Number 2013


An excerpt from

Translated By Joseph Esselin

Death is not a fierce old man,
No need to let him frighten you;
He brings no bell or rataplan
And rests you under grass and dew.

Life is the one that bedazzles your eyes
And causes your steps to go astray;
He taunts you with the rainbow
And what’s beyond — he will not say.

But death is not a fearsome tiger
Nor a sightless God of stone;
Death tweaks the noses of proud victors
And brings the homeless — home.

Joseph Esselin My father used to say “Poetry is what is lost in translation.” But I think he modified his view as a result of his collaboration with me on these and the many other translations of his work we crafted. We strove to achieve fidelity and preserve the bittersweet, lyrical quality of his verse. This joint effort over a period of years — a father and a son — may have been unique. It constitutes a high point in my life. Alter Esselin’s life and work in Yiddish and in English translation can be further explored here: