Archives for posts with tag: translations

I have been translating the prose poetry/symbolic fiction pieces of Avrom Sutzkever, and a new translation of mine, “The Cleaver’s Daughter,” appears today on the Yiddish Book Center’s website. Here’s a taste. Enjoy!

She was my first love, the pockmarked redhead with cute freckles on her pert nose, like a poppy seed topping. I even allowed myself to imagine that she had as many freckles as she was years old, a freckle every year for good luck.

When I made her acquaintance, I counted nine of those presents on her nose. The street where we both grew up panted its way uphill, starting from the Green Bridge over the clay banks of the Vilia, ascending as far as the Sheskin Mountains, where the street became a trail going all the way to Vilkomir. Most kids from my street and even a number of adults called the girl the Cleaver’s Daughter.

Why did she get that name? Why was an orphan labeled that way?

At thirty
Avrom Sutzkever

At thirty my father’s heart gave out
While playing Reb Levi Yitskhok’s melody
On a small fiddle at nightfall –
The fiddle trembled childlike on his shoulder.
And its language, a bright magnet,
Drew the distant world
Into the shadowy hut
Where I, a seven-year-old dreamer,
Wrapped myself around
Fatherly knees.

It was – was – in bright Siberia.
A spot of sun, or the hot tongue
Of the freezing wolf,
Licked the snows on the pane
And couldn’t melt through.
The only light came
From the fragmented sounds
Of the fiddle, sparking in stripes
Against my humid eye.
Suddenly my pale father
Grabbed his heart, jerked, wobbled
With his arm stretched out,
And into my arms his body fell
Together with the fiddle,
As a heavy branch falls
Onto a green wave
And is carried away. . . .

Overhead floated a melody.
Down below, on the floor,
My father’s last breath was failing.
And whether I’m convincing myself it’s true
Or what I say is true:
Lying now eternally joined to a cold silence,
His lips confided in me:
“Thus, my child,
Test the weight of life in your arms
So you become accustomed
To carry it completely, to the end . . .”

Then the poet was born in me.
A kernel slumbered within me
Carrying in its core a certain mission.
I imagined I became the lord
Of forests, people, things.
Whatever I saw
Was my embodied desire.
My father’s last will
Followed me from then on:
“Thus, my child,
Test the weight of life on your arms
So you become accustomed
To carry it completely, to the end . . .”
Now, when I have run up against my father’s age,
Hurried up upon it,
And there’s no way back or forward,
When I notice my face in a mirror,
My distant father
Wells out to me from its waves.
Perhaps I’m him, and my years
Are only a link to his departed life?
The same face as his,
Recollecting snow on windowpanes . . .
The same heart
Which is getting ready to give out,
And just like my father
I also own a little red fiddle:
See, I tear open my veins
And play on them my melody!

But there’s no one here
Whose knees to wrap around,
Weighing out my life,
Dragging on, as with a wind,
My cloud of yearning to a clear destination,
Where all words come to rest,
Where days come together
But never meet.

I clasp in my fist, like a stone,
These thirty years
And hurl them into the cold
Mirror’s chasm.

From Yiddish: Zackary Sholem Berger
[originally published in the journal Passport at the University of Arkansas, which seems to be defunct]

The New York Times recently covered the Yiddishophilia — in recitation and in his own poetic creations — of the contemporary master pianist Evgeny Kissin. The poems he recited, and their translations (by me, among others), are available here. Here is one of them.

A teatr iz di velt (The World’s a Theater)
Translated by Zackary Sholem Berger

The world’s a theater.
God’s director.
A fine play. A pity, though:
The prompter is the Devil.

The booth is the black heart.
The Devil forges the play!
And if you recite the wrong thing
You can’t take it back!

Of course, you can’t be careful enough.
And can’t make a fuss.
The play is fantastic.
The mistakes – genius!

The actor stumbles too.
When he’s supposed
to hurl the cup away,
he brings it to his mouth!

The wine drops glow like flames.
He empties the glass.
There’s no hurrying the thunder.
God’s patience is great.

“A half moon in black, rimmed in gold.”

An exciting day – In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies is live! Among the first batch of content is my translation of Avrom Sutzkever’s “A Funeral in the Rain,” one of his prose poems (it’s the length of a short story) from the volume “Green Aquarium.” If you don’t know Sutzkever, or know him only as a lyricist, please take a look and let me know what you think.

The seventh window

“The seventh window. Six. Seven. You need to knock seven times to get to Sister Ursula.” Photo credit: Madeleine Cohen.

Best of success to these hardworking academics who are so generous, helpful, and welcoming to literary layfolk. And may Yiddish writing of today find a place in their orrery.

When I was a child I had a strange dream: I was a shipbuilder in the time of the Crusaders. I could actually smell the sea smell, the strong odor of the algae and salt, the scent of the tree I was holding. The ship towered above me into the sky, steel-colored. I was not a boy in the dream, but a man, but my eyes were those of the boy I was then and they were captured by the transformations of the sky’s waves and the ripples that traced the quick screaming seagulls among the bare masts stripped of their sails. When I woke up I could still feel the touch of the wet wood on the palms of my hands and when I brought them to my nose they emitted the scent of the dream.

–from “From the River’s Two Banks: Fragmented Conversation”, from Lyor Shternberg’s Evening Rituals, translation from Hebrew by ZShB

From disintegrated clay nests, from barred windows and contorted doors, burning leaves of holy books gravitate to the sunset—children with their arms stretched out—as if the sun had given birth to them in the synagogue square and they’re fluttering back to their mother. […]

I’m thrilled to be a part of the newest issue of the translation journal Asymptote! Or rather – a vessel to channel Sutzkever. Check out all the other amazing content, especially the Chinese poetry.

1.  I wrote a poem for Sam Zerin and Rachel Dudley, good folks who supported my book, and that poem got set to music by Caitie Daphtary. Then it got performed at their wedding by Dudley herself, and the whole – music, lyrics, performance recording – was published at qarrtsiluni. Transmigrations of a melody, indeed. 

2. A selection of Yiddish literature (including a poem of mine) was translated into German by Thomas Soxberger for the Austrian journal Lichtungen. No on-line excerpt available, unfortunately, but I will see about posting one. (Perhaps though you prefer translations into Russian or French.)