Poem of the week / Out of the Twilight Zone and into the twilight
On warm milk and mists: Respite from the madness in a tranquil Hebrew poem from the early 1900s.
Golden pollen wafts on high,
The flock heads home with glee.
The laborer heads home; his spade
Engraves a pathway for the eve.
The gate opens. In a tender bend
The blessing of a space unfolds,
The space of fields, a garden’s grace.
The crescent moves. Streambeds of gold.
The jug awaits, hands reach out
For the flowing, living white.
A trembling stem of brushed-off hay
Emits the fragrance of the wild.
Pale are the walls of the house
And warm the pan of milk.
A crescent splash. Seen far away,
A field and all its mists.
An earlier version of this translation from Hebrew by Vivian Eden was published in Haaretz magazine, November 3, 2000.
Outside the Twilight Zone of madness and sadness, summer is golden, at least in some moments stolen away from the news. These early 20th century lines perfectly fit the Webster’s Dictionary definition of an idyll: “A short poem or prose work describing a simple, pleasant scene of rural, pastoral or domestic life.”
It is tranquil in part because it is devoid of explicit human emotion – only the sheep evince “glee.” The unidentified speaker (there is no "I," nor is there a “you”) doesn’t comment, but just shows: Everything is visual rather than visceral and everything is silent – even the splash of milk is depicted as a sight – a curve – rather than as a sound.
Professor Hannan Hever, who brought the poet to the attention of Haaretz a decade and more ago in a project about forgotten writers, notes that Solodar wrote the “poetry of a new immigrant … that mixes an intimate closeness to the landscape and nature – with the distance and restraint of a stranger.”
“Gold,” “head home,” “space,” field” and “crescent” each appear twice, in tidy and soothing repetition. The first three quatrains contain closed pictures from different perspectives: from a distance, from the yard of the home and inside the home, while the fourth quatrain opens out again from indoors to the distance again, suggesting a rhythm of pleasing routine.
Abraham Solodar (1890-1936) was born in a shtetl in what is now Ukraine. As a young adult in Odessa, he made the acquaintance of some key figures of nascent modern Hebrew literature, among them Hayyim Nahman Bialik. After a brief period in Vilna, he came to Palestine in 1911, qualified at the teachers’ seminary in Jerusalem, worked in Tel Aviv for a while and moved as a teacher to the Galilee agricultural village of Yesud Hamaala.
In 1926, leaving his wife and two sons in Palestine, he went to the United States, where he taught at Jewish institutions, completed a master’s degree at Northwestern University and patented a method for Hebrew linotype printing. According to his obituary in The New York Times, he died in Chicago while translating Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” into Hebrew.
*Bonus: From “Leaves of Grass:”
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him,
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to him,
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to him …
And so no man understands any greatness or goodness but his own, or the indication of his own.
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