Poem of the Week / A Poem for Pope Francis

The pope's concern for animals is legendary, as evidenced by his papal name being chosen in honor of Saint Francis of Assasi.

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(Untitled)

Agi Mishol

Little rabbit
Trapped in the light
Careening in the beam

Look, I’m turning off the
Headlights for you and
Driving in the dark.
                           April 2014

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden.

***

Agi Mishol has published 17 volumes of poetry and recently received an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.

Poem of the Week would like to dedicate this poem to Pope Francis in advance of his visit here on May 25-26, in small expiation for the acts committed by some fellow Israelis whom Amos Oz has called “Hebrew neo-Nazis.” 

When former cardinal Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elevated to the papacy in 2013, he chose the name Francis, after Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, whom he termed “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.”

After a wealthy childhood and an exciting youth that included military service, Saint Francis (1181-1226) experienced a spiritual awakening and turned to a life of simplicity, preaching and helping the poor. Legends abound about his concern for animals; on his Feast Day in October, churches of various denominations hold blessings of the animals. 

It is said that one day he was brought a rabbit that had been caught in a trap. “Francis advised the rabbit to be more alert in the future, then released the rabbit from the trap and set it on the ground to go its way. But the rabbit hopped back up onto Francis’ lap, desiring to be close to the saint. Francis took the rabbit a few steps into the woods and set it down. The rabbit kept coming back until a friar took it deep into the woods and released it. The moral: 'If the simplest creatures could be so endowed with God’s wonder, how much the more so we humans!'”

The Assisi tradition of kindness to all came to the fore during the Holocaust. Though prior to the war the Umbrian town had no Jewish population, thanks to the bishop – who was deemed a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem – the churches, convents and monasteries there gave refuge to hundreds of Jews.

Thus, in light of the graffiti scrawled on walls of Israel’s capital, we can only echo the prophet Jeremiah: (4:14): “O Jerusalem, wash thy heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy baleful thoughts lodge within thee.”

*Bonus:

Listen to Agi Mishol read, with translations by Joanna Chen

Kobi Kalmanovitz