Glatshteyn’s God

by ben shahn 

Prayer

The inmost sense
of my sublimest words
turns my prayer imbecile.
Exalting You makes incense fill
the air with redolence
of idols.
I pray from a tongue-tied page
my woebegone God.

The least little flower
rejoices You more
than all six days
of Creation.
Evil’s inertia
brings You small care.
You lend us years
by the thousands,
then hide Your face.
The walls of our houses
drool gibberish.

We have yet to learn
the ABCs
of holiness.
How many myriad lives must we seize
before our thoughts can earn
even the footstool of Your favor.
I pray from a tongue-tied page
my woebegone God.

You do not terrify,
You have no malice.
Still You keep Your distance from us
who live in the profanation
of every moment.
The flash of eternity
in our nostrils
assures our ruin.
I pray from a tongue-tied page
my woebegone God.

Jacob Glatshteyn

Translated by Cynthia Ozick, from the Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse.

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2 Responses to “Glatshteyn’s God”


  1. 1 MARTHA December 19, 2007 at 8:50 am

    amazing, delicate, corageous

  2. 2 uspoetsabroad December 19, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Yeah, Glatstein was the real thing! Ozick is also a gutsy, if sometimes knotty, translator.


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Contrasting Views

"Literalism is a feature of boorish translators." Cicero "The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase." Nabokov

The Faerie Queene

"John Ashbery said reading the Faerie Queene was like reading an endless beautiful comic strip." Kenneth Koch

Sigmund Freud

"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."

a

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