She Is Asleep T. Carmi Translated by A.Z. Foreman "I sleep, but my heart waketh; Hark! my beloved knocketh" â€”Song of Songs 5:2 She is asleep but her hand is awake, More than the surgeon's palm in operation, To breathing, to the odors, to pulsation, To murmurings that hidden dirges make. She is asleep: but her ear listens in To clinkings of cool metal, to unsteady Eyelids that fall too heavy. Ever ready For silence of a sudden, and chagrin.... She is asleep: and yet her eye will keep On you, on reckless spring, on autumn's thresh, The next to die, the breath of every life. Oh may she rest in dream. She is asleep. And yet her hand continues with the knife To cut till sundown in the living flesh. The Original:
I Am An Arab Poet By SalmÄn Maá¹£Älá¸¥a Translated by A.Z. Foreman Click to hear me recite the original Hebrew I am he: an Arab poet who has colored all in black. I will open the latch on my heart for a world that is whirling back. A poet strings rhyme on rhyme of brother united with brother. His scheme so crossed the line. His father be damned and his mother.
The sun will dawn from the east on a land where the dirt holds sway. Let the blisters bloom on my hand, and the village girls in their day. To hold to his dreams was all the boy's hope â€” before his betrayal. The day he was born he found in his hand a spoon of Sheol. I am he: an Arab poet. The word abides all with its beat. Letters formed roots in my heart. Hear me dance on prosthetic feet.
These notes pertain to the Hebrew text as much as, or more than, to my English translation.
Stanza 1 L1- There's an indirect hint of what is called in traditional Arabic poetic terminology Ø¬ÙÙ†Ø§Ø³ Ø§Ù„Ù‚ÙŽÙ„Ø¨Ù’ or metathetic paronomasia. (Or, to coin it in a way that isn't all Greek to you: rootplay.) The difference between the words for "Hebrew" and for "Arab" in written consonantal Hebrew is of consonant ordering. ×¢×‘×¨×™ and ×¢×¨×‘×™ Ë-r-b-i and Ë-b-r-i. It would take only a metathesis of r-b to b-r to shift one to the other. In fact I imagine the Hebrew reader might well mistake one for the other at first reading if they're not careful, as they may be unused to Hebrew poets who call themselves Arab poets in this fashion. Note that in Hebrew as in Arabic, there is no lexical distinction between (ethnically) Arab and (linguistically) Arabic. To write these words in a Hebrew poem has an effect rather like Kerouac writing in English "I am a French poet" or Nabokov writing "I am a Russian poet." The fact that he doesn't actually use the word ×¢×‘×¨×™ "Hebrew" makes it all the more conspicuous by its absence. Further note: the normal pronunciation of ×¢×¨×‘×™ "Arab(ic)" in Hebrew is Ëaravi. Here, though, it is rhymed as if it were Ëarabi, calling to mind a distinctively Arab pronunciation of the word.
Stanza 2 L1 â€” The term for "rhymes" ×—×¨×•×–×™× á¸¥aruzim is literally "beads" â€” a metaphor which, like much of the technical terminology surrounding Hebrew poetic composition, finds parallel with medieval Arabic.
L2 - A play on Psalm 133:1: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (hinne ma á¹oá¸‡ uma-naËÄ«m - Å¡eá¸‡et aá¸¥Ä«m gam-yaá¸¥ad.) This Psalm verse is also the opening of a popular Hebrew folksong, making the words sound paradoxically trite and lofty at the same time. The implication here is of an Arab poet singing not of conflict but of (the possibility of) Israeli-Arab coexistence. The subsequent line implies that this doesn't reflect reality, or acceptability, that the notion is more pretty than true, more ideal than real. The rhyme ××—×™×•/××‘×™×• aá¸¥iv/aviv in Hebrew is incredibly dumb. But purposefully so.
L3- Literally "in falsification/form he rather overdid it, went overboard, inflated." One might read this as modifying the following line. But that seems a stretch. The word kazav refers to not only falsity, but is a medieval Hebrew technical term for poetic form (i.e. as opposed to content.) This technical use of it is, by the by, a loan-translation from medieval Arabic (ÙƒÙŽØ°ÙŠØ¨ kaá¸Ä«b "contrivance, poetic artifice" born of discussions of aesthetic value vs. truth value.) C.f. the many senses, literary and colloquial, of English conceit for a vaguely similar development in English. It is worth noting here that this poem is written in trimeter quatrains with a basically ternary meter. i.e. one of the most common rhymed stanzaic forms of mid 20th century modernist Hebrew verse (where it was introduced ultimately based on Russian models.) The meter has a distinctly Israeli, and ironically un-Arabic, feel to it.
Stanza 4 L4- Sheol (pronounced variously in English, but can be pronounced so as to rhyme with "betrayal") is the Jewish netherworld. To go to Sheol is what one means by "going to the grave" in English. It is not what English speakers normally mean by Hell. Hell, in the sense of a place where the wicked go after death, corresponds more to ×’×™×”× ×•× gehinom. Sheol is where all go â€” regardless of virtue or wickedness â€” when they die.
Stanza 5 L3- Seeing ××•×ª×™×•×ª ×‘×œ×‘×™ made me think immediately of Kabbalistic concepts, of the divinity inscribing holy letters on the heart, diacriticizing the heart as it were.
L4- Literally "my leg (is) prosthetic to dance." The Hebrew phrasing encourages the reader to treat the word ×ª×•×ª×‘×ª as if it were a participle. Giving the sense "my leg gets all prosthetic for dancing" or "my leg prostheticizes for dance." I have gone with "feet" in translation. Mostly because I couldn't resist the double meaning in a poem that comments on its own form. (Hey, you know what foot-fetishists really get off on? Prosody!...Ok I'm awful. I'm sorry.) The word ×ž×—×•×œ specifically means a theatrical or performance dance.