Two Swans and a River
by Abraham Regelson
תרגום המחבר לשירו העברי "שני ברבורים ונהר"
© כל הזכויות שמורות. החומר מובא ברשות בעלי הזכויות.
In a hired loam hovel between Naas and Edenderry,
A drab abode, thatch cover above, and peeling whitewash within,
Yeats, the crown of Anglo-Irish poetry,
Rested on his couch at night. Springtime the days,
And in that green region in the vicinity of Liffey the River,
From Moon’s birth till her last conch-edge,
There he made it his task daily to roam in villages and pasture fields
And from the prattle of simple folk and aged women of wisdom not from books
To glean wonders and omens: about the Sheehy –
These in mist-robes float and wheel round mountain tops,
Endless their years and fadeless their beauty – and a foundling girl-child
Of loveliness unmatched by graces granted to mortal daughters
Assuredly is seed of their planting, and sealed in her lot is great slaughter among menfolk; about the Fairies
Their lives all song and dance and dream, and a youngling who strays after them
Is captured in their world forever – or for seven years; about the Souls of the Dead,
Like their garb in life is their raiment in death, and execration it were
To resew and abbreviate the skirt of a departed crone
For a little one of her granddaughters, lest the exposed shanks
Of that grandma be scorched by flames from Hell; about the Gleemen,
Chasers after poesy, strong drink and fantasies,
Contemptuous they of the yoke of common life –
And what is their punishment? They are reincarnated in the image of apes,
And instead of bread, it is moonstone, beryl and nacre beads
They get for their teeth’s grinding.
Aslumber and not aslumber the Poet lay,
And in a dream-tinged haze, lo! He is sitting in a castle hall,
His heritance from generations of noblemen, and he had long since cleared therefrom
Musty portraits of knights and admirals, and adorned
Wall and shelf with fine works of his desire. Now he gazed
At the Virgin Mother by Crivelli, in her hand a rose
So fragile and spiritual – more like a thought than like a flower it seemed. His eyes fondled
Statuettes of wrought silver: Hermes in midflight on sandal-wings; Zeus
With curly locks on glory-brow; Athené, spear in hand; Demeter,
Wheat-ear wreath her ornament. And his spirit butted
Into favorite books, in precious skins bound and wrapt:
Dante in red, like his wrath; Shakespeare tomes in gay orange, and their innerness –
Human passions grandly ranging; Milton
Serious-sublime in azure striped with gray.
And he bless’d himself within his soul, saying: “How my fate
That Grecian Gods are my delight, yet I owe them no sacrificial rites;
That the curches of Rome and Byzantium yield me beauteous things,
But far from me are the terrors and fanaticism of the Cross-enslav’d.
All the Gods are my joy, for there is no God I serve.
Polished is my soul like a steel mirror, sensitive
To every fervor, yearning and anxiety, she receiving and reflecting them
But herself remaining ever whole, calm, apart,
Impervious to scratch of anger, never tarnished by brute desire.
These large peacocks in my ample door-curtains, gorgeous birds of Hera,
Blue and flamegold their embroidery – are they not
The guardians of my selfhood gates, eloquently proclaiming:
‘Naught shall enter here whose beauty is less than ours!’”…
Awake and not awake, and wonderment enwraps him: “Surely, here in this hall
Times innumerable did I linger and reside,
And ever that same thought-sequence frequented my mind!
Is it a circling dream that haunts me
Or wide awake do I perceive and thus muse?
Whether waking or dreaming, more than once I sensed and ‘twas whispered to me:
In a Nature behind Nature, a Mystery beyond Mystery,
A certain Cherub voiced an alien theme, departing from the chant allotted him
In the praise-hymning of all the Creations. Straightway
He was ousted from his phalanx among the choir hosts of the Heavens,
Doomed thenceforth to be a lone wanderer in the Spheres. And whatever band of Shining Ones
He chances to meet in his exile-paths, before them he is constrained to tune
That one rejected theme; and wheresoever he betakes himself,
His sole companion is his wretched harp under his wing,
The theme – that’s the course of all my life’s happenings and emotional tremors,
Which runs its destined round, quits and vanishes,
Then again wells forth from its beginnings and bubbles and rushes to its demise;
The harp – that’s th’erratic pen which accompanies my fateful journey
With its thrumm’d syllables. As one beholds an incident in a dream
And is reminded of an episode in a romance, so I now remember:
When last I sat in this mansion, Michael Robartes, my fellow-rambler in our youthful days,
Of a sudden appeared before me.
Nor heavy double doors nor ban of peacock beauty
Stayed his entrance. Gums from the Orient he burned, and in the cloud of incense fragrance
Dimm’d were the candelabra lamps above, the burnished peacocks
Faded into bluish flame-tonguelets, dartling golden sparks.
Amid the vaporous blur, the voice of Robartes moved mellifluous
With incessant speech. Out of his word-shower
Vividly arose and passed before me the dread Deities
Of Mitzrayim, Kush and Ashur; The Monstrosities of Babel; Yahaveh,
The Mighty One of Israel’s childhood, He who rode on the wing of a whirlwind
And stood on a smoking mountain to carve a Law for his people; and lo!
Here are the Exalted and the Beautiful of Olympus, wrought of Nature and Passion,
Filing by me. And who are these? Vishnu, Shiva, the terrible Kali,
And Brahma the Mysterious – they within him are womb’d and He, within them dwells,
He sends forth his breath – and worlds fly off from him,
He inhales – and worlds are swllowed up in him.
Nor did my friend deny Miriam and her Son, the begotten in a cow-barn under a star:
He assigned them a place in the procession of the living Pantheon.
And unto these he added eternal Figures, revealed of old to loftiest bards:
Helena, Beatrice, Faustus, Hamlet, Lear… ‘These, too, (quoth Robartes)
Are of the true Gods, by the smile of whose lips, the frown of whose foreheads.
Human souls, as though moon-stricken, tread their ways, nations make policy,
In vain sharpwits averred their non-existence and poets bewept their decline…
Know, a school of Chosen Ones there is – in secret groups in world-cities they hold conclave. These
In rites of dance and song, in soul-exercises pure and daring,
From their human bounds are redeemed. While yet in this mouldering life
They abide in the Secrecy of the Gods. And thou, my worthy, (quoth the speaker to me)
Thee we have found fit to enter the covenant of the Gods’ initiates. Come thou with me;
Into their fellowship will I induct thee. Grandeurs
Now fleetingly to thy sight unveil’d,
As enduring Presences in thy soul will reside, and thine eyes of flesh
Shall become windows giving upon Mysteries supernal.’
I being whelm’d with incense fumes, nectareous words and shock of visions,
Robartes captivated me and I was caught, persuaded me and I was won.
But that I pitied the purity of my unfleck’d selfhood, and with supreme effort
I broke the bewitchment that bound me, and stood lone, apart, inviolate.
This was felt by Michael Robartes, and the Gods of this adoration,
As though stricken by the frost of my unbelief,
In a moment shrivelled to nothingness. The incense smoke subsided
And faded out. The lamps revived and flared with clear shine. The curtain peacocks
Winning back their prime, scintillated copperbright and blue
And the emeralds of their tails flashed.
Ere yet the last mist-fronds dispersed and their perfume utterly fled,
Robartes vanished even as he had appeared.
Thus it befell me then. And here once more I find me in this hall
Among my precious possessions, and the peacocks guarding my thresholds.
What is now in store for me? Will this hour
Again thrust upon me Robartes to try my soul with incense of spices,
Or mayhap a new confrontation this time awaits me?”
He in his night revery thus muses, when suddenly
Sans noise, sans rustle, off came the hall ceiling,
Together concavity and candelabra. Seemingly, also the castle roof
With its pointed turrets was utterly erased.
And the man found himself girt in darkness, exposed to a night vault
Dotted and spattered with numberless light-scrabblings,
A plentitude of constellations and starlets. Among their host he discerned
Cassiopeia to the right of the Pole Star with the Little Wain at its head,
Eastward – the twisting Dragon, and there long-neck’d Cameleopard
Spreads his legs; beneath Leo and Scorpion
Hydra the Sea-Serpent undulates, and here are the Pleiades and the Whale,
The Lyre, the Raven, the cuplike Crater –
Scattered brilliances, companies of glitter, also solitary ones
Torch-flaming in red and in aquamarine aflicker,
Some familiar but their names forgot, others new to his eyes as though freshly spawned.
And midhigh in the heavens the Milky Way, throbbing and frothing,
Girds them all from North’s end to South’s margin.
Into the gazer’s contemplation darted a saying of Basilus Valentinus:
“The blaze of Doomsday is most like unto an alchemist’s flame.
Truly, the entire Universe resembles an alchemic furnace:
Everything is bound to dissolve until the Divine Substance,
Be it material gold or be it spiritual ecstasy, emerge purified.”
Then the inner light which is behind the gazer’s eyes
Embraced the swarms of light-crystals on high, and his soul queried:
“Are not these tiny brightnesses
Innumerable, smelt-furnaces of celestial alchemists
Who labor unceasingly to convert lead into gold,
Bodies into souls, weariness into flame of sacred rapture?” –
And against the pure exertion of the heavenly bodies
He weighed the unworthiness of his own life, reckoned the sum of his endeavors:
“True, unencumbered I was with men’s common burdens, abstinent from uncouth cravings;
In sweets of song, broidered loveliness and carven ornaments
My soul luxuriated. But the supreme transport,
The upflaring of the spirit even unto absorption in the Divine Radiance,
This was withholden from me, I knew it not…”
And a grievous “Woe!” broke forth from his heart.
At his own anguish’d outcry he awoke, and behold!
No Upper Deep breeding legions of tremulous lights,
No nobleman’s hall and peacocks splendor-fraught –
Only the mean inside of a poor hovel, and he, its tenant
Limb-weary from pressure of a rough rug on a crippled bedstead;
And indoors night darkness with pre-dawn paleness is interfused.
The poet arose, wiped down-creeping tears of mist from the windowpane,
And peered outside: a sea of fog, in hue like muddy milk,
Melts all existence into formlessness. He stared, he looked, he harked:
Will not the morning conceive a breeze to furrow the mass of fog,
And will not a cock’s crow clarion from afar?
A marvel! There, silhouetted within the thick mist,
Looms a ghostly likeness, coming ever nearer, growing bigger and bigger,
Till it shapes itself into a dark gigantic beast,
A horse-body wherefrom, instead of neck-bow and head-oval,
Rises the half of a human figure from the hips up... A Centaur!
But no! It must be that the mist-chaos had deluded him,
For see! With a mighty leap man is parted from horse,
And the horse – a steed, the man – a stalwart.
Twin knocks at the door, removal of a doorbar within,
And Yeats recognized Gogarty, his brother in striving for the uplift of Eire’s horn
And his pupil in poetic craft.
Over brew’d tea and broken bread, Gogarty unrolled
What moved him to arouse the dawn at his friend’s door. And thus his tale:
“Three years ago when the Royal Army unleashed a chase and raid
To crush the ardent and active for Eire’s freedom,
I found a hideout in a deserted shepherd’s lodge on a bank of the River Liffey.
Be it remember’d that that year’s winter lasted beyond its wont
And only in the sign of Gemini did the river-binding ice unfreeze;
And melting snows from all sides sent freshets and rivulets into the Liffey,
And the river swelled, waxed mighty and rushed in rage.
The lodge in which I sought shelter was merely a box of wooden boards
And ‘twas tipped to one side, being underburrow’d by the rising current.
There I meant to stay till from the Underground staff
I’ll be signalled: ‘Danger is past.’ Night advanced and between me and disaster
Stands only a thin wooden door, braced by a rusty key in a rusty lock.
And suddenly – a beating of a rifle butt from without and a command:
‘In the name of the King, open! And come out
With hands high up. Your box is surrounded on three sides.
Linger in it, and it together with you will be burnt down,
And if weapon’d you appear, that moment your body is a sieve!…’
Whence will come my help? I did not think – I acted.
In the river-facing wall of the lodge was a cobweb-draped transom.
With hands and nails I tore out the transom with its wooden frame,
And crawlingly, shoulders cramped and sides lacerated, I forced my body
Through the transom space, and splash! into the raging river…
For a moment my senses went dark. I awoke and there I was, clutch’d
In the press of icy waters and their roar, my teeth chattering, all my body –
Stabs of cold, and the tyrannical current carrying me like a chip of wood
Wherever it wills. And fire-streaks buzz above my head,
Bounce all around me, and hiss into the water and perish. For the King’s hunters,
Aware of their quarry’s escape, accompanied me with a hail of shots.
In my distress, a hankering for prayer beswept me. The heavens are far, and I am in the grip of the torrent.
So, voiceless, I implored the river: ‘Father Liffey,
If thou wilt bring me in safety to the farther shore,
Then, what time the light of freedom beams upon my Country,
I will surely remember thee, and on a springtime morning
I will visit thee with favor of a swan-pair of purest white,
A glory on thy waters.’ To conclude the saga:
The waters cast me up on the yonder shore of the river,
A goodly distance from where they at first received me; and a tent-camp of tinkers
At their bonfire, by chafing my limbs with cold and with hot and by ministry of strong drink,
Revived my soul. Now that the yoke is broken from off Eire’s neck,
(Though as yet uncompleted is the labor of freedom), I am come to honor my vow to the river,
And I shall deem it a kindness, my superior, if you will accompany me on this pious errand
And be witness that what my soul uttered in her dire need, I perform in my wellbeing.”
Together the two friends wended their way to the River Liffey,
Yeats afoot in boots and Gogarty aloft on his horse, with the swans – a male and his mate –
In a wicker cage behind the saddle.
Dark-red the horse’s back, and the redness as it descends on the sleek flanks
Gradually changes to fawn, to light yellow, till the belly beneath
Is all of a paleness. And he, an animal clever,
Paces slowly, now and then turning his head to peer
Lest with his sheer bulk he unwittingly buffet his master’s friend.
Warmth of a newborn morning caused the fog to lift.
Already the horse and the man walking beside him
Are in clear air, while the head of the rider
Is still swathed in wavily drifiting vapors.
Soft grass-hairs carpet the meadow-plain,
And the earth, rain-soaked and pitted with many a hidden puddle,
With sucking squelch sends up water into holes, glyph’d
By tread of boot and sinking hoof.
Gogarty, from his exalted seat, opened speech:
“A horse is the life of every true Irishman, and you,
Singer of our Land’s very soul, abstain from horsemanship.
Truth of Faith it is: Had our chief Poet mastered riding skill,
He would have enriched the Kingdom of Poesy with rhythmic modes
Unknown of yore, birthlings of gallop, canter, curvet, leap,
Dash, prance, caper… For your neglect of drill in this art
You will be called to account before the God of Chants.”
Rejoined Yeats: “I could have put you off with tale of a dream.
Out of the twilight of a nap, Pegasos appeared before me and beswore me with strict ban:
‘Never with earthly horses shalt thou have ado, though they dazzle like lightning in races.
Though hot their nostrils puff steam with lust of battle…
Only between my chaste wings shalt thou journey and thou wilt soar unto realms cerulean, serene,
And against all Chimeras wilt prevail…’
But, my brother, your logic is self-defeating. You set
Possession ahead of possessor, creature prior to creator.
Whence did Horse derive his prancing and all his motions of grace?
Is it not from Man who tamed him, trained him
And he who commands a horse that he gallop, dash or halt,
Has the power (if he be so gifted from the womb and by toil dedicated)
To command a rhyme that it gallop, a line that it frisk, a verse that it run wildly or gently pace.”
Here ended the chat of rider and walker; for meanwhile the fog-canopy above was frayed and torn,
And through its rents rays of the morning sun broke through in shape of slanting cylinders of light
And fans of radiance widening earthward.
And from a nearby wood to the south gushed forth a burst of song,
The welcome of a many-winged choir to daybreak, and on the friends was poured out
A rain of metallic clinks, a shower of myriad titters and cymbal tinklings,
Mingled with the jubilation of tiny flute-throats,
An anarchic order and harmonious confusion of voices of thrush, swift, redbreast,
Blackcap, linnet and chiffchaff, a cuckoo’s call
At moments interweaving with them, now from here, now from there, while a travelling swampfowl
Leaves behind him a wailful warble ending in a triumphant screech.
On the marge of Liffey the River a low hill rounded itself
And upon it upsprang early flowers frail: daffodil, athanasia, daisy and pansy,
Their little heads trembling and flittering with every passing breeze.
By that hill Gogarty dismounted, bearing the swans’ cage on his arm,
And his steed he sent off to feed among the grasses till he be wanted.
The two friends unshoed themselves, and barefoot stood on a strand
Where ripples of shallow water lapped their soles.
And Gogarty unto the river intoned a verse:
These creatures, calm and fair, approve and claim
And upon thy clearest waters let them sail:
The one a Princess, right lovely and of noblest fame,
To this shape changed by wizard’s spell.
And her mate, this Swan of august might,
His feather boasts a more than royal stem;
His raiment – a kirtle whiter than white, –
In peace and perfection keep thou them!
Glorious like that sublime Bird, down flown from on high,
For love of Leda sore distraught,
And she, wonderstruck, bared to him breast and thigh,
And twin heroes she bore and begat.
A pink earthworm feeling her way in the dark,
Propelling through her pipe of rings soil-granules
Wherefrom she extracts her minim nourishment,
Meanwhile anointing them with sap of her own body, does she conceive
What share – by perforation and enrichment of clods –
She bears in the Design of rearing lordly forests
And dowering acres with fat yields of grain?
A gold-babonag floweret among his brothers on his stalk by a forsaken fence,
This meek Sun worshipper who molds his form in the image of his God.
Knows he what his guerdon is to the Luminary he adores
And thereby to the entire starry whirlpool? Be it believed
(Though the thumb of Science as yet is too gross to probe this) that every sunray
Visiting the tiniest of flowers is spun double-stranded,
One strand running to the flower to give it life and with color-joy to crown it,
The other strand returning to the Sun laden with the blessing of the elfin radiant one
To his great Benefactor.
Even so as a human soul kens not how – with all the turmoil of her passions,
Her high flights of learning, her torments and her battles – she is broidered
Into the ineffable weavement of Universes,
Nor what her mission is in the eternal genesis of Yah-Nature. None the less, it haps
That the Archangelic Music that ever sings itself in the heights of the human soul
And the Spirituality that animates each stir and weft in the cosmic arrays
Leap towards each other, meet in a mutual kiss
And as one stream flow in the plentitude of Divine Effulgence.
Then the cut-off soul, confined in the gaol of her own boundaries, catches
An inkling of the all-embracing Harmony, and it is confided to her
That, for all her flimsiness, she is a cherish’d strain in a vast creative adventure,
A rainbow filament in the becoming of all that be.
Gogarty honored his teacher-friend with opening of the cage.
Liberated, the pair of swans with a beating of wings leaped into the river.
The male uplifted a proud throat and sounded a great trumpet-note for their freedom,
And the couple promptly with web-legs oared into the heart of the lucid waters,
Turning their faces upstream. –
The mist melted spoorlessly away.
A pristine Sun rose above purple eastern hems
And grasses on the ground sparkled with myriadfold gems.
A fresh-water smell fondled fragrances of flower and green herb
And the soughing of the placid stream as it shuffled against its shores
Blended with the birds’ singing, now softened and sweetened,
Since they had concluded their morning Praise and turned to provision for their nests.
The wings of the swans with gold sundust were bestrewn
And their forms as they swam were doubled face up in the water-mirror.
Then the friends knew that Father Liffey welcomed the vow-offering and bless’d it,
And their souls in unison with the souls of companies of God-wrought beings, each in her native utterance,
 A wildflower of the chamomile kith.
The above poem was conceived and composed in Hebrew. It is to be regarded as a fantasy based upon a factual event. The event is summarized in a footnote to a twelve-line rhyme by Oliver St. John Gogarty, “To the Liffey with the Swans”, as follows: “The poet, imprisoned in a deserted house on the edge of the Liffey, escaped from his enemies by plunging into the water. As he swam the stream he promised it, in return for safe passage, two swans. Later, in the presence of W.B. Yeats, he fulfilled his vow.” (--An anthology of Irish Literature, Modern Library, New York.)
Readers familiar with Yeats’ writings will recognize certain themes and phrases fulled from his “Mythologies”, and, freely handled, built into the fabric of my poem. Gogarty’s rhyme, set in the dramatic moment of liberating the swans, here appears not as he wrote it but as Englished from its Hebrew form.
The argument between the two friends, during their jaunt to the Liffey, concerning the possible effect of horse-riding on poetic rhythms, echoes a memoir of the incident (presumably by Yeats himself) which I had read nigh fifty years ago and could not now locate. Vaguely my memory retained Gogarty’s contention; Yeats’ rejoinder completely escaped me, so I replaced it with an invention of my own.
This English translation is dedicated to the Abbey Theatre people and the Irish Friends of Israel, who evinced interest in my poem after Mr. Moshe Shamir had brought it to their attention in the course of a lecture he gave in Dublin.
השיר הנ"ל -- הריונו וחיבורו בלשון העברית. יש לסכותו כפנטסיה. יסודתה בעובדה שהיתה. אותה עובדה מסוכמת בהערת-שוליים לחרוז בן י"ב שורות "אל הליפי עם הברבורים", מאת אוליבר סט. ג'ון גוגרטי, לאמור: "המשורר, שהיה חבוש בבית עזוב על שפת הליפי, נמלט מאויביו על-ידי הטילו עצמו אל מימי הנהר. אגב שהותו הבטיח לנהר, תמורת מעבר בשלום, שני ברבורים. לאחר ימים, בנוכחות ו. ב. ייטס, קיים את נדרו". (אנתולוגיה לספרות אירית, מודרן לייבררי, ניו יורק).
קוראים המצויים אצל יצירת ייטס יכירו אילו מוטיבים וניבים קלוטים במכתביו ומשוקעים דרך חירות בגופו של שירי. החרוז אשר לגוגרטי -- שיבצתיו ברגע הדרמטי של שחרור הברבורים -- מופיע בתרגומי האנגלי לא כצורתו במקורו, כי-אם בכדומה לצורה ששיוויתי לו בחריזה עברית.
הפלוגתה בין שני הידידים על-אודות השפעת רכיבת סוס על מיקצבים פיוטיים, אצלי היא הד לרשימה בעניין זה, ייתכן מאת ייטס עצמו. קראתיה לפני קרוב לחמישים שנה ולא יכולתי לאתר אותה כיום. בעירפול נשתמרה בזכרוני טענת גוגרטי; פירוקה בפי ייטס נתעלם ממני לחלוטין, ומילאתי את החסר באמצאה בת הגיגי.
תרגום אנגלי זה מוקדש לאנשי תיאטרון אַבִּי ולידידי ישראל האיריים אשר גילו עניין בשירי זה, אחרי אשר הביא מר משה שמיר את שימעו לפניהם בהרצאה שנשא בדבלין.
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לשיר העברי "שני ברבורים ונהר", מקור התרגום הזה