Dafydd. Their lives were good."

The Original:

Yr Adfail

'Tydi, y bwth tinrhwth twn
Rhwng y gweundir a'r gwyndwn,
Gwae a'th weles, dygesynt,
Yn gyfannedd gyntedd gynt,
Ac a'th wŷl heddiw'n friw frig,
Dan dy ais yn dŷ ysig.

A hefyd ger dy hoywfur
Ef a fu ddydd, cerydd cur,
Ynod ydd oedd ddiddanach
Nog yr wyd, y gronglwyd grach,
Pan welais, pefr gludais glod,
Yn dy gongl, un deg yngod,
Forwyn, foneddigfwyn fu,
Hoywdwf yn ymgyhydu,
A braich pob un, cof un fydd,
Yn gwlm amgylch ei gilydd:
Braich meinir, briw awch manod,
Goris clust goreuwas clod,
A'm braich innau, somau syml,
Dan glust asw dyn glwys disyml.
Hawddfyd gan fasw i'th fraswydd,
A heddiw nid ydiw'r dydd'.

   'Ys mau gŵyn, gwirswyn gwersyllt,
Am hynt a wnaeth y gwynt gwyllt.
Ystorm o fynwes dwyrain
A wnaeth cur hyd y mur main.
Uchenaid gwynt, gerrynt gawdd,
Y deau a'm didyawdd'.

    'Ai'r gwynt a wnaeth helynt hwyr?
Da nithiodd dy do neithwyr.
Hagr y torres dy esyth.
Hudol enbyd yw'r byd byth.
Dy gongl, mau ddeongl ddwyoch,
Gwely ym oedd, nid gwâl moch.
Doe'r oeddud mewn gradd addwyn
Yn glyd uwchben fy myd mwyn.
Hawdd o ddadl, heddiw 'dd ydwyd,
Myn Pedr, heb na chledr na chlwyd.
Amryw bwnc ymwnc amwyll.
Ai hwn yw'r bwth twn bath twyll?'

'Aeth talm o waith y teulu,
Dafydd, â chroes. Da foes fu'.

Gwenallt Jones: Wales (From Welsh)

By Gwenallt Jones
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Why give us all this misery? The wrack
Of pain on flesh and blood like leaden weight,
Your language on our shoulders like a sack,
And your traditions fetters round our feet?
The canker rots your colors everywhere.
Your soul is scabbed with boils. Your song a scream.
In your own land you are but a nightmare
And your survival but a witch's dream.
Still, we can't leave you in the filth to stand
A generation's laughing-stock and jest.
Your former freedom is our sword in hand,
Your dignity a buckler at our breast.
We'll grip our spears and spur our steeds: go brave
Lest we should shame our fathers in their grave.  

The Original:

Gwenallt Jones

Paham y rhoddaist inni'r tristwch hwn,
A'r boen fel pwysau plwm ar gnawd a gwaed?
Dy iaith ar ein hysgwyddau megis pwn,
A'th draddodiadau'n hual am ein traed?
Mae'r cancr yn crino dy holl liw a'th lun,
A'th enaid yn gornwydydd ac yn grach,
Nid wyt ond hunllef yn dy wlad dy hun,
A'th einioes yn y tir ond breuddwyd gwrach.
 Er hyn, ni allwn d'adael yn y baw
Yn sbort a chrechwen i'r genedlaeth hon,
Dy ryddid gynd sydd gleddyf yn ein llaw,
A'th urddas sydd yn astalch ar ein bron,
A chydiwn yn ein gwayw a gyrru'r meirch
Rhag cywilyddio'r tadau yn eu heirch.

Waldo Williams: Wales and Welsh (From Welsh)

Wales and Welsh
By Waldo Williams
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Here are the mountains. One language alone can raise them
And set them in freedom against a sky of song.
Only one pierced the riches of their poverty,
Through the dream of ages, visions of moment, come and gone.
When through thin air the sun cuts carvings on the rocks,
Strong over a chasm, sure over playgrounds of chance,
I know not how they endure, unless the bounds of time
Bound them in turn, in an eternity of dance. 
Fit home for her, their interpreter! No matter what,
We must claim the place and never ask the price.
She's danger's daughter. Wind whips her path, her foot
Where they of the lower air fell and failed to rise.
Till now she's seen her way far clearer than prophets see.
She'll be as young as ever, as full of devilry.  

This poem alludes obliquely to a poem Aros mae'r mynyddoedd mawr (Still the mighty mountains stay) by the lyricist and poetaster John 'Ceiriog' Hughes. It begins

Still the mighty mountains stay
Still the winds about them roar
Still we hear at break of day
Songs of shepherds as of yore....

The Original:

Cymru a Chymraeg

Dyma’r mynyddoedd. Ni fedr ond un iaith eu codi
A’u rhoi yn eu rhyddid yn erbyn wybren cân.
Ni threiddiodd ond un i oludoedd eu tlodi.
Trwy freuddwyd oesoedd, gweledigaethau munudau mân
Pan ysgythro haul y creigiau drwy'r awyr denau,
Y rhai cryf uwch codwm, y rhai saff ar chwaraele siawns
Ni wn i sut y safant onid terfynau
Amser a'u daliodd yn nhro tragwyddoldeb dawns.
Tŷ teilwng i'w dehonglreg! Ni waeth a hapio
Mae'n rhaid inni hawlio'r preswyl heb holi'r pris.
Merch perygl yw hithau. Ei llwybr y mae'r gwynt yn chwipio,
Ei throed lle diffygiai, lle syrthiai, y rhai o'r awyr is.
Hyd yma hi welodd ei ffordd yn gliriach na phroffwydi.
Bydd hi mor ieuanc ag erioed, mor llawn direidi.

Lera Yanysheva: The Sense of the Father (From Russian Romani)

The Sense of the Father
By Lera Yanysheva
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

(Set in the 1890s)

I grew up in a camp, a traveling Rom.
I'm living in St. Petersburg today,
The city of His Majesty the Tsar.
Is there a finer city? I can't say.

Now Russian gentlemen pay me good money
To entertain them in a restaurant chorus. 
The good Lord even blessed me with good daughters
Born in the moneyed home I had built for us.

My daughters grew and blossomed into beauties.
The men went crazy for them at a glance.
The Russian soul finds freedom in a gypsy song
And nobody could dance like my girls danced. 

Then a disaster. My own blood betrayed me.
Now I'm afraid to bloody show my face.
Those two sang their last number to run off
With noble "men" and dropped me in disgrace.

They will give birth — good Lord — to halfblood freaks.
In camp they say that I have sold myself. 
"Too good for us" they stab me as they speak
"But couldn't join the gadjo gents. Well, well..."

It's true...I live a Russian gadjo life.
Where's my Romanipen? My free Rom will?
Those stupid girls have done a number on me.
But I was blessed with one more daughter still.

My Masha — a real Romni of the tents!
Thinking of her, my heart is melted snow. 
She stopped by yesterday, a traveling Rom.
It truly warmed my eyes to see her so

With her red coral beads, her well-worn blouse, 
The headscarf that a proper wife should wear,
Her ear-rings and her flower-pattern skirt. 
The day was cold...and yet her feet were bare!  

The horse-monger I gave her to appraised her,
Knowing she was a towngirl. Didn't care! 
Just said "she's pretty as a doll" and took her
To a kept life of tents and open air. 

No poshness for my Masha. Woods and roads...
She'll learn to work the cards, tell fortunes well.  
She'll bear him children, and they will be men
Who profit by the horses that they sell. 

Nobody wants a towngirl in their family.
I had to cut a deal with an old friend of mine.  
He took the gamble, and became her in-law. 
So now my son-in-law keeps her in line.

A father knows much better than his daughters. 
My Masha sobbed. But she had best make do.
She will not be some lordly Russian's tramp.
She lives the way the good Lord willed her to.

Stanza 2

One is, I think, to understand that the man is not actually wealthy by the standards of the Russian ruling class. Rather, he is unusually wealthy for a Rom.

Stanza 3:

L3, literally reads quite simply "the gadje want/love Romani songs." My translation, which makes explicit a bit of what I think implicit, is rather circumlocutory. It seemed called for, given that an English-speaking reader might not necessarily be aware of the role "gypsy songs" have had in Russian culture. Yanysheva self-translates this line in Russian as им песня вольная — отрада для душы "To them [Russian gentry], the free-[spirited] song is a joy to the soul."

Stanza 6

Romanipen: a key concept of Rom culture. (Also known as: Romanimos, Romanija, Romanšago.) This is not necessarily a matter of ancestry, so much as how one behaves, how one lives, and what one does. The quality of being in touch with Rom ways.

Stanza 8

On the phrase "de šatra rogožîtko" (into a burlap tent) c.f. the song which begins, in one version:

Aj de šatrica rogožîtko
Ande šatrica čaj bidîtko.
(Oh in a little burlap tent, in the little tent is a hapless girl.)

The Original:

Дадэ́скири ду́ма
Лера Янышева

Семьяке Панково, дэ лэнгири патыв

Нэ, бияндёмпэ мэ дрэ та́боро баро,
Тэ акана до Петербу́рго мэ джива́ва.
Одо́й дживэл тага́ри кокоро!
А сы ли фо́ро гожэды́р? Мэ на джина́ва.

Рая плэски́рна ма́нгэ бут ловэ.
Ваш господэ́нгэ мэ до хо́ро багандём,
Лаче чяен дыя мангэ Дэвэл.
Мэ кхэр ваш се́мья барвало киндём.

Выбаринэ сыр цвэ́тицы чяя,
Пал лэ́ндэ о барэ рая мэрэ́нас.
Гадже камэ́на романэ гиля.
Фэдыр сарэ́ндыр о чяя кхэлэ́нас.

Э би́да подгэя! Ёнэ́ жэ рат миро!
Да мэ о штэ́то пэ́скэ на латха́вас…
Добагандлэ́пэс! Сыр же ладжяво!
Екх палэ екх э госпадэ́нца упраста́нас.

Авэ́на чяворэ — мэём! — по паш гадже.
О та́борна мурша ґара амэн обкха́рна:
«Шатра́тыр угэнэ, а кэ рая на пригэнэ́!
Тумэ пэс бикиндлэ», — ёнэ́ лавэ́са ма́рна.        

Аи́. Гаджиканэс дживав дэ фо́ро мэ.
Кай сы романыпэ? Кай во́ля романы?
Скэрдэ пэ ма́ндэ би́да — дылынэ…
Пэ бахт, сы ма́ндэ три́то чяёри́.

Вот мири Ма́шка — ёй шатры́тко чяй.
Коли мэ зрипирав, ило татёла.
Сыр атася ромэ́са ёй явья,
Пэ ла́тэ мэ дыкхав — якха хачёна!

Лолэ кора́ли, ко́фта риськирды,
Тэ романы пэ ла́тэ цо́ха оборкэ́нца.
Сы шылало — а ёй сы пиранги —
Барэ ченя, фарту́шка узоркэ́нца.

Пал кофари́стэ чяёрья мэ отдыём,
Лыя ла ром — хоть Ма́шка сыс фори́тко,
«Сави раны, — пхэндя, — сыр ку́кла ёй!»
Ёй лэ́са угэя дэ ша́тра рогожы́тко.

На ба́рско джиипэ! Дрома, вэша…
И пэ патря ёй тэ чюрдэл джинэ́ла.
Авэна ла́кирэ чявэ сарэ мурша,
Э грэн тэ парувэн ёнэ́ авэ́на!

Доракирдёмпэ пхуранэ друго́са,
Фори́тко чя никон дэ се́мья на камэн.
А ёв на да́рлас — ёв явья свато́са,
Тэй адава чяво́ ла стро́го рикирэл!

Кай бахт — дада́ фэдыр чяен джинэ́на.
Рундя э Ма́ша — мэк — присыклыя!
Тэ акана гаджи ёй на авэ́ла.
Дживэ́ла ёй сыр Дэвлоро пхэндя…

Dadéskiri Dúma
Lera Janîševa

Semjake Pankovo, de lengiri patîv.

Ne, bijandjom-pe me dre táboro baro,
Te akana do Peterbúrgo me dživava.
Odoj dživel tagári kokoro!
A sî li fóro gožedîr? Me na džinava.

Raja pleskírna mánge but love.
Vaš gospodénge me do xóro bagandjom,
Lače čajen dîjá mánge Devel.
Me kher vaš sémja barvalo kindjom.

Vîbariné sîr cvéticî čaja,
Pal lénde o bare raja merénas.
Gadže kaména romane gilja.
Fedîr saréndîr o čaja khelénas.

E bída podgeja! Jone že rat miro!
Da me o štéto péske na lathávas...
Dobagandle-pes! Sîr že ladžavo!
Jekh pale jekh e gospodénca uprastánas.

Avéna čavore — mejom! — po paš gadže.
O táborna murša ghara amen obkhárna:
"Šatrátîr ugene, a ke raja na prigene!
Tume pes bikindle" — jone lavésa márna.

Ai. Gadžikanes dživav de fóro me.
Kaj sî Romanîpe? Kaj vólja Romanî?
Skerde pe mánde bida — dîlîné...
Pe baxt, sî mánde tríto čajori.

Vot miri Máška — joj šatrîtko čaj.
Koli me zripirav, ilo tatjóla.
Sîr atasja romésa joj javja,
Pe láte me dîkháv — jakha xačóna!

Lole koráli, kófta risjkirdî,
Te romanî pe láte cóxa oborkénca.
Sî šîlaló — a joj sî pirangi —
Bare čenja, fartúška uzorkénca.

Pal kofaríste čajorja me otdîjóm,
Lîjá la rom — xotj Maška sîs forítko,
"Savi ranî" phendja "sîr kúkla joj!"
Joj lésa ugeja de šátra rogožîtko.

Na bársko džiipe! Droma, veša...
I pe patrja joj te čurdel džinéla.
Avéna lákire čave sare murša,
E gren te paruven jone avéna!

Dorakirdjóm-pe phurane drugósa,
Forítko ča nikon de sémja na kamén.
A jov na dárlas — jov javja svatósa,
Tej adava čavo la strógo rikirel!

Kaj baxt — dada fedîr čajen džinéna.
Rundja e Maša — mek — prisîklîjá!
Te akana gadži joj ne avéla.
Dživéla joj sîr Devloro phendja...

Rajko Đurić: The Moon (From Romani)

The Moon
By Rajko Đurić
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The moon laughs
around the fire
The sobs rise
the laugh descends. 
The firmament smells of weeping
we, of laughter
If the moon loses her sight
and our eyes open wide,
Who then will be able to tell
where the wing of weeping
and the wing of laughing

The Original:

O Ćhonut

O ćhonut asal
trujal e jag
O rovipe urăvel
o asape mekhlŏl tele
O d'el khandel p-o rovipe
amen p-o asape
Te o ćhonut rorravòla
te amen dikhàsa
kon vakarèla
Kaj e phak rovimasqe
thaj e asamasqe
ka arakhandon

Grahame Davies: Berlin (From Welsh)

By Grahame Davies
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me read the original Welsh

Sgt. Nikolai Masalov saved a girl's life on April 28, 1945, during the Battle of Berlin. After the war, a statue recording the event was erected in Treptower Park.

We heard her voice amid the sound of guns
As we were advancing on the Reichstag,
With Nazi bullets chewing up the bridge's statues and our company's cover. 
Then, through the smoke, we saw her, a three-year-old German girl
crying out amid the troops, beside her mother's corpse.

I was not a bronze man at the time
when I jumped off that bridge into the river,
with Fascists' bullets thrashing up the water around me.
I was much uglier than the dapper statue
After I'd dragged back through the mud and oil of the river Spree
With the girl in my arms.

Many times I've been asked: why.

At the time, it was instinct:
Rescuing a child was as natural as killing an enemy.

Now that both Reich and Soviets have receded like the smoke of battle, 
I see that succor and corpses aren't equivalent,
And that the moment, selfless, remains as bronze:
The killer still gun-free, his own salvation in his arms.

The Original:

Grahame Davies

(Y Rhingyll Nikolai Masalov. Achubodd Masalov fywyd yr eneth ar. Ebrill 28, 1945, yn ystod y frwydr am Berlin. Wedi’r rhyfel, codwyd cerflun ym Mharc Treptower i gofnodi’r digwyddiad.)

Clywsom ei llais rhwng sŵn y gynnau,
wrth inni nesau at y Reichstag,
a bwledi’r Natsïaid yn cnoi cerfluniau’r bont a lochesai’n cwmni.
Wedyn, drwy’r mwg, fe welsom hi, Almaenes deirblwydd oed
yn llefain rhwng y lluoedd, wrth ochr celain ei mam.

Nid dyn o efydd oeddwn ar y pryd,
wrth neidio’r bont i’r afon,
a bwledi’r Ffasgwyr yn ffustio’r dwr o’m hamgylch.
A llawer mwy diolwg oeddwn na’r cerflun trwsiadus
wedi imi lusgo ‘nôl drwy laid ac olew’r Spree
a’r ferch yn fy mreichiau.

Droeon fe ofynnwyd imi, pam.

Ar y pryd, greddf ydoedd:
roedd achub plentyn mor naturiol â lladd gelyn.

Erbyn hyn, a Reich a Sofiet wedi cilio fel mwg y frwydr,
fe welaf nad cyfwerth celanedd ac ymgeledd,
ac mai’r ennyd anhunanol a erys fel efydd:
y lladdwr di-ddryll yn dal, yn ei freichiau, ei achubiaeth ef ei hun.

Lera Yanysheva: Stone Children (From Lovara Romani)

Stone Children
By Lera Yanysheva
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

It hurts. It's crushing me. Forgive me. Please.   
How can you have just left me all at once?
I didn't know I would give death to you.
Oh God what have I done? Forgive me, sons.

My sons, they've paid for sins that I committed.
Gone through agony because of me. 
I wanted the fine life, the house, the money.
Some other Lovara live in luxury....

I wanted you to not want for a thing,
A fortune to keep my boys set for life. 
So I went and sold my soul to a foul man
And started selling heroin as a wife. 

What good is all this money to me now? 
Oh Christ! What have they gone and done? Why, those
Boys knew exactly where to score some smack. 
They shot each other up and overdosed.

I bought them this luxurious monument.
This is the marble that they sleep below.
I had to bury you, my boys, my babies.
Fortune and fine life left me long ago.

Standing and staring at the iron crosses
I've locked my heart and blown away the keys.
You were so lively, boys. Now you're all stone.
It hurts. It's crushing me. Forgive me. Please.

The Original:

Барунэ щавора

Мангэ пхаро-й…Чак эртэчия мэ манглэм….
Состар гэлан-тар — мангэ-й э гэчина,
Кэ щявора мэрэна — чи жянглэм!
Со мэ кэрдэм? Мангав мэ эртэчия.

Лэ бэзэха мурэ са потиндэ лэ щавора,
Лэ щявора пал мандэ кинозынас.
Камос ви мэ о сумнакай тай лэ кхэра,
Лэ авэра ловара барвалэс траинас.

Э бахт тумэнгэ тэ кэрав камлэм,
Дэ сар барвалипэ лэ щяворэнгэ тэ рэсав?
Лэ бивужэскэ ди мэ бикиндэм,
Кэздысардэм дылэ драба мэ тэ бикнав.

Пэ сос, ромалэ, мангэ сумнакай?
О Свунто драго Дэл! Со вон кэрдэ?
Вон аракхлэ драба, кэ жяннас — кай,
Эк лэ каврэс кодол драбэнца пусадэ.

Мурмунцы лэнгэ барвалэ мэ кэрадэм,
Са андо мраморо лэ щявора совэн.
Яй, драги — мэ тумэн прахосардэм,
Ай бахт тай траё мандар дур нашэ́н.

Тай сар дыкхав мэ трушула лэ саструнэ,
Муро йило пэ кия пхандадэм.
Щявэ сас жювиндэ, дэ аканик-и барунэ!
Мангэ пхаро́-й…Чак эртэчия мэ манглэм…
Barune Šavora

Mánge pharo-i...čak ertećíja mǝ manglem...
Sóstar gelántar — mánge-i e gečína,
Ke śavora meréna — ći źaglem!
So mǝ kerdem? Mangav mǝ ertećíja...

Le bezexa mure sa potinde le śavora,
Le śavora pal mánde kinozînas.
Kamos vi mǝ o sumnakaj taj le khērá,
Le avera Lovára barvales trajínas.

E baxt tuménge te kerav kamlem,
De sar barvalipe le śavorénge te resav?
Le bivužéske di mǝ bikindem,
Kezdîsardém dîlé draba mǝ te biknav.

Pe sos, Romále, mánge sumnakaj?
O Svúnto drágo Del! So von kerde?
Von arakhle draba, ke źānás kāj,
Ek le kavres kodol drabénca pusade.

Murmúncî lénge barvale mǝ keradem,
Sa ándo mrámoro le śavora soven.
Jaj, drági — mǝ tumen praxosardem,
Aj baxt taj trájo mándar dur našen.

Taj sar dîkháv mǝ trušula le sastrune,
Muro jilo pe kíja phandadem.
Śave sas źuvinde, de akanik-i barune!
Mánge pharó-i...Čak ertećíja mǝ manglem...

Bible: David's Lament (From Hebrew)

The books of Samuel are beset with textual problems. The texts we have are in several places quite corrupt. To me it seems fairly likely that we do not have the "original" text of this poem, nor will we ever. In such circumstances, the translator of biblical literature is stuck between a Rock and a God Place, between having to choose among a dizzying array of possible emendations and paleographic possibilities, or trying to deal with the text as it now is.

I would have liked to be able to accept with confidence the radical emendations proposed by some. For example, those of Hollyday in Form and Word-Play in David's Lament over Saul and Jonathan if for no other reason than that some of his propositions make for interesting poetry. Hollyday and Gurvitz take the entire song to start one line earlier, and emend 2 Sam 1:18 with this in mind. Hollyday for example proposes יְלַל מַר בְּכֵי יְהוּדָה קְשַׁת נְהִי סְפֹד לְיָשָׁר ("A howling bitter weep, O Judah! Pangs of a wailing dirge for the upright man!")

Such proposals, though not by any means implausible, don't strike me as very convincing in their totality. The text I give is the Masoretic text. My translation, however, reflects some emendations (for example "the square" of Gath here.)

My reading of lines 1 and 23 here is quite at odds with the traditional reading (most translations begin with something more like "Glory O Israel likes slain on your heights.") At issue is the fraught and labyrinthine question of what במה actually means. My approach basically follows from the data given and conclusions drawn by W. Boyd Barrick in BMH as Body Language:  A Lexical and Iconographical Study of the Word BMH When Not a Reference to Cultic Phenomena in Biblical and Post-Biblical Hebrew. I take במה, when not referring to a cultic site, to have a primarily anatomical sense — as it does elsewhere in Semitic. This poem is actually used as the locus probans for reading the word as meaning "hill." But this seems untenable for reasons Barrick lays out.

David's Lament 
(From 2 Samuel 1:19-27)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Gazelle of Israel
 slain on your back! 
 How the heroes have fallen!

Don't speak of it in the squares of Gath
Don't spread the news in the streets of Ashkelon
Or the daughters of the Philistines  will rejoice 
Or the daughters of the ungodly  will gloat

  Mountains of Gilboa!
Be there no dew nor rain on you
And on your slopes  no fertile field!
For there was the shield  of heroes defiled
The shield of Saul no more anointed
From blood of the slain from the breast of the foe
The bow of Jonathan never recoiled
The blade of Saul never returned undyed

Jonathan and Saul beloved men
Dearly beloved  in life they were
Inseparable so  in death they are
Swifter than eagles stronger than lions

Now daughters of Israel weep for Saul 
Who clothed you in scarlet  who robed you in finery
Who adorned all the folds  of your garments with gold

How the heroes are fallen  in the thick of battle
Jonathan laid low slain on your back!

Oh I grieve for you  Jonathan, brother
Dear to me you were, and for me
More wonderful your love than the love of women

How the heroes have fallen 
How the arms of war are lost! 

The Original:

שיר הקשת

הַצְּבִי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל-בָּמוֹתֶיךָ חָלָל
אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבּוֹרִים

אַל-תַּגִּידוּ בְגַת
אַל-תְּבַשְּׂרוּ בְּחוּצֹת אַשְׁקְלוֹן
פֶּן-תִּשְׂמַחְנָה בְּנוֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּים
פֶּן-תַּעֲלֹזְנָה בְּנוֹת הָעֲרֵלִים

הָרֵי בַגִּלְבֹּעַ
אַל-טַל וְאַל-מָטָר עֲלֵיכֶם
וּשְׂדֵי תְרוּמֹת
כִּי שָׁם נִגְעַל מָגֵן גִּבּוֹרִים
מָגֵן שָׁאוּל בְּלִי מָשִׁיחַ בַּשָּׁמֶן
מִדַּם חֲלָלִים מֵחֵלֶב גִּבּוֹרִים
קֶשֶׁת יְהוֹנָתָן לֹא נָשׂוֹג אָחוֹר
וְחֶרֶב שָׁאוּל לֹא תָשׁוּב רֵיקָם

שָׁאוּל וִיהוֹנָתָן
הַנֶּאֱהָבִים וְהַנְּעִימִם בְּחַיֵּיהֶם
וּבְמוֹתָם לֹא נִפְרָדוּ
מִנְּשָׁרִים קַלּוּ
מֵאֲרָיוֹת גָּבֵרוּ

בְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-שָׁאוּל בְּכֶינָה
הַמַּלְבִּשְׁכֶם שָׁנִי עִם-עֲדָנִים
הַמַּעֲלֶה עֲדִי זָהָב עַל לְבוּשְׁכֶן

אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבֹּרִים בְּתוֹךְ הַמִּלְחָמָה
יְהוֹנָתָן עַל-בָּמוֹתֶיךָ חָלָל

צַר-לִי עָלֶיךָ אָחִי יְהוֹנָתָן
נָעַמְתָּ לִּי מְאֹד
נִפְלְאַתָה אַהֲבָתְךָ לִי
מֵאַהֲבַת נָשִׁים

אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבּוֹרִים
וַיֹּאבְדוּ כְּלֵי מִלְחָמָה

Bialik: Just a Ray (From Hebrew)

Just A Single Ray
By Haim Nachman Bialik
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Just a single ray of sun upon you,
And you grew to glory, rose near-divine.
One ray unfurled your lure, your flesh
And you ripened like a fruited vine.

Just a single night of storm in spoil
Has ravished your flush and bud away.
In your lime beauty vile dogs afar
Can smell your cadaverous decay.

The Original:

רַק קַו-שֶׁמֶשׁ אֶחָד עֲבָרֵךְ,
וּפִתְאֹם רוֹמַמְתְּ וְגָדָלְתְּ;
וַיְפַתַּח חֶמְדָּתֵךְ וּבְשָׂרֵךְ,
וּכְגֶפֶן פֹּרִיָּה בָּשָׁלְתְּ.

וְרַק סַעַר לֵיל אֶחָד עֲבָרֵךְ,
וַיַּחְמֹס אֶת-בִּסְרֵךְ, נִצָּתֵךְ;
וּכְלָבִים נְבָלִים בַּהֲדָרֵךְ
יָרִיחוּ מֵרָחוֹק נִבְלָתֵךְ –

Bialik: Stars Flicker (From Hebrew)

Stars Flicker
By Haim Nachman Bialik
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Stars flicker and go out.
Men in the dark decay.
In my heart and everywhere
See the dark take sway. 

Dreams sparkle and fade out.
Hearts flower and decay.
In my heart and everywhere
See the ruins splay. 

Everyone prays for the light. 
Their lips rot as they pray. 
This is a tired old tale
Repeated every which way. 

How slow the nights drag! Not even 

The broken moon can stay
Without yawning wearily,
Waiting in slumber for day. 

The Original:

כוכבים מציצים
חיים נחמן ביאליק

כּוֹכָבִים מְצִיצִים וְכָבִים,
וַאֲנָשִׁים בַּחֲשֵׁכָה נְמַקִּים;
הַבִּיטָה בַכֹּל וּבִלְבָבִי –
מַחֲשַׁכִּים, יְדִידִי, מַחֲשַׁכִּים.

וְנוֹצְצִים חֲלֹמוֹת וְנוֹבְלִים,
וּפוֹרְחִים וּרְקֵבִים לְבָבוֹת;
הַבִּיטָה בַכֹּל וּבִלְבָבִי –
חֳרָבוֹת, יְדִידִי, חֳרָבוֹת.

וְהַכֹּל מִתְפַּלְּלִים לְאוֹרָה,
וְנֹבְלוֹת שְׂפָתַיִם בִּתְפִלָּה;
וִיגֵעִים הַדְּבָרִים וַאֲרֻכִּים,
וְהֵם נִשְׁנִים וְחוֹזְרִים חֲלִילָה.
וְהַלֵּילוֹת – הוֹי, כַּמָּה עֲצֵלִים!
אֲפִלּוּ הַלְּבָנָה הַפְּגוּמָה –
גַּם-הִיא מְפַהֶקֶת עֲיֵפָה
וּמְצַפָּה לַיּוֹם מִתּוֹךְ תְּנוּמָה

Bialik: I Know (From Hebrew)

Bialik prophesies in rage in the wake of the 1905 Odessa pogrom.

I Know
By Haim Nahman Bialik
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I know on some misted night I will wink out suddenly as a star
And not a star shall know my grave
But in my aftermath my wrath shall smoke on like a volcano
After its fires expire.
It will dwell among you so long as thunder rings the zodiac
And waves rage ocean-wide.
O let your mighty sorrow be held too tight, so tight
In the bosom of all the world
That the wilderness of the sky, the wilderness of earth,
Their stars and their grasses,
Drink their fill of it, 
That it might live in them, quicken them, grow old and grow anew with them
Wither like them, return hither like them and blossom again;
Let that sorrow, formless and nameless and groundless, bear 
Witness, unto the final generation, of your iniquity;
Let it shriek wordless and voiceless, to all hell and to all heaven
To block the world's redemption.
And when, come the end of days, the two-faced sun of fraudulent justice shines
On the graves of your slaughtered
And the banner of revolting blandishment, dyed in your blood, flies shameless 
In the face of the heavens and over your slaughterer's heads
And the counterfeit seal of God carved on the banner
Gouges the sun's eyes,
When the prideful dance and pomp of the festival of lies 
Rattles your holy bones down in the tomb-
When the firmament's splendor trembles and goes dark of a sudden with your sorrow,
When with the stain of your pure blood the sun has set 
The Mark of Cain upon the brow of the world,
The mark of failure on the broken arm of the Lord,
When star cries quaking to star —behold the lie almighty —
Behold us in our sorrow —
Then, then shall the God of Vengeance arise,
Roaring with wounded heart,
And with his great sword
Stride forth.

The Original:

יָדַעְתִּי, בְּלֵיל עֲרָפֶל כַּכּוֹכָב אֶכְבֶּה פִתְאֹם
וְלֹא יֵדַע כּוֹכָב אֶת-קְבוּרָתִי,
וְאוּלָם חֲרוֹנִי עוֹד יֶעְשַׁן אַחֲרַי כְּפִי הַר-פְּרָצִים
אַחֲרֵי כְבוֹת לַהֲבוֹ,
וִיחִי בֵינֵיכֶם כָּל-עוֹד יְמֵי הָרַעַם בַּגַּלְגַּל
וְזַעַף גַּלִּים בְּאֻקְיָנוֹס.
הָהּ, מִי יִתֵּן וְיֵאָצֵר גַּם יְגוֹנְכֶם הַגָּדוֹל
בְּחֵיק הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ,
וְרָווּ מִמֶּנּוּ עַרְבוֹת שָׁמַיִם וְעַרְבוֹת שָׂדַי,
כּוֹכָבִים וּדְשָׁאִים,
וְחַי בָּהֶם, וִיפַעֲמֵם, וְנוֹשַׁן וְהִתְחַדֵּשׁ עִמָּם,
וּכְמוֹהֶם יִבֹּל וְיָשׁוּב וְיִפְרָח,
וּבְלֹא-שֵׁם וּבְלֹא-דְמוּת וּבְלֹא אֶרֶץ מוֹלֶדֶת
לְעֵד חֲמַסְכֶם עַד-דּוֹר אַחֲרוֹן יַעֲמֹד,
וּבְלֹא קוֹל וּדְבָרִים אֶל-הַשְּׁאוֹל וְאֶל-הַשָּׁמַיִם יִצְעַק
וִיעַכֵּב אֶת-גְּאֻלַּת הָעוֹלָם;
וּבִזְרֹחַ לְקֵץ הַיָּמִים שֶׁמֶשׁ רְמִיָּה שֶׁל צִדְקַת שָׁוְא
עַל קִבְרֵי חַלְלֵיכֶם,
וְנֵס הַחֲנֻפָּה, חֲמוּץ דְּמֵיכֶם, בְּחֻצְפָּה כְלַפֵּי שָׁמַיִם
עַל-רָאשֵׁי זֹבְחֵיכֶם יִתְנוֹפֵף,
וְחוֹתַם אֱלֹהִים הַמְזֻיָּף חָרוּת עַל-הַנֵּס
אֶת-עֵינֵי הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ יְנַקֵּר,
וּמְחוֹל רֶגֶל גַּאֲוָה וּתְרוּעַת חַג הַשֶּׁקֶר יְזַעְזְעוּ
אֶת-עַצְמוֹתֵיכֶם הַקְּדוֹשׁוֹת בַּקָּבֶר –
וְרָעַד זֹהַר הָרָקִיעַ וְקָדַר פִּתְאֹם בִּיגוֹנְכֶם,
וְנֶהְפַּךְ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לְכֶתֶם דִּמְכֶם הַנָּקִי,
אוֹת קַיִן עַל מֵצַח הָעוֹלָם וְאוֹת כִּשָּׁלוֹן
לִזְרֹעַ אֱלֹהִים הַשְּׁבוּרָה,
וְכוֹכָב אֶל-כּוֹכָב יֶחֱרָד: הִנֵּה הַשֶּׁקֶר הַנּוֹרָא!
הִנֵּה הַיָּגוֹן הַגָּדוֹל!
וְאֵל נְקָמוֹת, פָּצוּעַ בִּלְבָבוֹ, יָקוּם וְיִשְׁאָג –
וּבְחַרְבּוֹ הַגְּדוֹלָה יֵצֵא

Yehuda HaLevi: My Heart is in the East (From Hebrew)

This poem, the first from the poet's cycle מכבל ערב mikkebel ˁarab "Out of Arabian Bonds", is one of his most famous today. If you're gonna translate Halevi, you've got to do Libbi Bămizraḥ. Well Ok. Fine. Here you go. Here, you even get me reading it to you in reconstructed Andalusi Hebrew pronunciation. Happy?  

My Heart Is In The East
By Yehuda HaLevi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in Andalusi Hebrew

My heart is in the east, and the rest of me at the edge of the west.
How can I taste the food I eat? How can it give me pleasure? 
How can I keep my promise now, or fulfill the vows I've made
While Zion remains in the Cross's reign1, and I in Arab chains? 
With pleasure I would leave behind all the good things of Spain,
If only I could gaze on the dust of our ruined Holy Place.


1- The poet had made a vow to leave Spain behind and journey to Jerusalem, which was at the time held by the Crusaders. The Crusaders, when they took the city of Jerusalem in 1099, had forbidden Jews to reside there.

The Original:

לבי במזרח
יהודה הלוי 
يهوذا اللاوي

לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב
אֵיךְ אֶטְעֲמָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר אֹכַל וְאֵיךְ יֶעֱרָב
אֵיכָה אֲשַׁלֵּם נְדָרַי וָאֱסָרַי, בְּעוֹד
צִיּוֹן בְּחֶבֶל אֱדוֹם וַאֲנִי בְּכֶבֶל עֲרָב
יֵקַל בְּעֵינַי עֲזֹב כָּל טוּב סְפָרַד, כְּמוֹ
יֵקַר בְּעֵינַי רְאוֹת עַפְרוֹת דְּבִיר נֶחֱרָב.

Nizar Qabbani: "Less Beautiful" (From Arabic)

Completely revised this translation as a result of my encounter with Stephen Frug's take on my original attempt

Less Beautiful
By Nizar Qabbani
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the Arabic

Whenever I see you, I despair of my verse.
I only despair of my poems
When I am with you.
Beautiful you much
So that when I think about what awe you strike... I gasp for breath.
As my language gasps
And my lexicon gasps
For breath.
Deliver me from these problematics!
Be less beautiful
So I can recover my poetics.
Be a typical woman
Of kohl, perfume, pregnancy and childbirth.
Be a woman
Like any other,
And reconcile me with my language
And my tongue.

The Original:

اقل جمالا
نزار قباني

كلّما رأيتُكِ... أيأس من قصائدي
إنني لا أيأسُ من قصائدي
إلّا حين أكون معكِ...
جميلة انت... إلى درجة أنني
حينُ أفكِّر بِرَوعتِك...ألهَثُ...
تَلهثُ لغتي...
وتَلهَثُ مفرداتي...
خلِّصيني من هذا الإشكال
كوني اقلَّ جَمالاً...
حتّا أستردَّ شاعريتي
كوني امرأةً عادية
تَتَكحَّل وتتعطَّر...وتحبل...وتَلِد
امرأة مثلَ كلِّ النساء
حتى أتصالحَ مع لغتي
ومع فمي.

Yehuda Amichai: Death of My Father (From Hebrew)

Death of My Father
By Yehuda Amichai
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me read the Hebrew aloud

My father of a sudden from all places
Departed for his strange and distant spaces. 

He had gone to call upon his God
So He might come to our aid with staff and rod.  

And God took up the burden, coming soon
Hanging His jacket up on the hook of moon,

Though nevermore will God let our father go
Who left to fetch Him for us here below. 

The Original:

מוֹת אָבִי
יהודה עמיחי

אָבִי פִּתְאֹם, מִכָּל הַחֲדָרים
יָצָא לְמֶרְחַקָּיו הַמּוּזָרִים. 

הָלוֹךְ הָלַךְ לִקְרֹא לֵאלֹהָיו,
שֶׁהוּא יָבוֹא לַעֲזֹר לָנוּ עַכְשָיו. 

וֵאלֹהִים כְּבָר בָּא, כְּמוֹ טוֹרֵחַ,
תָּלָה אֶת מְעִילוֹ עַל וַו-יָרֵחַ.

אַךְ אֶת אָבִינוּ, שֶׁיָּצָא לְהוֹבִילוֹ,
יַחֲזִיק הָאֱלֹהִים לָעַד אֶצְלוֹ. 

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!–

Gabriel Preil: Celebration Beyond Things (From Hebrew)

Back to Gabriel Preil, the most famous Hebrew poet of America, who has the distinction of being the only Hebrew poet ever to write an entire series of poems about the state of Maine.

A Celebration Beyond Things
Gabriel Preil
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

A celebration beyond things, 
A play on worded things beyond the light, the heavy,
beyond bread, table, car.
This mist, for example, or that sun. 
(And it is not important if the New York mist
is much different from that of Oregon, or 
for that matter, if Oregon's sky
has reservations about Maine's.) 
The thing of it is
I'm almost ready to swear 
The variations in the skies can drive
The clouds themselves crazy,
Or me, in any case,
Attentive as I am to the gamut of shades
Seduced by the weathers of
Poems and loves.

Even the rain-sluiced stone

Now celebrates something.

The Original:

חַג שֶׁמֵּעֵבֶר הַדְּבָרִים
גבריאל פּרייל

חַג שֶׁמֵּעֵבֶר הַדְּבָרִים
מִשְׂחַק דְבָרִים שֶׁמֵּעֵבֶר לַקַּל, לַכָּבֵד
מֵעֵבֶר לַלֶּחֶם, לַשֻּׁלְחָן, לַמְּכוֹנִית
הָעֲרָפֶל הַזֶּה,לְמָשָׁל, הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ הַזֹּאת
(וְלֹא חָשׁוּב אִם הָעֲרָפֶל הַנְּיוּ-יוֹרְקִי
שׁוֹנֶה בְּהַרְבֵּה מִזֶּה שֶׁבְּאוֹרֶגוֹן, עֵת
כְּמוֹ לְפִי תוֹר, אוֹרֶגוֹן מִסְתַּיֶּגֶת מִשְּׁמֵי מֵין). 
הָעִקָּר שֶׁאֲנִי כִּמְעַט-מוּכָן לְהִשָּׁבַע
שֶׁסּוּגֵי רְקִיעִים יְכוֹלִים לְשַׁגֵּעַ
גַּם אֶת עַצְמָם, בְּכָל-אֹפֶל אוֹתִי
הַקַּשּׁוּב לְמַעַבְרֵי הַגּוֹנִים,
מְפֻתֶּה מִזְגֵי-אֲוִיר שֶׁל
שִׁירִים וַאֲהָבוֹת. 

אֲפִלּוּ הָאֶבֶן הַגְּשׁוּמָה
חוֹגֶגֶת עַכְשָׁיו מָה. 

Hillel Bavli: Seagulls in My Heart (From Hebrew)

Born in Lithuania, Hillel Bavli came to the United States in 1912 and attended Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he earned a doctorate in Hebrew literature. He joined the faculty of the Seminary in 1920. In 1954, he was awarded the Lamed Prize in Hebrew literature for his translation of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” He died in 1961 at the age of 69 after a period of illness. 

Seagulls in My Heart
By Hillel Bavli
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Seagulls in my heart
Peck me, squawk and draw me toward the shore. 
The creaking shrieking ships,
The sloshing waves,
Wayward breezes breathing of sulfur and salt,
Bustling sailors, cussing poets. 
No yoke of yore, no daily decrees. 
Blurring mists of the ages of ages,
The bonds of place and time dissolve.
I'm drawn away.
Seagulls in my heart.

The Original:

שחפים בלבבי
הלל בבלי

שְׁחָפִים בִּלְבָבִי
מְנַקְּרִים בִּי, צוֹרְחִים, מוֹשְׁכִים לִשְׂפַת הַיָּם.
סְפִינוֹת חוֹרְקוֹת־שׁוֹרְקוֹת,
גַּלִּים מְשַׁכְשְׁכִים,
רוּחוֹת־הֶפְקֵר נוֹשְׁמִים רֵיחוֹת גָּפְרִית וּמֶלַח
וְסַפָּנִים הוֹמִים, פַּיְטָנֵי־גִּדּוּפִים.
אֵין עֹל־עָבָר, אֵין גְּזֵרַת־יוֹם.
אֵדֵי־עוֹלָם מִטַּשְׁטְשִׁים,
מִתְמַסְמְסִים חַבְלֵי מָקוֹם וּזְמָן.
אֲנִי נֶחֱלָץ.
שְׁחָפִים בִּלְבָבִי.

Ḥaim Lensky: A St. Petersburg White Night (From Hebrew)

Too often it is assumed that modern Hebrew literature is the same thing as Israeli literature. But just as many Israelis write in other languages, such as Arabic and Russian, so too have many Hebrew poets lived outside of Israel. Haim Lensky is one of many Hebrew poets who wrote on Russian soil in the early 20th century. He eventually starved to death in a labor camp for the crime of writing in Hebrew. Here translated is a sonnet about a St. Petersburg white night. 

The Day Descended 
By Ḥaim Lenski
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The day descended the cold steps of stone
To bathe in the Neva, but hardly found
Itself half in before it plunged and drowned.
The furrowing funeral of waves began. 

Complete silence descended in half-darkness 
Again. Then, rounded, gilded and agleam
St. Isaac's dome sank into the blue stream
As if a diving bell dropped by a harness.

The Admiralty like a golden ball
Feels its way through the water- spires and all.
A gurgle. Then the river runs in twilight.  

Then up with the cadaver that they haul
Out, with blue frozen lips and face of white.
They know him, and they call him the white night. 

The Original:

הַיּוֹם יָרַד בְּמַדְרְגוֹת-הָאֶבֶן
אֶל תְּכוֹל מֵימֵי הַיְאוֹר לִפְחֹץ וּבְטֶרֶם
כִּלָּה לִטְבֹּל צָלַל פִּי תְהוֹם. וְתֶלֶם
גַּלִּים עָבַר בְּתַהֲלוּכַת-אֵבֶל. 

יָרְדָה דְמָמָה שְׁלֵמָה וַחֲצִי אֹפֶל,
וַעֲגֻלָּה, מוּפֶזֶת וּמַזְהֶרֶת, 
שָׁקְעָה כִּפַּת אִיסַאֲקִי תּוֹךְ הַזֶּרֶם
כְּפַעֲמוֹן אָמוֹדַאי מְשֻׁלְשַׁל-חֶבֶל. 

וּכְמוֹ כַּדּוּר-זָהָב מְגַשֵּׁשׁ בַּמַּיִם
חֹד גַּג הָאַדְמִירַלְיָה. בַּעְבּוּעַ.
שׁוֹטֵף הַיְאוֹר בְּזֹהַר בֵּין-עַרְבָּיִם. 

הֹעֲלָה הַמֵּת, הִנֵּהוּ הַטָּבוּעַ;
אָרֹךְ, לְבֶן-פָּנִים וּכְחֹל-שׂפָתַיִם. 
׳הַלַּיְלָה הַלָּבָן׳ – כֹּה יִקְרָאוּהוּ. 

Todros Abulafia: Love's Labor Pangs (From Hebrew)

This little poem poem is a subversion of the morning blessing ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני אשה Blessed art Thou Lord our God, King of the Universe, that hast not made me a woman. It is not the only such subversion in medieval Hebrew letters. Qalonymos ben Qalonymos has another, much longer one, in which he too expresses the wish to have been born a woman.

Love's Labor Pangs
Todros Abulafia (13th cent.)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

On an Arab girl whom I'd love to have as a lover, whom I saw with other women kissing one another. 

I've known love's labor pangs, but brought forth naught. 
I'm in the snares of her, an Arab fawn.
My soul so longs for kisses from her mouth
That I long to turn myself into a female
For it is women that she'll woo and kiss
But I am lost. For I was born a male. 

The Original:

באהבה חלתי
טודרוס אבולעפיה
طدروس ابو العافية

על בת ערב ערבה לי אהבתה, ובתוך עלמות ראיתי אותה, משיקות אשה על אחותה.

בָּאַהֲבָה חַלְתִּי וְלֹא יָלַדְתִּי,
וּבְפַח צְבִיָּה בַּת עֲרָב נִלְכַּדְתִּי.
לִנְשֹׁק בְּפִיהָ אִוְּתָה נַפְשִׁי עֲדֵי
לִהְיוֹת נְקֵבָה בַעֲדָהּ חָמַדְתִּי —
כִּי הַנְּקֵבוֹת הִיא מְנַשֶּׁקֶת, וּבִשְׁ־
בִיל שֶׁאֲנִי זָכָר, אֲנִי הִפְסַדְתִּי!

José Martí: Two Countries (From Spanish)

Two Countries
By José Martí
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish

I have two countries: Cuba and the night. 
Or are they one? No sooner does the sun 
withdraw its majesty than, dressed in long  
veils with a carnation in her hand, 
Cuba appears to me a silent widow.  
I know what that bloodstained carnation is 
atremble in her hand. My breast is empty. 
Sundered it is, and empty where the heart 
once was. The hour is already come 
to begin dying. Night is a good time 
to say goodbye. Light is impediment 
as is the human word. The universe  
speaks better than man.  
          Like a flag that calls
to battle on the field, the candle's flame 
flutters ablaze in red. I open windows 
feeling such tightness. Crushing the carnation's 
petals in silence, like a cloud befogging 
the heavens, widow Cuba passes by. 

Random notes on the Spanish:

Un clavel en la mano — echoes the phrase un clavo en la mano "a nail in the hand" and has a slightly ghastly feel to it.  The terms clavel and clavo are in fact related (see here.)

La llama roja / de la vela flamea — a masterful bit of wordplay. vela means three things: "wakefulness," "candle" and "sail." Flamear means both "flare, blaze (of a candle)" and "flutter (of a sail)." Note also that vela is one gender and one vowel away from the velos (veils) in which Cuba is garbed.

The words Cuba, muda, viuda, nube are sonically linked by having the deep /u/ vowel followed by a fricative.

The Original:

Dos Patrias

Dos patrias tengo yo: Cuba y la noche. 
¿O son una las dos? No bien retira 
su majestad el sol, con largos velos 
y un clavel en la mano, silenciosa 
Cuba cual viuda triste me aparece. 
¡Yo sé cuál es ese clavel sangriento 
que en la mano le tiembla! Está vacío 
mi pecho, destrozado está y vacío 
en donde estaba el corazón. Ya es hora 
de empezar a morir. La noche es buena 
para decir adiós. La luz estorba 
y la palabra humana. El universo 
habla mejor que el hombre. 
             Cual bandera
que invita a batallar, la llama roja 
de la vela flamea. Las ventanas 
abro, ya estrecho en mí. Muda, rompiendo 
las hojas del clavel, como una nube 
que enturbia el cielo, Cuba, viuda, pasa... 

Werich & Voskovec: Hey Royal Highness (From Czech)

A song from between the two World Wars, from Werich and Voskovec's Balada z hadrů (Rag Ballad) a theatrical work drawing on the life, times and work of François Villon, but inspired as much as anything by the Great Depression. My translation is free, as is my wont when working with song lyrics. I have deemphasized the medievalism. I have included modernity-specific terms. I have, in fact, turned the song into something a bit different than what it was in Czech.

Leslie Jameson, the donor who requested this, asked that I translate one poem from a language I don't know well. Granted, Czech is quite easy for me to understand in its written form. So here it is.

Hey, Royal Highness
By Jan Werich and Jiří Voskovec
Requested by Leslie Jameson
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
(YouTube link to a cover version of this song)

So here's a topic for you, researchers and scholars
Of the academy: does it say in your books
Why it is just the poor they put in prison-collars,
When rich homes have a wealth of free white collar crooks?

If His Highness knew poor folks' pain, he'd deign
Just once to honestly explain.

Hey, Royal Highness, quit your lounging,
Don rags, come down into our slum,
Learn how we live by drudging, scrounging,
The filth you see will set you howling,
And you won't sleep till Kingdom Come.

And all you sirs of moneyed breeding
Come see us in our neighborhoods.
See what we pay for life you're leading
How misery turns men to thieving
And wolves burst hungry from the woods

You think we're nothing since we're poorer.
You don't yet fear the working class.
But one day you'll be ripped with horror
When this shout shakes your windows' glass:

Hey, fat cats, pigs and portly weasels,
You've had enough. Now pay the bill. 
Yes sirs, you brought about the evil
Misery that makes wolves of people,
And that makes you our juicy kill.

The Original:

Hej Pane Králi
Jan Werich

Bereme na potaz učené bakaláře.
Et item doktory, et item rektory.
Proč jenom chudák trhan patří do žaláře?
Vždyť mezi boháči jsou také potvory!

Kdyby nás chudáky lépe znal pán král,
snad by nám odpověď dal.

Hej, pane králi, nebuď líný,
vem hadry a jdi mezi lid,
poznáš, co je živořit z dřiny,
uvidíš za den tolik špíny,
do smrti nebudeš mít klid.

A vůbec velkomožní páni,
přijďte se na nás podívat,
vy páni, kteří jste tím vinni,
že bída z lidí lotri činí,
že vlky z lesů žene hlad.

Myslete si, že jsme jen lůza,
že se nás nemusíte bát.
Jednou však popadne Vás hrůza,
až pod okny vám budeme řvát.

Hej, křečkové a bařtipáni,
je čas, budeme účtovat,
pánové, sami jste tím vinni,
že bída z lidí vlky činí,
že nás proti vám žene hlad.
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