Jerusalem

Nights, when the sandstone walls, baked
all day, now release their gathered heat
onto the city’s fitful summer sleep,
wafting up to where weapons lie in wait,

and where the cool moonlight scours
the distant contours of the mountains,
while bells ring from monastery towers,
chiming in on gunfire from the front,

you sense that all the age-old life pent
up in this city now draws to an end,
and you know: she is now spent,
expended on the Real, and commences

to detach herself from the present.
Poor, dethroned, stark in her nakedness,
She stands there, whom enemies could not sway,

and is once again what she always was:
a mere memory of a former greatness
and a waiting for the Final Day.

Summer 1948

 

The Sirens

There are days when seeing your life
resume its normal placid course,
you hear their unexpected cry
arise in lamentation, deep and hoarse,

which, before reaching its highest pitch,
gusts forth like a wild spring wind;
and suddenly all the streets are thick
with the interminable sound of groans

whose unrelenting ups and downs
heave you high onto steep waves
of terror, then plunge you to the ground
until your soul, ripped apart, caves

in. But then all the silence
within the echo of these shrieks
erupts, and your will goes weak,
stunned by the horror of such stillness.

Falling mute, they reduce you to a cower,
as if covering you with blows,
until one final monotonous moan
at last releases you from their power.

September 1947

 

Greetings from Angelus
(Paul Klee Angelus Novus)

I hang nobly on the wall
and look no one in the face
I’ve been sent from heaven
I’m of the angelic race.

Man is good within my realm
I take little interest in his case
I am protected by the Almighty
and have no need of any face.

The world from which I come
is measured, deep and clear
what keeps me of a piece
is a wonder, so it here appears.

In my heart stands the town
where God has sent me to dwell.
The angel who bears this seal
Never falls under its spell.

My wing is ready to beat
but I would gladly return home
were I to stay to the end of days
I’d still be this forlorn.

My gaze is never vacant
my eye pitchdark and full
I know what I must announce
and many other things as well.

I am an unsymbolic thing
what I am I mean
you turn the magic ring in vain
there is no sense to me.

To W. B., on July 15, 1921

 

All selections are drawn from The Fullness of Time: Poems by Gershom Scholem (forthcoming from Ibis Editions), translated from the German by Richard Sieburth and introduced and annotated by Steven Wasserstrom.

Richard Sieburth teaches comparative literature at New York University. His translations include Friedrich Hölderlin’s Hymns and Fragments, Walter Benjamin’s Moscow Diary, Gérard de Nerval’s Selected Writings and Maurice Scève’s Delie. His English edition of Nerval won the 2000 PEN Book-of-the-Month-Club Translation Prize.

 

Gershom Scholem was born in Berlin in 1897 and emigrated to Jerusalem in 1923. Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest scholars of the 20th century, Scholem virtually created the subject of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism as a serious area of study. His many books include Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, From Berlin to Jerusalem: Memories of My Youth, and Walter Benjamim The Story of a Friendship. He died in 1982.

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jewish culture and contexts
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BOMB 81
Fall 2002
The cover of BOMB 81
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