There is little to write about Avrom Sutzkever that has not been written before. He remains a towering figure in the Yiddish literary world. These poems are from the expanded edition of his collection Lider fun togbukh (Poems from My Diary), published in 1985, when Sutzkever had been living in Israel for nearly four decades after leaving his native Vilna.
You Have Not Betrayed Me Since the Day We Met
You have not betrayed me since the day we met,
in whichever carousel the landscape hasn’t changed.
And, as an alcoholic to drink, I am drawn to your magic;
you have not forgotten me, unforgettable ant.
I remember, you brought me green sounds from the fields
when with all my strength I could not reach them,
zigzagging over well-trodden footpaths, to the bottom layer,
to bring me a star, so it would become bright as home.
You snuck across the border to the other world for me
with my greetings to friends and brought back a slice of bread
from that bread which the dead eat long, to remain dead,
and if, perhaps, someone there is inclined to trade his place with mine.
You have given me a silence, a true rescuer,
so I could taste silence’s music and become its connoisseur.
And wherever I may wander, through a thousand days and nights,
you will not have forgotten me, unforgettable ant.
You Olive Tree in the Night
You olive tree in the night and ladders to the stars on high,
shapes gravitate toward you step by step. You are cracked
like your home, the rocky ground, yet who is like You?
Every olive in your crown is the dewy pupil of an eye.
Shapes gravitate toward you, to your rigid branches,
from grass newly cut in a dream—they bring that scent.
And only the night remains limping and limping its silence
while you are wrestling to overcome an angel.
The stars are turning into olives. Already your power
has spread to the dawn’s horns of red.
And your pure roots are now at the head of my bed,
whither is it destined for me to flee in my last wander?
These roots are your heirs, hewn by lightning,
through your living abyss you deliver them the rains.
You olive tree in the night, may you protect me until morning
from words and chains.
Maia Evrona’s translations from Avrom Sutzkever’s Lider fun togbukh collection were recently awarded a 2016 Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and have appeared in Poetry Magazine. Her own poems, as well as excerpts from her memoir on chronic illness, have appeared in Prairie Schooner and other venues. She has recently given readings of her poetry and translations in New York City.