Posts Tagged 'yiddish'

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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American Yiddish Poetry

yiddish workmen's circleBefore we proceed with publishing our original verse, we’d like like to take a minute to plug one of American poetry’s lesser known schools: its Yiddish poets. A major volume, American Yiddish Poetry, edited by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav, has been republished recently by Stanford University Press. This is one of two important anthologies representing what has been called “probably the most coherent segment of twentieth-century American literature not written in English.”  The other, regrettably out of print, is called The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse. Here is an article by Harold Bloom that evaluates the achievements of both. Below is a sample poem (alas, from the Penguin volume) to whet your appetite.

Epilogue

Because the papers meanly ignore me—
They think my luncheon menu’s not fit to print—
Small wonder girls don’t give me a tumble
And day by day my stock goes down.

And every day my debts get higher.
Vainly my ten fingers stretch out for patrons.
It’s lucky Martel’s isn’t beyond my reach
And coffee—black—is still a nickel.

If coffee goes up, I’ll go and hang myself,
And how many poets are as classy as me?
But while the coffee’s cheap, my marvelous songs
Will bring happiness to our people and our tongue.

Zishe Landau, translated by Irving Feldman


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."

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