Friday, October 22, 2021

At the crossroads - על אם הדרך

At the crossroads a tree stood.

על אם הדרך עץ עמד.

Stood and fell bent over.

עמד נופל אפיים.

Sleep well, child. The night fell.

נומה, בן. הלילה רד.

A stormy night in the water.

ליל סער על המים.



Hush, child. The boat is leaning

הס, ילד. הספינה על צד

Bent from the raging wind.

נוטה מזעף רוח.

At the crossroads a tree stood,

על אם הדרך עץ עמד,

No flowers and no fruits.

אין ציץ ואין תפוח.



To this tree, son, a long time ago

אל זה העץ אי פעם, בן,

Your mother’s father came.

אבי אמך הגיע.

And he took shelter in the tree’s evening shade

וצל ערבית בעץ קינן

And no branch was disturbed.

ובד הוא לא הניע.



Your mother’s father raised his head,

כבש בו ראש אבי אמך,

His face towards Jerusalem.

פניו לירושלים.

Crying, he carried out the Mincha prayer,

נשא בבכי תפילת מנחה,

One with his G-d.

עם אלוהיו בשניים.



To this tree, son, your father

אל זה העץ אביך, בן,

Was tied, bound by rope.

נקשר, עקוד בחבל.

With iron and a whip they struck him, son,

ברזל ושוט הכוהו, בן,

And his warm naive soul started leaving his body.

וחם תימר ההבל.



And when it was like red hot fire

וכשהיה כאש אדום

The sharper-than-a-sword whip,

השוט החד מחרב,

Your father silently collapsed to the ground,

צנח אביך ארצה דום,

At the time of Mincha, with the evening.

לעת מנחה, עם ערב.



He slowly collapsed from his altar,

צנח ממזבחו לאט,

His face towards Jerusalem.

פניו לירושלים.

Hush, child. The boat is leaning

הס, ילד. הספינה על צד

Kneeling, kissing the water.

כורעה, נושקת מים.



The boat is kneeling on its side,

כורעת הספינה על צד,

Rising, drawing out its nails!

עולה שלופת ציפורן!

At the crossroads a tree was cut,

על אם הדרך עץ נכרת,

Was cut and made into a mast…

נכרת ויהי לתורן



Hush, child. The gate of glory

הס, ילד. שער התהילה

To the mast will open.

לתורן יפתח.

Today it is also a praying lectern,

הוא גם היום עמוד תפילה,

Today it is also an altar.

הוא גם היום מזבח.



At the crossroads a tree stood

על אם הדרך עץ עמד

And will not fall bent over.

ולא יפול אפיים.

Hush, child. The boat is leaning

הס, ילד. הספינה על צד

Rowing, splitting the water.

חותרה, בוקעת מים.

English does not do this song justice. I translated this song as best I could, but every word of this song is a beautiful metaphor that does not work in English. I took some creative liberty to restructure some of these phrases and remove many of the metaphors.

This is a Zionistic poem turned song written by the renown Israeli poet Nathan Alterman. It shows a tree's relationship with three generations of a Jewish family. The third generation, a boy, is being told the story of the tree likely by his mother or grandmother.

The tree where the boy's grandfather prayed is the same tree where is father was killed, and is the same tree which eventually served as the mast that carried him all the way to the land of Israel (after the Holocaust).

The poet, Nathan Alterman, wrote this song with a specific boat in mind, 'Homeland', which really did start tipping over to one side on its way to Israel. This boat was smuggling Jews to Israel, but eventually the tipping became so bad that they had to put out an SOS signal (SOS meaning Save Our Ship). The British got the ship to Haifa, where they consequently transferred the passengers to Cyprus in early 1947. Presumably, a year later, the passengers were able to return to the state of Israel for good. See the ship depicted below:

This song isn't particularly deep as far as I can tell, it is just expertly written, very beautiful and poetic. I urge you to try reading the Hebrew and try deciphering the motifs for yourself (not you MGNNK). If you have any ideas on how to improve my translations, please post a comment below or contact me, I think everyone should enjoy from this literary work.