Summer Awakening

By Esther Shumiatcher-Hirschbein, translated by Miri Koral

Esther Shumiatcher-Hirschbein (1899–1985) was born in Belarus and grew up in Calgary, one of eleven siblings in an influential Canadian family. After marrying Yiddish writer and playwright Peretz Hirschbein (1880–1948) in 1920, she was drawn into world travel and the Yiddish literary milieu. Her husband encouraged her poetry writing. They initially made their base in New York City, relocating to Los Angeles in 1940, where she was very active in the Yiddish cultural scene. (There is even a commemorative plaque outside their former home.) Her works include five volumes of poetry, which often draw upon themes of love, motherhood, and nature. Her last volume of poetry, Lider (Poems), was published in Los Angeles in 1956.  

Zumer-Leb” (“Summer Awakening”) describes the lush urban flora of Los Angeles. It was first published in Kheshbn (Reckoning), the literary journal of Los Angeles’s Yiddish Culture Club.  

The sun rises in a drop of dew,
      swaying palm fronds feather;
a yellow bumblebee buzzes by
     honeysuckle cloaks itself in morning blue.
Jasmine exhales perfume like honey,
     bougainvillea of purplegold goes clambering—
Wake up, my heart, wake up and sing!

A red bloom skyward in stillness strains,
     tiny, cupped tongue dancing in the wind.
A golden stalk frolics and winks
     in the undulating glow of sun emerging
in a dew-damp early morning—
     Wake up, my heart, wake up and sing!

Green the leaves while the day is golden,
     sweet the wild dove’s cooing.
In a curled leaf nestles joy to come
     and in my lap, green trust unwavering.
Wake up, my heart, wake up and sing!

With white puffs of magnolia Shevat* blooms,
     and a gold bug’s horned eyes send me a wink.
On a green leaf a red ladybug dreams
     while rain clouds, like birds, come aflocking.
Wake up, my heart, wake up and sing!

A hillock greens in grayish sand
     when a sudden downpour dins.
Trees, rain-quenched, pensively stand,
     earthy scents suffuse the air so little.
Grasses ruffled by the wet wind
     revel in blissful, green rippling—
Wake up, my heart, wake up and sing!

 

1958

* The Hebrew month coinciding with January and February in the Gregorian calendar.

 

 

Miri Koral has been translating, teaching, and writing in Yiddish for over 25 years and is the founding director of the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language. Her book-length translations include Shmuel Rozhanski’s Jacob Dinezon: The Mother among Our Classic Yiddish Writers and In the Realm of Time: Selected Poetry of Chaim Keninger. Her translated poems and other works have appeared in Pakn Treger, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Melbourne Chronicle, and online at Jewishfiction.net, Yiddishpoetry.org, and the UCLA Digital Anthology of Yiddish Literature. Her own Yiddish writings have appeared in Kheshbn and other literary journals and in Step by Step: Anthology of Modern Yiddish Poetry.