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Ode To the Dove Pt. V (Avrom Sutzkever)

Ode To the Dove Pt. V (Avrom Sutzkever)


Ode To the Dove Pt. V

by Avrom Sutzkever

translated by Zackary Sholem Berger

Build up the temple and raise it, build high with a sun-lit mind!
The devil is nearly afire to lead my dove to temptation.
A gray sun, the colors all spun with gray lichen.
The temple has burned away. The columns, like animals, fled.

Children in their skeletons he arrayed like golden birds,
To poison the poets forever: poison on the lips of all sounds.
Faces stuck on necks like axes’ shadows below.
Pleased are the dead when flesh is brother with iron.

Earth and heaven are swampy, and I’m sunk up to my neck.
Fire–I’m stuck in the dark. A stone with snuffed out sparks.
Only in believing fingers, in paper’s preserved sheet
the fires must kneel. They are powerless against it.

So I know: the dove is paper which keeps all fingers from freezing,
words, like grandchildren, must remember those who coerced.
Dove-less, days are mere mites. Praise to all pure forms!
I collect silver syllables to bring my dear dove and feed her.

On the right is the original Yiddish (written in Hebrew letters), on the left is the transliteration.

Avrom (Abraham) Sutzkever (1913-2010) was born in present-day Ukraine and survived the Vilna Ghetto during the Holocaust. He is remembered as a Partisan fighter, a book smuggler, and a towering figure in Yiddish poetry. This poem is taken from his book Ode tsu der toyb [Ode to the Dove] published in 1955. The portrait to the left was done by Marc Chagall.

Zackary Sholem Berger writes and translates in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English; his work has appeared in Poetry, BODY, Asymptote, and other venues. He has published four collections of original poetry—Not in the Same Breath (Yiddish House, 2011), One Nation Taken Out of Another (Apprentice House, 2014), All the Holes Line Up (Ben Yehuda Press, 2019), and Vi Lebt Zikh Dortn (self-published, 2019). His translation of Avrom Sutzkever’s prose poetry, Essential Prose, was published in 2020 by White Goat Press. His best known Yiddish literary work is likely his translation of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (Di Kats der Payats, 2003). He also contributes Yiddish journalism to Chasidic and secular publications. A mild-mannered physician by day, he lives with his Yiddish-speaking family in Baltimore, Maryland.