Sunday, May 30, 2021




by Anna Margolin (Yiddish Poet)
Translated by Shirley Kumov

My ancestors:

Men in satin and velvet,

faces long and silky pale,

faintly glowing lips

and thin hands caressing faded folios.

Deep into the night they speak with God.


Merchants from Leipzig and Danzig

with clean cuffs, smoking fine cigars.

Talmudic wit. German niceties.

Their look is clever and lacklustre,

clever and self-satisfied.

Don Juans, dealers and seekers of God.


A drunkard,

a pair of converts in Kiev.


My ancestors:

Women bejewelled in diamonds like icons,

darkly crimsoned by Turkish shawls,

and heavy folds of Satin-de-Lyon.

But their bodies are weeping willows,

the fingers in their laps like withered flowers,

and in their faded, veiled eyes

lifeless desire.


Grand ladies in calico and linen,

broad-boned, strong and agile,

with their contemptuous, easy laughter,

with calm talk and uneasy silence.

At dusk, by the window of the humble house

they sprout like statues.

And coursing through their dusky eyes

cruel desire.


And a pair

I am ashamed of.


All of them, my ancestors,

blood of my blood,

flame of my flame,

dead and living mixed together,

sad, grotesque, immense.

They trample through me as through a dark house.

Trampling with prayers, and curses, and wailing,

rattling my heart like a copper bell,

my tongue quivers,

I don’t know my own voice—

My ancestors speak.


Anna Margolin was born Rosa Lebensboym in Belarus in 1887 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1913. Drunk from the Bitter Truth is the first English translation of the Yiddish poet Anna Margolin’s single volume, Lider (Poems), published in 1929.

 Margolin was mysterious in her own time: early on, many in the literary intelligentsia thought a man was hiding behind her name. Although she lived and worked in New York in the midst of a Yiddish cultural explosion—by 1915, there were five Yiddish daily newspapers, with a combined circulation of half a million—she chose to remain an outsider. Most Yiddish-language poets were then writing in traditional forms, but Margolin declared that she was “insulted by the mechanical precision of the conventional rhyme.” Thus her poems are sensual, jarring, plainspoken, and hard, the record of a soul in direct contact with the streets of 1920s New York, where days are “holy and yellowed, / like the verses in an old prayer book,” and the sun “spreads on high / bridges of roses, bridges of smoke.” Margolin’s major themes of anxiety, loneliness, and a search for meaning run through all the sections of her book. Throughout, the great power of Margolin’s poetry is that it bears a long-range memory of past customs and a sense of the layers of ancient and modern history.

 In “My Ancestors Speak,” Margolin presents an encapsulated history of the family, in which we can see the distancing from traditional values that the modern age exacted. In successive stanzas of this poem, Margolin reconstructs the generations of her own family and offers it up as a model for the condition of the Eastern European Jewish family after the Enlightenment.

 From: Drunk from the Bitter Truth: The Poems of Anna Margolin (SUNY series, Women Writers in Translation) Paperback – January 2, 2017by Anna Margolin (Author), Shirley Kumove (Translator)

 (Yiddish is a High German–derived language historically spoken by Ashkenazi Jews. It originated during the 9th century in Central Europe. The famous American Jewish writer and Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote in Yiddish language)


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

"We Don't Know How To Say Goodbye..."

"We Don't Know How To Say Goodbye..." 

by Anna Akhmatova 

Translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward

We don't know how to say goodbye:
we wander on, shoulder to shoulder.
Already the sun is going down;
you're moody, I am your shadow.

Let's step inside a church and watch
baptisms, marriages, masses for the dead.
Why are we different from the rest?
Outdoors again, each of us turns his head.

Or else let's sit in the graveyard
on the trampled snow, sighing to each other.
That stick in your hand is tracing mansions
in which we shall always be together.

(Painting Van Gogh- Two lovers) 

The above  is a sad but lovely little poem Anna Akhmatova, one of the greatest Russian poets of last century, wrote in 1917 about a final visit with a friend who was set to be imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. Such goodbyes aren't uncommon in our lives too. 


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Souvenir of the Ancient World


Souvenir of the Ancient World
Carlos Drummond de Andrade
Translated from the Portuguese by Mark Strand
Clara strolled in the garden with the children.
The sky was green over the grass,
the water was golden under the bridges,
other elements were blue and rose and orange,
a policeman smiled, bicycles passed,
a girl stepped onto the lawn to catch a bird,
the whole world—Germany, China—all was quiet around Clara.
The children looked at the sky: it was not forbidden.
Mouth, nose, eyes were open. There was no danger.
What Clara feared were the flu, the heat, the insects.
Clara feared missing the eleven o'clock trolley:
She waited for letters slow to arrive,
She couldn't always wear a new dress. But she strolled in the garden, in the morning!
They had gardens, they had mornings in those days!
Carlos Drummond de Andrade, a native-born Brazilian, is universally recognized as the finest and most accessible modern Portugese-language poet and, along with Pablo Neruda, a poet of the common man, writing of home, family, friends, and love.
 Though this was written more than 50 years ago, the feelings it convey have a ring of life in the times of Covid. This poem doesn't speak ill of the trauma besieged on those times. But it gently draws our attention to good mornings of yester years. May be these trying times will change something inside man and he will begin to appreciate the goodness around us.

"The whole world—Germany, China—all was quiet around Clara.
The children looked at the sky: it was not forbidden."

Carlos Drummond de Andrade was a communist and for some time was the editor of "Tribuna Popular" published by the the Brazilian Communist Party. So it's not about the lack of freedom in the political sense that he's talking about. The poem was written during the Second World War. Brazilian soldiers were fighting on the side of the Allies, mostly on the Italian front. Clara's husband must be a Brazilian soldier and she must be waiting for letters from him (slow to arrive). The poem makes a reference to Germany as the aggressor and China as a victim nation of Japanese occupation.

In most of Europe during WW2, children couldn't look at the sky without fear because of frequent bombing and war planes flying past.

"They had gardens, they had mornings in those days!" is perhaps a reference to the peaceful times in Brazil (because the country was not at war; only its soldiers were fighting in Europe), while the Brazilian soldiers, including Clara's husband, had neither gardens nor mornings.

Courtesy : Kerala Varma for  explicating some aspects of the poem




By Rose Auslander (1901-1988)
Translated from German by Eavan Boland
My Fatherland is dead.
They buried it
in fire
I live
in my Motherland­—
Rose Auslander was a German-speaking Jewish poet from Czernowitz. She spent part of World War II in the ghetto of Czernowitz. She was given American citizenship in 1948. After the trauma of persecution, she wrote in English and only resumed writing in German in 1956. 
She writes here that her true home is the word itself. It distinguishes between national identity and individual identity which is informed by language. The current state of affairs in our country strongly echoes this sentiment.




By Jorge Guillen
Translated by Cola Franzen
Slow summers of childhood
of hill and sea, with luminous hours,
hours stretched out on beaches
between games in the sand,
when the most peaceful, carefree air
never involves anything that dies,
and the festive days sink deeper
in light of vacation without respite,
the future has no limit,
life is a luxury and passes very slowly.
A member of the influential Generation of 1927, Jorge Guillen was one of the greatest Spanish poets of the 20th century.
Guillen was an advocate of “pure Poetry”. Many of his poems are characterized by serene contemplation, languorous tone and restraint fervor; an effort of achieving vital interaction with the world, sometimes hard-won meshing of the observer and the observed. How beautifully Guillen infuses nostalgia into this poem about childhood when we were carefree spirits. Nothing died in those summers and time and joy were abundant in everything we indulged in.


Monday, May 24, 2021

Recovery 31


Recovery 31
By Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by Wendy Barker and Saranindranath Tagore
From time to time I feel the moment for travel has come.
On the day of leaving, cast a veil
of humble sunset-glaze,
Let the time to leave
be quiet, still. Let no pompous memorials
build the hypnosis of grieving.
Let the lines of trees by the departure door
bestow the tranquil chanting of earth
on quiet heap of leaves.
Let night’s soundless blessings slowly descend,
iridescent offerings of the seven stars.
(Written sometime between 22 December 1940 and 2d January 1941)
The brilliant and immensely prolific Indian writer and Nobel Laureate  Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is known the world over for his accomplished works in an astoundingly wide range of genres: fiction, short stories, poetry, drama, and essays. During the final year of his life, while suffering from the painful illness that would eventually end in his death, Tagore completed four volumes of poetry that expressed the emotional turmoil of facing one's own imminent extinction. Tagore's last poems, beautifully translated by his great grand nephew and the American poet Wendy Barker , are poignant and moving.
Written while Tagore was in extreme pain and moving slowly but inexorably toward death, this poem depicts his sombre mood. It is compact, elegiac, poignant, contemplative, and riveting.

One is amazed at the immensity of sadness that permeates his last poems.

Source :Tagore Final Poems Hardcover – Import, 4 December 2001 by Rabindranath Tagore (Author), Wendy Barker (Translator),Saranindranath Tagore(Translator)