Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chaim Nachman Bialik

The Fountain
translated by P.M. Raskin

And shouldst thou wish to know the Source
from which thy tortured brethren drew
in evil days their strength of soul
to meet their doom, stretch out their necks
to each uplifted knife and axe,
in flames, on stakes to die with joy,
and with a whisper "God is One"
to close their lips?

And shouldst thou wish to find the Spring
from which thy banished brethren drew,
'midst fear of death and fear of life,
their comfort, courage, patience, trust,
an iron will to bear the yoke,
to live bespattered and despised,
and suffer without end?

If thou, my brother, knowest not
this mother, spring and lap and fort,
then enter thou the House of God,
the House of Study old and gray
throughout the sultry summer days,
throughout the gloomy winter nights,
at morning, midday or at eve;
perchance there is a remnant yet,
perchance the eye may still behold
in some dark corner hid from view
a cast-off shadow of the past,
the profile of some pallid face,
upon an ancient folio bent,
who seeks to drown unspoken woes
in the Talmudic boundless waves;
and then thy heart shall guess the truth
that thou hast touched the sacred ground
of thy great nation's House of Life,
and that thy eyes do gaze upon
the treasure of thy nation's soul.

And know that this is but a spark
that by a miracle escaped
of that bright light, that sacred flame
thy forbears kindled long ago
on altars high and pure.


Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

You're right; it's a very beautiful and uplifting poem! I also like the translation. One thing I enjoy doing is comparing translations, for lack of the original. I'll try to find a different, Russian one, and see how that sounds! Thanks again! : )

January 24, 2006 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Chana said...

Bialik is so beautiful, and so very powerful.

The tortured breaths of those who gave their lives...the sparks of light...beautiful images.

(An aside- thank you so very much for your post about me/ curiousity. I'll try to be worthy of your words.)

January 25, 2006 1:57 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I have two comments from young ladies who both list "The Master and Margarita" as one of their favorite books.

To tell the truth, I never really understood why so many people are so into that book. I am not trying to knock it; I thought it was pretty good, but not "amazing". Maybe one or both of you care to comment?

January 25, 2006 7:32 PM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Well, I think it's a great book on many levels.
1)Social commentary - if read very closely, one can see that many of the funniest, if trivial, incidents in the story are actually ingenious critiques of the Stalinist regime.
2)An interesting biographical reflection, considering who The Master and Margarita actually represent.
3)Literary technique - a very skillful parody of "Faust" (again, easy to miss if one hasn't read Goethe's original work), use of symbolism and cultural allusions (Berlioz, etc.), humor/satire, well-crafted and original plot.
4)Philosophical - the presentation of the dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Joshua (as the author refers to Jesus). That alone gives a lot to think about.
5)Love story - I think that one's clear! ; )
6)Mystical - the ending is cleverly ambiguous; post-modernist befor post-modernims, and the ability to interpret is what makes it so interesting. And of course, the fact that it gave rise to various superstitions!

January 26, 2006 11:11 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I guess I'll have to read it again, "this time with feeling!", as my music teacher used to say. I'll be paying attention to the things you mentioned.


January 26, 2006 11:30 AM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

: ) I'm goign to re-read as well! The first time I read it was 7 years ago, so I missed a lot, also!

January 26, 2006 12:01 PM  

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