By Itzik Manger, translated by Murray Citron
Itzik Manger (1898–1968), known for his folksy style and humorous reimaginings of biblical stories, was among the most popular Yiddish poets of the twentieth century. Several of his poems have become beloved folk songs. He was born in Czernowitz, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He moved to Warsaw in the 1930s and to Paris in 1938, which he left a jump ahead of the Germans, eventually making his way to England. After the war he moved to New York and later to Israel, where he died. He wrote mostly in traditional forms and produced a number of sonnets. “Baal Shem” is an early sonnet that brings to life one of the founding figures of Hasidism and the wonder he and his followers had for the natural world.
The Baal Shem marvels at the village edge.
The evening tugs his cloak. And fireflies
And planets, stars and comets light his eyes—
A golden sight across the somber sedge.
A golden vision on the field of night.
Three times holy. He goes down on his knees
And drinks its spirit in like melodies
Blown down the steppe from the far mountains’ height.
And drunken with the colors and the glory,
He waits until a prayer lights his face,
Alone with the night, three times beautiful,
And rushes back to town to tell the story.
He calls in darkened streets his words of praise:
The world is holy and three times three times cool.
Murray Citron is a grandfather living in Ottawa. His translations from Yiddish have appeared in Canada, England, and the United States.