French and English translations of the poetry of Rivka Basman Ben-Haim

The French-language poet and translator, Sabine Huynh has put on the Internet her own translations of Basman Ben-Haim’s poetry alongside my English translations. This is the link to her site:

https://www.terreaciel.net/Rivka-Basman-Ben-Hayim-traduite-par-Zelda-Kahan-Newman-anglais-et-Sabine-Huynh#.WbmOxLIjHIU

 

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The Thirteenth Hour

2016 saw the publication of yet another dual-language collection of Basman Ben-Haim’s poetry.  This time it was a Yiddish-English collection entitled, “The Thirteenth Hour”. The book’s publisher is MayApple Press, and the English translations are mine. The title of the book was taken from one of the poet’s Yiddish books, a book  written after the death of the poet’s husband. The expression is used to mean “not timely”. However the poet intended it, my own feeling was for all that the English-speaking world waited a long time for a book of Basman Ben-Haim’s poetry in English, I was delighted that the poet lived to see the publication of a book that could reach a wider audience.

Here is a link to the web-page for that book:

The Thirteenth Hour – Rivka Basman Ben-Haim, translated from the Yiddish by Zelda Kahan Newman

I was invited to speak at the Library of Congress about the poet, her work and my book. Here is a link to the web-cast of that talk:

http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=7758&loclr=eanw

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The Smile of a Tree

The Smile of a Tree

In 2016, Rivka Basman Ben-Haim put out a dual-language, Yiddish-Hebrew book entitled Der Shmeykhl fun a Boym,  The Smile of a Tree. Its Hebrew translators were Hamutal Bar Yosef, Yehudah Gur-Aryeh, Asher Gal, Roy Greenvald, Benny Mer and the late Shalom Lurie.

For the poet, the past is ever-present. She recalls the days in a labor camp, when “a good word” was “bread”, but also how, in the eyes of the curious youngsters she taught in kibbutz Ha-Ma’apil, she found “the path to the land of the living”. Some of the poems in this book are pure ars poetica.  Others are portraits of the now living as well as those who live on in her memory. In a sly tone of self-mockery, she sees herself as others see her: “the silent old lady/who writes Yiddish poems for herself”.  She lives very much in the moment, enjoying “the smile of a tree”, living “in the beauty and glory” of Hebrew, even as she totally breathes “in the loneliness of Yiddish”.

Every one of the poets’s books had in them illustrations of the work of her late husband, the artist Mula Ben-Haim.  This book is no exception. Immediately after the front cover there is a full-color reproduction of a painting entitled “Figure of a Sitting Woman”, and the front cover itself has a photo reproduction of a vase of blue flowers. To see the front cover, click on the link below:

scan of Der Shmeykhl fun a Boym

Appropriately, the poet dedicates her book to her husband, The dedication reads: “To Mula, with you in the breath of a poem”.

Here is the title poem in the Yiddish:

Der Shmeykhl fun a Boym

And here is my English translation of that poem:

The Smile of a Tree

The smile of a tree –

its fruit

which sweetens my mood.

I taste its juice

and thank it with a poem.

 

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Rivka Basman Reciting “Vayskayt”

a vayskayt for blog

Rivka Basman Ben- Haim delighted in Kadya Molodowsky’s poetry when she herself was a schoolgirl in pre-WWII Lithuania.  After WWII,  when Molodowsky edited a collection of poems on the Holocaust (entitled Lider Fun Khurbn, Poems of/from the Holocaust), one of Basman Ben-Haim’s poems was chosen for the anthology.

It is no accident that Basman Ben-Haim dedicated a poem entitled “A Whiteness” to Kadya Molodowsky. White was Molodowsky’s color of choice. It was the color of the “wings of a dream” ( “un khaloymes…./…mit vayse fligl“, and dreams with white wings. See Paper Bridges, pp. 110-111),  and joy and whiteness whiteness were intertwined in her psyche, (“vayse lider fun mayn glik“, white poems of my joy. See Paper Bridges, pp. 114- 115.)

The two women poets met and got to know each other in the early 1950s when Molodowsky lived in Tel Aviv and Basman Ben-Haim, on kibbutz Ha-Ma’apil.  Basman Ben-Haim could not have known that in a letter written while she was in Israel, Molodowsky told a friend that she was getting browbeaten for “living well with the Almighty”. Of course, as Molodowsky herself said (on a different occasion) to live well with someone is to argue with them.  And she had serious arguments with the God of Israel.

As I understand it “A Whiteness” is Basman Ben-Haim’s rejoinder to  Molodowsky’s poem “El Chanun“, Grace-granting God. In “El Chanun“, Molodowsky railed against the Jewish God: “Choose another people”, she cried out. Coming in the wake of the Holocaust, Molodowsky’s anger is understandable. Her friends, her younger brother, his wife and their baby were murdered. She was bereft. Basman Ben-Haim, herself a Holocaust survivor. does not meet Molodowsky on these grounds. Instead, she reminds Molodowsky of the beauty of the natural world, and rhetorically asks: “Is God not there as well?”

 

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Clarification: I have (most unwittingly) done the poet a dis-service by labeling her a “holocaust survivor”. While there is no doubt that Rivka Basman Ben-Haim is a holocaust survivor, and that this experience lurks under the surface at all times, it does not  and should not define her.  Any one who will read the articles in the following posts, listen to the recordings below, and/or read the texts below, will see that Rivka Basman Ben-Haim has done many things since those years.  Her poems are about eveything and anything, and are by no means limited to this one theme.

This winter Rivka Basman Ben-Haim published a new book called Liederheym,

Poem(s)-home.  Below is its front cover

Front Cover Rivka Basman Ben-Hayim’s New Book 2013

Front page of Liederheym

 

Below is a photo of Rivka reading from her new book at the book launching.

(Photo- courtesy of Bella Bryks-Klein):

photo of Basman at book launching

Here are 10 poems from that book- first a recording, then the Yiddish and the English.  On some screens, the English version is not formatted properly.  If you do not get a properly formatted version for theEnglish translation, click on the hyperlink to get Word file.  If the file still does not appearproperly formatted, you maybe using the Chrome browser.  In that case, use Internet Explorer as your browser, and all will be well.

liederheym page 8 Di Kroyveshaft -recording

Liederheym p. 8 di kroyveshaftHow to explain                                                                         The intimacy                                                                      Between Yiddish and Hebrew?                                       Perhaps the way Yiddish breathes deeply                              Into a Hebrew word,                                                            Warms up the letters,                                                           Gives them a softer step.

And then when Yiddish                                                          Tells Hebrew about                                                                Her tears-                                                                                    Both languages pray                                                              The identical prayer                                                                    To God.

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document:

Liederheym page 8 English translation

liederheym page 10 Tsu Zikh– To Myself- recording

Liederheym page 10 YiddishFirst be in the poem                                                        Entirely within the poem                                             Immersed from head to feet                                               Then swallow the poem                                                           Like sunny oranges                                                               Bitter-sweet.

 

 

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document

Liederheym page 10 English translation

liederheym page 12 Di Shtekhers The Thorns- recording

Liederheym page 12 YiddishThe thorns                                                                           That’ve withered                                                                       Lose their sharpness,                                                           They shrink                                                                                   And they soften-                                                                        So old age shows                                                          Everyone                                                                                     Its mark.

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document:

Liederheym page 12– English translation

liederheym page 14 Mit Lider fun Yung Yisroel With Poems of “Yung Yisroel”- recording

Liederheym page 14 YiddishI was fated                                                                                   To inhale your breath                                                                 I was fated to sink                                                                     Into your song-                                                                            An old-young                                                                               A salty-sweet                                                                                A true-dream-like                                                                    And I read your verse                                                            And I long-for and speak to you                                             And am silent.

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document:

Liederheym page 14 English

liederheym page 15 Nokhn Shturm After the Storm recording

Liederheym page 15 Yiddish

Let the words play                                                                     Let them be happy with a dream,                                      Don’t show them the color of your will,                           Don’t remember past days.

Let them create worlds                                                         Which come with flowers to greet                                          An unmasked reality,                                                                   A reality that’ll never feel pained.

Let the words play                                                                       As calm follows a storm                                                             Your wind-swept will becomes calm                                       Trust those words and believe them.                                                                                                 Let them play.

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document:

Liederheym page 15 English

liederheym page 17 A Vort A Word -recording

Liederheym p17 better YiddishA word                                                                                        Is an apple                                                                                 A plum                                                                                      And a dream.

A word can drive-out                                                          And bring home                                                                         In peace.

A word                                                                                           Is spring                                                                                  And winter                                                                                And snow.

A word                                                                                                                                                Strokes                                                                                                                                                 And hurts.

A word                                                                                                                                                      Is an apple                                                                                                                                                A plum                                                                                                                                                 And a dream.

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document:

Liederheym page 17 English translation

liederheym page 19 Di Goldene Keyt recording

The “Golden Chain”

Liederheym page 19 YiddishIt often happens                                                                      That I ride by                                                                             The entrance                                                                                    Of the former “Golden Chain”                                                Where Avrohom                                                                Gathered Yiddish words                                                              As rare pearls,                                                                            And Alexander                                                                         With great dedication                                                      Arranged them on the pages.

Pages of Yiddish words                                                    Smiling and teary                                                           Thought-through by generations,                                  Yiddish words like bees                                                                                                                Which seek a flowering spot.

And on-the-way sting the Hebrew city                                                                                        With a reclaimed,                                                                                                                              Lost                                                                                                                                                 Yiddish word.

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document:

Liederheym page 19 English translation

liederheym page 22 In Veg On the Road- recording

Liederheym  page 22 YiddishLonely people don’t rush,                                                    Don’t hurry,                                                                           They walk step-by-step,                                                         Let all pass them by,                                                         They’ve time to see a blade of grass                                        A tree, a leaf.                                                                           And they tell the wind                                                         What they once had-                                                                 So the wind lingers a moment                                            And writes it down on the leaves                                          Word for word….

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document:

Liederheym page 22 English translation

liederheym page 24 A Hunt Hot Mikh Arumgekukt  A Dog Looked Me Over – recording:

Liederheym page 24 YiddishA dog looked me over                                                            Began to accompany me                                                          As though he were searching                                                      Not for me but someone else.

While walking he sensed                                                              I was not that other                                                                   So he lowered his head                                                         And stopped accompanying.

That same thing happened to me                                             I thought it was you                                                                 And with a quiet “oy” asked                                                  How exactly do I get to-

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document:

Liederheym page 24 English translation

liederheym page 50 In Shpigl In the Mirror- recording

Liederheym page50 YiddishYou are yourself-                                                                        No one else.                                                                         What’s different is the time                                               Which encircles you,                                                             This is you.

The same loves                                                                              Nest in  you                                                                              The same thoughts                                                       Accompany your step                                                            And the same consolation                                               Which comes bloodied                                                        From the struggle                                                                 Writes your poem.

If the English translation above was not properly formatted, click below for a Word document:

Liederheym page 50 English translation

liederheym page 17 A Vort A Word

 

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Rivka Basman’s eulogy for her husband

Rivka Basman Ben-Hayim’s eulogy for her husband

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Mula Ben-Haim and Rivka Basman

Mula Ben-Haim and Rivka Basman

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English translations of Basman Ben-Hayim’s poetry

I have translated some of the poems that the poet recites on this blog. In time, I will post them. Meantime, all translations of Basman Ben-Hayim’s poems are most welcome. If there are other translations not mentioned here, please feel free to make them known.

English Translations of Basman Ben-Hayim’s poetry not mentioned in “My Desert is Hotter”):

1. Stones Bloom – Translation found in Pakn Treger

2.. In the book Trot Bay Trot: Contemporary Yiddish Poetry (Bemporad and Pascucci, eds) Firenze, 2009, there are Yidddish poems on one side and my English tranlations of them on the opposite side, pp. 40-57. (If I can get the publisher’s permission, I will scan them here.)

3. Kathryn Hellerstein and I jointly published a translation of “grinkaytn”, greenesses. It  can be found in  Nashim, no. 19, spring 2010, pp. 174-175.

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Encyclopedia Article on Basman Ben-Hayim

The following article on Basman Ben-Hayim appears in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Women.  It is a bit out of date, but it gives the names of the poet’s books and some extra biographical information not found in the other articles. See http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/basman-ben-hayim-rivka

 

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“My Desert is Hotter”

The following article,  gives an overview of Basman Ben-Hayim’s poetry.  It has English translations of poems not found in the introductory essay here (“Not Yet…”), an extended bibliography of translations of her poems into Hebrew and references to translations into English other than my own.  http://wjudaism.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/wjudaism/article/view/12648

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