"Stay" and "Hail"

By Roza Gutman, translated by Rosza Daniel Lang/Levitsky

Roza Gutman (1898–1996) grew up mainly in Kovno, Lithuania. She began writing poetry in Russian and German, shifting mainly to Yiddish after World War I; she began publishing her work in 1921. She soon moved to Berlin, leaving for Barcelona with her second husband in 1933. She then lived in London and Paris before settling in New York City in 1939. Her Yiddish poetry (and translations of Akhmatova and Tagore) appeared in leading journals—including Literarishe bleter, Inzikh, Tsukunft, and Di goldene keyt—and in three published books. 

Gutman’s poems find all kinds of things in the natural world: the subtly creepy pastoral scenes in her heymishe erd fun lite (home ground of Lithuania), mythic themes, and crisp, startling images.   

“stay…” the first of three Lider far dir (Poems for You) from 1921, overflows with relentless alliteration and assonance. It floats just past the edge of the everyday, like a fairy tale without a plot—playful but melancholy with a touch of eroticism and menace. 

“hail” (1928) is in a very different register—unadorned, framed in rhyme and meter. It has the feel of a pagan tkhine (a genre of Yiddish-language prayers generally used, and often composed, by women), speaking conversationally, as a loving friend, to a force beyond the human scale. Whether the poem’s roots, for Gutman, were in Baltic folklore or modernist mythmaking, readers in these days of climate crisis might hear in it our need to be in right relation to processes and forces that don’t speak to us with words. 

Thanks to Dr. Anat Aderet for her writing on Gutman’s life and work. 

 

stay... 

in the blueness bleached blooms blossom. 
beloved, stay. 
it’s not mist, they’re wet nets 
the wind’s water wife wove him. 

beloved, stay. 
in the blueness bleached blooms blossom. 
harvest… 

 

hail  

hail, hail…bucketsful, full speed, a racket…  
milk-white beads, flung down in fury.  

sister above, you’re enraged, won’t let yourself speak  
and your golden braid lashes the heavens’ back.  
sister above, dear heart, have you been insulted?  
did someone look at you how nobody should look?—  

i bend my head down too, my eyes downcast,  
overcast, too, with a gloomy cloud.
sister, love, dear heart, what can i do for you?  
what should i tell you, so you can laugh again? 

 

Rosza Daniel Lang/Levitsky is a cultural worker and organizer: a third-generation radical and second-generation queer who never figured out how to make art for art’s sake and rarely wants to work alone. Just another gendertreyf diasporist mischling who identifies with, not as. In the Yiddish svive: founding member of the Aftselokhes Spectacle Committee (creators of New York City’s radical purimshpil); singer with Koyt Far Dayn Fardakht (koytfilth.band); and teaching artist on the Yiddish revitalization circuit. Current projects include publishing a collection of Fradl Shtok’s poetry (in Yiddish) and a book of contemporary Yiddish songs (co-edited with Zoë Aqua and Adah Hetko), as well as musical experiments in the bedroom; visit meansof.org to see more. 

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