Born in Poland, Israel Emiot (1909–78) was an internationally acclaimed Yiddish prose writer. He is perhaps best known for memoirs and poetry describing his imprisonment in a Soviet Gulag after the Second World War. He later immigrated to Rochester, New York, where he continued to write until his death.
A small goldfish—ray of sun in deep water,
caught sight of the real sun and joyfully swam up to meet it
not anticipating the bank’s fish line waiting to greet it—
that little fish like a ray of sunlight in deep water.
It was a small happenstance but it taught her
how the whole ship of life can easily turn to defeat,
yes, a small golden fish—a ray in deep water—
saw the sun and joyfully swam up to meet it.
On Hearing Chopin
Is this the happiness that is our destiny—
this feeling that life and death trade places?
How good it is to listen on the stillest of days,
when, like an echo, the earth reverberates.
Night holds its breath and listens,
and all the wells gurgle more quietly,
as a thousand loves, a thousand sorrows,
are a thousand times created, a thousand times destroyed.
May this close-lashed happiness make possible
a new vision of the world
in which all fogs lift
and heart unto heart beat in unison,
and, like leaves, worlds within worlds are transformed into a book,
stone has just now recognized his father in man,
and all is full with forgiving and forgiveness.
Put the world to sleep like quietly swaying grass;
evening will erase the last sounds.
Look: the blind man discards his cane
and sees through a brick wall as though it were glass.
No more does the wise man ask why;
the rooster has ceased to wake,
the fox to frighten,
and the forest’s rabbit to tremble.
Come, life, you are longed for and beautiful!
For you the world is adorned with music,
which sounds time’s distant, parade-like bell.
We so want to hear—to hear that which is beyond all stars—
for life is so brief, our desires so immense,
and our every breath an eternity.
Based in Rochester, New York, Leah Zazulyer is an English-language poet and experienced translator of Yiddish literature. Her book, As Long As We Are Not Alone, a biography of Israel Emiot that includes a collection of his poems in English translation, is forthcoming from Tiger Bark Press.