Anent the Man of the Stars
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[original Hebrew composed in 1934, after the death of Hayim Nachman Bialik. English translation by the author at a later date. Published in Anthology of Modern Hebrew Poetry, Ed. Penueli and Ukhmani, published by the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature and the Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem, 1966. ]
As of old, the Sea with unceasing roar rolls
its blue hillocks,
Heaving and shattering them against the shore
in turbulent hem of foam,
And the bougainvillea blossoms cling dusty purple unto
the houses of the youngling city
And carob and sycamore survivals, bowed with age,
splotch the gleaming sands;
The morning Sun washes crystalline the cubes
of the workers’ quarter in the north,
And Jaffa’s elbow, red-sprinkl’d, juts out into the water
where near the painted vessels ride;
And clear, clear is the skybell conching all.
But in the very white of daylight a weird dunness falls,
For plugg’d is a man’s heart,
Stricken one precious of mankind,
A man – heart of a Nation named heart,
A lov’d one and brother and father,
Unto me and unto ye a father,
An envoy of the Stars who walked about among us,
Cloth’d in his grey cloak, bearing his crook-headed cane,
His eyes forth-welling amberlight and lovingness,
His sorrow-wrinkles kindling in smiles,
One good, good-doing, loyal,
By his mouth’s grace vivifying the wisdom of generations
And on his shoulders the burdens of generations lading,
One awake, asinging, vibrant, luminous,
And lo! he was eras’d and reft,
And the cycle of days revolves and runs without him.
Very lonely was he
Though his flesh was bathed in your odour
And his affection confiscate to all in need.
Bury him in his loneliness atop a mountain
In sight of the mass’d people standing below,
And let the morning-star beam on him
And morning-birds sing above him in boughs of
cypress and pine, guarding his headboard.
Lay no flowers on his casket,
Neither flag nor prayer-shawl –
Simple was the man,
Far from vacuous ornament and the trappings of piety,
And in his simpleness
Lower him into the soil he loved.
And it came to pass, no sooner did his body-remains reach the gate
of the Jewish city
When amid sweat and crowding and noise
He was brought unto a close-press’d community grave.
Rapped the clods six dull thuds on the casket,
And instead of the warm flesh,
lavish of mercies, emanative of understanding,
Remained for the eye a patch of red dust
Saturate with a broken widow’s tear.
Weightier her tear than all our summed tears!
For, while we as despoilers came
To take – one a breath of love, one a crumb of learning,
Another a hand-strengthening word,
And still another, delusive self-honouring,
She cleaved unto the creature-life of him.
Guarded and defended and maintained,
Overtented him from youth till old age,
And of a sudden he was snatched from her,
And shatter’d, pulveriz’d is her world.
In the deep of night,
When city-noise is hush’d
And starlight waxes strong,
And the echo of my measur’d footstep is heard
against the muffl’d moan of the sea,
I invoked within my soul the square of red dust,
Bent unto it an inner ear,
And lo! silence there, not a hint, not a spark
from the casket hidden underneath.
Is this the all of the man, a little ash, a little rot?
And what to him is all the depth quarried in his works,
And what the beauty which had crown’d his thoughts,
And what to him all the praise and the lament
accorded him after his passing?
And behold! I sensed the patch of dust expanding,
Blending with the entire ball of Earth,
And Earth sang and danced beneath me.
Marvelled the Stars,
And in language of tremblings and emotions
Which aye stretch from body unto body
and conjoin worlds
(For only to our senses, lovers of the
solid and what may be grasp’d in hand,
Is there sunderance between thing and thing),
The stars said to her:
“What is the joy, O Earth,
And why this day of all days dost dedicate a dance?”
And Earth to them made answer:
“From me came forth, in me did live,
And unto me today returned
A man of wonders, a kenner of me and ye,
A breather of my grasses and my rains,
A hearkener unto the prayer of my birds,
One who my life by his life did augment.
Like an artist, rejoicing over a chapter completed in purity,
So do I rejoice.
For each man and folkstem, and mankind entire, and every
family of animal and plant,
Are a chapter in my interfolding scrolls,
A swirl, a flow, in the sea of my life,
For a while welling out of me
And in me re-swallow’d,
And each change and tremor passing them,
Not in barrenness doth pass
But cometh to enhance my soul, and all of us to glorify.
Seek ye among the planet-bands
If ever was one like to him,
A supernal rose of intellect
Blooming and shining before your eyes –
His thought embraced eternities;
Concentrated in his brain,
Time, Space and Nature about their own being wondered,
Their own beauty relished.
At one he was with creeping thing and
bud of grass,
With sea-compelling mood and
silent song of stars –
Genius I gloried in,
First fruitage of my wombing.
No Firstborn but is a sacrifice,
Slaughtered daily at rise and at set,
Lash’d by lightning-pains to go forth and shine,
Though ruin’d be his temples,
Though he sorely tired be.
And he with joy did bear his fire and wood,
With love did give his whole self
to engender and to nourish,
Co-agent in our cryptic tasks.
Sing ye now with me together,
Approve his beingness,
Praise ye his birth and his death
For one moment are these,
One decree and one necessity
in the heart of Existence.
And thou, Nation scatter’d throughout all my climes –
for carv’d he was of thee
and thy longings he spake forth,
By his merit be thou enmerited,
Gather him into the treasury
of thy visionaries great,
from thousand generations unto thousand generations;
And chant for him a chant of
thanksgiving and exaltedness,
A labour-chant, a psalm of betrothal unto thy Chosen Soil,
A hymn of behusbanding the Land, and its pregnancy,
And fruit of splendrous futurities,
To slake the anguish of man, and my yearning innernesses,
and the thirst of the Stars in their multitude.”
A large bat in wide sweeps
wheeled on the outskirts of a streetlamp glow,
And a cricket strummed his thin fiddle
against the growing tumult of the Sea.
The Nation has its comfortings,
But for me, for ye – the lack and the grief.
Vast is my longing for you, Bialik!
Not again shall I see you walk in the street,
your hand in blessing on a stripling’s shoulder
and your talk sweet in his ears;
Not again shall I see you at evenfall, in shadow, silent,
Embroidering a veiled thought, gazing through
your window at the hills in Ramat Gan;
Not again to my sight will you thrust your nose into a book,
hungrily cropping its yield;
Not again shall I behold your face at a colleagues’ meet
on a drizzly day, drab in your overcoat, your lips
slightly open in wonderment, and the grooves of
your forehead – lovable.
Too frail am I to bear even a flimsy portion
of your burden,
Too slight am I to onward-spin the thread of
Israel’s Shekhinah-life, upheld
and procreated by your song.
A sawn-off sycamore branch, storm-stricken and ragged,
cast upon the sands,
Let the Sea take me where it will.
On an alien shore
Some few nights will I shine in my decay,
Until the merciful mud shall cover me.
But, through Genesis-layers, and lavas which
remember Sun’s birth,
Through river-veins hidden under mountain-roots,
Shall pass a shiver and a thrill,
Shall run a throbbing between the ash of my body
and the dust of your body,
(For that my lips in faith had touched your hand);
And in the august logic of the Earth
and the rhythm-reckoning of the Stars,
Beyond all my squalor,
I shall know your light as one of your sons
© All rights reserved. Published by kind permission of copyright owners.