Tomorrow evening we will gather to read poetry in Yiddish and English. On a date now often used to mark the judicial murder of leading Soviet Yiddish literary figures, we will take a different tack, and celebrate the riches of Yiddish poetry. Living well is the best revenge. The poem I will read is H. Leivick’s A Blat Oyf a Boym.
I’ve been mostly silent this summer. Moving (from Rochester to Ithaca) has consumed me. I’m almost completely packed, and over half moved. I will be hogging the stage a little tomorrow in order to take the opportunity to thank the JCC, the Yiddish learning community, and my friends. I already got a great send-off at the end of semester party last spring, but can’t resist the chance to offer my take on our peer learning experience, out of which this poetry evening sprang.
Unfortunately, all my papers from that poetry reading we did are packed up. So I retranslated the Leivick poem. If there are mistakes, it’s because I don’t have the benefit of my notes from our group discussion of it. But it was fun to try.
In planning the event, I learned there are at least some real Yiddish speakers who are just too intimidated to cope with the Hebrew/Yiddish letters. I had someone offer to help out, but only if I could give her poems with transliteration. We ended up enlisting readers who had been closer to the ongoing project, but she reminded me of how many people can, at least for now, only really get the sound in their heads through that route. So I’m including a transliterated version here also, though I am very uneven at transliterating. Feel free to send me corrections.
Word-processing in Yiddish on this blog platform is still frustrating to me, so I’ve taken screen pictures of the pdf file of a scan of the poem. Naturally, there’s a little distortion (the first word should be ‘dos’, the daled having deteriorated) but I think it’s readable. You should be able to click each paragraph for the large-print version.
Dos ovnt-gold lesht oys zayn shimer
In bloylekhn nakht-horizont.
Ikh gib nor eyn shpan fun mayn tsimer
Un s’heybt mayn farvandlung zikh on.
Mit shotns oyf shotns ikh kleter
Aroyf oyf a tsvayg fun a boym;
Kh’blayb hengen – a blat tsvishn bleter
In loyter-geleytertn roym.
Ikh velger zikh oys in a dinkayt
Ikh vaks in a tsvayg zikh arayn,–
Mit kiler fartunkelter grinkayt
Gevent tsu levoniker shayn.
Ikh heng tsvishn toyznter bleter
In shutfeser, ritmisher rey
Biz tif in der nakht in der shpeter,
Un flater ineynem mit zey.
Ikh heng un ikh her nisht oyf trinken
Fun tifn ur-shtamikn kvel,
Biz vanen es heybt on tsu vinken
Der ershter fartogiker shtral.
Der shtral, ven er tsindt zikh funander
Dervist mikh an andern shoyn:
Ikh shpan in zigzagikn vander
Tsurik iber zamd, iber shteyn.
Ikh vogl durkh togike sho’en
Krikh durkh zeyer felzikayt koym,–
A nes vos ikh kon zey bayo’en
Mit gnod fun a blat oyf a boym.
A Leaf on a Tree
The evening’s gold quenches its glow
In the night-horizon of blueness
I take just one stride from my room
And my wandering commences.
With shadows on shadows I scramble
Up onto a branch of a tree
I stay hanging – a leaf among leaves
In the space of a lovely clear sky
I roll myself out into thinness
I grow myself into a branch
With cool, darknening greenness
Turned towards the shine of the moon
I hang among thousands of leaves
In communal and rhythmical rows
And flutter together with them,
Until deep in the late nighttime hours.
I hang and I don’t leave off drinking
From deep wells of the ancient source
Until the first flickering beam
Of morning begins to beckon.
That beam which reveals I am different
when it lights one up from another:
In a zigzagging wandering stride
I head back over sand, over stones.
Like a vagabond, barely crawling
Through the rocky hours of the day,–
A miracle, I can say yes to them
By the grace of a leaf on a tree.