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Ode To the Dove Pt. VI (Avrom Sutzkever)

Ode To the Dove Pt. VI (Avrom Sutzkever)

Ode To the Dove Pt. VI

by Avrom Sutzkever

Translated by Zackary Sholem Berger

Yes, I am guilty, I’m guilty. A sin was desirable then.
Bring the dancer back to the stalks. Do it for me…  A flame
Abyssal devoured her young blueness, such blue that comes but once.
My temples are boiling with pearl and ash, with her grayness.

No, you’re not guilty, not guilty. The dancer – she dances the same
Warm steps of youth in the vaults that are smiling in blue,
Wanders from one land to another, unplugs Earth from the navel.
From that dance above you’ll go and scoop up the whole world.

The dance overhead is a dream though. Dovelet, where should I wander?
The eyes of the dead pox my body, nail my soul fast
to nothingness. My bread and my salt are a hovel.
Now I am treading my homeland, land whose mold is its grass.

“I will clothe you with wings, and a white idea
will be puffed out with freedom like a sail.
You’re not in hock to death. The days will circle and circle.
Only the legend’s eternal. And she will manage a smile.

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.