"Hebrew is the language of the Bible and in this language it is written: "God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light, and God saw the light that it was good." There is not another language today in which almost every word is loaded with so many possibilities for expression and for meeting the need of human poetry in its eternal quest to speak of the sorrows of man and his wondrous attempts to find meaning in life. At times I have felt the distinctive weight of the Hebrew while reading again the most beautiful love songs in the world; the Song of Songs, and David's elegy on the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. The power of Hebrew does not end here. It begins here. I am not sure if the Jewish people in Israel are aware of what I think of the Hebrew language, and this does not concern me. It is not for them that I write in Hebrew, but because of them. As to the question of whether or not I am a Hebrew poet, the answer is very simple: a Hebrew poet, yes, but not a Jewish poet, just as I am too a Druze and an Arab poet. However, these questions led me to ponder the importance of the national identity of writers, and of cultural dialogue in general. It became clear to me that in some cases this identity is an issue only when speaking of mediocre writers. Otherwise how would you know of the Jewish identity of Kafka who was born in Prague and wrote in German? And what is the identity of Ionesco, the Rumanian, who was always thought of as a leading French writer? And what about the great Lebanese writer, Khalil Gibran, whose universal fame comes from his writings in English? And that goes for my friends, the good Arab writers from North Africa who compose in French. My dream is to become a writer who will never again be asked about his nationality or religion; or, at least, this shouldn't be the first question. If not that, I dream of creating a chemical-spiritual synthesis of East and West which only art can achieve. I have in mind, for example, my own Arab culture and the virtues of the mystical Druze religion: the secrets and symbols of the Sufis who knew the way to inject into the sinews of the Near East the liquid essence of Greek philosophy as transformed by Buddhist ideas, carrying in their veins the spiritual lifeblood of India and China." â€” Naim Arayidi in 1997 I Returned to the Village By Naim Arayidi Translated by A.Z. Foreman I returned to the village Where I first learned to cry I returned to the mountain Where the scene is nature With no place for a picture I returned to my house whose every block My forefathers had quarried out of rock By their own hand. I returned to my own self â€” That was the plan. I returned to the village For I had dreamt of a labored birth For the za'tar forgotten from my poetic lexicon, And of a harder labored birth For stalks of grain in the bumpy godforesaken earth. For I had dreamt about the birth of love. I returned to the village Where I was in a former incarnation1 A root to myriad grapevines On this good solid earth Before that wind2 came to spirit Me away, only to return Me in this incarnation to this earth Like a returning penitent3 Gone metempsychotic from his berth. Oh my dream, dream thirty two in number, Here are the paths that are no more And houses that grew lofty as the Tower of Babel. Oh this burden dream of mine Its roots will not sprout forth a single scion. Where are the children of poverty Bereaved of the felled leaves of fall? Where now the village that was Where they gave every path a name Before the asphalt streets they all became? Oh my little village that was To become a civilized town. I returned to the village Where the barking of the dogs had breathed its last Where the columbarium was now a lighted tower. The fellahin with whom I wanted to sing The hay-song in the tune the grapevine pruners croon in spring,4 Had all turned into workers, their throats smoke-burned and sore Where are they who were and are no more? Oh this burden dream of mine For all the while I returned to the village As a fugitive from civilization I came, to the village As one coming out of exile, into exile5. Notes:
1- Arayidi uses the word gilgul "cycle" from galgal "wheel." Gilgul "cycle" is the term used to refer to reincarnation in Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism. Reincarnation, rejected by non-Kabbalistic Jewish thinkers, is nonetheless a part of much Jewish folk belief. It is also common as a literary motif in Yiddish and Hebrew (and possibly other Jewish languages. But I wouldn't know.) Souls are said to reincarnate into different lives to take on different temporal roles according to what is needed for the world, and for the rectification of the particular soul in question. The Druze religion also â€” unlike the vast majority of Muslim sects â€” has a doctrine of reincarnation. A soul must continue to be reborn until it is in such a state that it can achieve reunion with the divine.
2- The word for wind, rÃºaá¸¥ also means more or less "spirit." I've had the wind do some "spiriting" in translation for this reason. In Kabbalah, the rÃºaá¸¥ is also that aspect or part of the soul which is able to distinguish good from evil.
3- The original here has á¸¥ozer bitÅ¡uva ("contrite sinner, penitent") which is also the Israeli term for what non-Israeli Jews call a baal bitshuva: a Jew who has gone from secularist non-observance to embracing observant religious Orthodox Judaism.
4- The word zamir could mean "grape-pruning" or "nightingale." The dual meaning, and artistic exploitations of it, are literally ancient in Hebrew (c.f. Song of Songs 2:12)
5- The word for exile here is the Hebrew word normally used to refer to Jewish exile: galut.
The Original: (The vocalized here is taken from Michael Yaari. He, unlike me, has the patience to actually type out fully vocalized Hebrew texts. Which I just can't bring myself to do.)