Yiddish poetry for Palestine

on 39 Comments

My Palestine is that of poets. I have broken bread at a table with Mahmoud Darwish before his exile. I played in the yard of Emile Habibi and was nourished by the love of Toufik Zaiad. I have touched the face of Samih al-Qasem and have recited poetry with the living poets of the Galilee in the Galilee.

These are poets of Palestine. They are some of the most important poets of Palestine. In a normal world they would also be the poets of Israel, for they too are as I am Israeli. But for now they are my poets, they are the poets of the refugees, they are my story, and they are Palestine’s story.

Like many Palestinian boys I began writing poetry early. I have written thousands of lines of poetry. These hordes of lines, in fact, wrote themselves over the years. I rarely share them but have decided to do so here in the coming months.

You see, for decades I have been disappointed in my poetry, it is the poetry of the defeated. My poetry reconciles itself to the eternity of the Palestinian refugee experience. The cold, bleak, grey and decidedly slow existence of  the permanent refugee camp. 

For decades I did not understand the influences that drove the sadness of my expression. Was it Suffi poetry? Perhaps. But I happened a few years ago upon translations of Yiddish poetry. It seems that although I memorised Mahmoud Darwish’s poems, though I have recited those of Samih al-Qasim, it was the hints of Yiddish poetry that I heard as a child  whose rhythms have so obviously consumed my soul. The poetry that I have written in Arabic, as well as English, contains undoubtable faint expressions of Yiddish poems.

This ‘Letter from the Shtetl‘ shakes me to the core. I wish I had written something so beautiful. It is to me an expression of my Palestinian existence. It well introduces my own poetry, which I hope you will enjoy over the coming weeks.  For now ‘Letter from the Shtetl,’ Yiddish poetry from my Palestine:

Letter from a Shtetl

The clock’s sounding gently its dreary tick-tock,
The house is so still, the walls are so grey…
It’s achingly dismal, the silence is heavy,
How slowly the hours are slipping away…

The windows start shaking – it is a cart passing,
Accompanied by a cold autumn gale.
It’s dim in the house, in the darkening stillness
You hear a child next door, as it starts to wail.

Weary, Father’s asleep over Talmud,
Mother fretting patches a vest,
Pale pensive Daughter sits hunched in a corner
And writes to a Brother who has long flown the nest:

‘My brother, gladly I’d spare you the truth
And soothe you with lies, for your woe too, is deep.
But lying is hard and I cannot keep secret
The sobs that I stifle at night, robbed of sleep.

Father earns nothing, I’m ailing and broken,
Mother is worn out from bearing the load.
We’re yoked to the wagon and straining to pull it,
Yet cannot reach what we’re aiming for – bread!

It’s true of our neighbour and of every household,
The shtetl is more like a cemetery now.
The shops are all empty, the factory’s idle,
The young folk are restlessly leaving for town…

The clock’s sounding gently its dreary tick-tock,
The house is so still, the walls are so grey…
It’s achingly dismal, the silence is heavy,
How slowly the hours are slipping away

About Simone Daud

A Palestinian academic. A progressive internationalist with a wholly secular outlook. Meticulously pacifist and a militantly anti-reactionary perspective. An interest in progressive advocacy spanning gay rights, refugee rights.

Other posts by .

Posted In:

    Leave a Reply