Poem of the Week Side Effects of Insomnia

The poet Dory Manor asks, how can you sing yourself a lullaby?

Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden


Dory Manor

How can you sing yourself a lullaby?
How can you believe that you are all alone?
You unravel from your childhood like a thread from a cloak
And nothing in nature can bring sleep to your eyes.

You travel in your soul to Lithuania or Spain
To the north of time and the west of your mind
You build yourself a gondola and row from vein to vein
And nothing in nature can bring sleep to your eyes.

Beneath a white quilt you sense in your head
Your mother bending over you, canopying the bed
And you sing and you hear yourself sing the lullaby
And nothing in nature can bring sleep to your eyes.

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden.


Dory Manor, who edits the literary journal Ho! and is known for his translations of French poets, was born in Tel Aviv in 1971. In 2011 the prestigious publishing house Mossad Bialik together with Sifriat Hapoalim issued a hefty volume of his collected poems from 1991 to 2011, “The Center of the Flesh,” with an afterword of nearly 100 pages by Professor Dan Miron.

Translating this poem presented many challenges, not least because Manor himself is a fine translator and a master of the tools of formal poetry. Miron argues that his choice of traditional forms, rhyme and meter – rare in contemporary Hebrew literature – is related to the poet’s “homoerotic situation” as a member of a minority. This translation deviates from the literal meaning of the poem throughout in the transposition from the third person to the second. In Hebrew, the first line is “How can a person (or human) sing a lullaby to himself?” “A person,” repeated as often as it is in this poem, sounds unnatural in English; in French, the subject pronoun on is very natural but in English “one” sounds fussy. Thus, “you” seemed the appropriate solution; in English it does not necessarily refer to a specific other and can refer to people in general, much as the Hebrew word it is translating here, adam, doesn’t necessarily refer to Adam, but rather to any human being.

In Hebrew, the thread unravels from a carpet or rug but there does not seem to be any way to make either of those chime at all with “alone” – a word that is much more important in the poem than the specific object – so the object became a cloak for its assonance value.

In the second stanza the places named in Hebrew are not “Lithuania and Spain” but rather Vilna and Madrid. The larger locales work more felicitously with respect to their sound but in any case they refer to two of the cradles of Jewish culture in the Diaspora.

“Unraveling” can be read as encompassing both an individual’s insomnia and the experience of the Jewish people with respect to place. The unraveling suggests attenuation from and at the same time attachment to origins, and the sleeplessness suggests unease with the here and now.

Watch Manor read this poem in Hebrew (at 2:41) in an interview with television host Kobi Meidan.

*Why else might a contemporary poet choose to write in traditional forms?

Complications of insomnia. Credit: Wikipedia
Dory ManorCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

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