In the last couple of years i fell in love with Israeli literature, especially poetry – from Y. L. Gordon, H. N. Bialik and S. Chernihovski, through N. Alterman and J. Amihay all the way to the present days’ M. Arad and D. Manor. Because of this – among some other things – i decided to study for a minor degree in Hebrew and not in Chinese.
In school i learned about Israel’s poetry like this: There was a literature teacher. We started to study Bialik. She said: “There are common meters – amphibrach, anapaest, iambus, dactyl, and so on, and according to the program you are supposed to study them now, but it is hard for you, and i am not in the mood, so we won’t do it.” She hardly even mentioned Chernihovsky, Shlonsky, Alterman and Avidan – they are, according to her, also “hard, and you can do fine without them”. And so i received the reasonable 75 grade in the matriculation exam in literature in an Israeli high school, but in fact hardly studied any Hebrew literature at all, and for nearly ten years after the school didn’t read a single Israeli book, and not much foreign ones, either.
So now i am replenishing this. At the university i was quickly taught the basics of poetic meters and devices, and suddenly realized what a terrible crime that teacher committed. Without understanding these mostly simple rules it is very hard to read poetry. And he who learns them a little, becomes more educated and opens for himself a new exciting world.
The complete collected works of David Avidan are being released these days. I saw the book in the shop and thought – to buy or not buy? Previously, Avidan seemed very hard for me. I looked through a few pages and understood – now i’ll be able to enjoy it. I looked at the table of contents and all of a sudden saw a title of a poem in Latin letters, and not in English – “Kas buvo tai nebus”. It seemed familiar, i thought that it was Latin, but no, obviously not Latin. And after a moment i realized that it was in Lithuanian: “What was, shall not be”. Here is an attempt in translation:
Two Lithuanians, remembering their mother tongue
Less than they remember
Their mother, meet in a cool evening
In an open coffee house and begin
Remembering. How does one say
The past in Lithuanian? Really, how does one say
The past in Lithuanian? Very awkward, indeed
Very uncomfortable. Maybe there is
Someone here in this nice environment, within a radius of a
Kilometer or two who will be able to fix
This depressing linguistic short circuit? But
The time is very late, and all
The Lithuanians, who arentdeadyet are already asleep.
How does one say sleep in Lithuanian?
(The poem may have been already translated into English, maybe even by Avidan himself. As for “arentdeadyet” – Avidan often stuck words together as a literary device.)
I don’t know what prompted Avidan to write such an unusual poem. Lithuanians, as far as i know, preserved their language much better than did most peoples of the USSR. But perhaps he spoke of the Lithuanians in America or in Israel.
But i bought the book, of course.