Monday, January 03, 2011

The Pit

This past week was kinda hard for me... It started when I stumbled upon a video on YouTube. It's a clip from a documentary by a man, a fairly famous Russian Jewish poet, who went back to Belarus to search for his roots.

He is singing at a memorial to the Jews who were slaughtered in Minsk during the first couple years of the war. The place is called "The Pit". To my surprise, I hadn't heard of this place before. For some reason, when I looked at the video, I assumed he was in Babiy Yar. But I had been to Babiy Yar about the same time this clip was filmed, and I did not recall seeing the sculptures descending into the pit... Well, I guess there are more places where Jews were massacred than I was aware of.

The song touched me deeply. As did the video. I know that the people standing there, listening, with the bouquets in their hands, are there remembering their kin, and the suffering, and the sorrow. Previously, I made a promise to myself not to translate poetry and lyrics - it just doesn't work and it sounds terrible in translation, but I can't seem to stop myself.

My cheek leaning against my hand,
Tired from life's misery,
I look wistfully at a snapshot,
The year is 1920.
Dust whirls over the shtetl,
Cherry blossoms are falling,
My mom's name is Rakhil,
My mom is twelve years old.

Under a green carpet of grass,
My mom now lies,
The flimsy shield of David,
Alas did not protect her,
And whichever of my relatives,
I happen to recall,
Is either getting old in foreign lands,
Or is lying killed in a ditch.

Completing its scheduled run,
The sun is melting behind the hill,
The troubled 21st century
is completing its second year.
The tall grass is drying out,
The Old City is dressed in darkness,
My granddaughter's name is Rakhil,
My granddaughter is twelve years old.

May she be serenaded by spring songs,
May tears pass her by,
And staring directly at me,
Are my mom's eyes.
Lord, forgive us our sins,
And keep our children from harm,
My granddaughter's name is Rakhil,
My granddaughter is twelve years old.


Anonymous Nechama said...

I know what you mean about translating poetry and lyrics...I sometimes translate interesting bits I find in Russian for the benefit of my husband and one of my kids (the other one understands Russian surprisingly well) and I find it almost impossible to translate the meaning of the carefully selected words in poems, as they often carry more than just the literal significance. Although I think you did a fine job with this piece, those who do not understand Russian will not fully get the meaning of "The flimsy shield of David"...the sad irony contained of that line does not come across quite the same way as in "ненадёжный Давида щит". Thank you for posting this.

January 03, 2011 4:28 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Nechama, it's funny that you chose that phrase - I spent a long time trying to do justice to it. I kinda rushed the rest of the translation...

Here is another of his songs.

January 03, 2011 8:21 PM  

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