Kumi Tsi

Introduction

Hayim Nahman Bialik’s poem “Kumi Tsi” was first published in the Hebrew journal “Ha-Shiloah” in 1905, to the reluctance of its then-editor, Joseph Klausner. Klauser’s misgivings lay in the poem’s decadent language and abundant metaphors, which he viewed as indulgent and hollow. The explicitly sexual tone of the Bialik’s poem may have also been on Klausner’s mind. In fact, the piece most likely escaped censorship largely because it was published in Hebrew—a language that then held a relatively limited readership. Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Russian translation of Bialik’s poem was published the same year for a significantly wider readership. Yet, in his version of the poem, Jabotinsky takes considerable steps away from Bialik’s text and wades into the realm of literary creation. The resulting translation is a poetic work in its own right.

The following English editions of Bialik and Jabotinsky’s texts render two works of poetry into pseudo-prose, and only in rare instances reproduce the elaborate use of meter and rhyme present in the original texts. The reason for this is twofold. While Hebrew and Russian are replete with grammatical endings that naturally transform a vast majority of nouns and adjectives into rhyming pairs, English is much less flexible. As such, when seeking to emulate the rhyming patterns of poems from either of these languages, the English translator is cornered into deciding between a word that fits on the basis of meaning and one that fits on the basis of rhyme. Inevitably, setting out on this path of impossible binary choices is a recipe for an inaccurate and unsatisfying translation. For that reason, I have sought to avoid this direction altogether. Secondly, the aim of these English translations is to provide a basis for comparing Bialik’s Hebrew poem “Kumi Tsi” with Jabotinsky’s Russian translation. Since the poems diverge on the basis of form in striking and obvious ways, a prose-type translation seeking to precisely reflect the meaning of each poem provides a more fertile ground for comparison. 

In many ways, this translation seeks to offer the English reader an understanding of how Jabotinsky’s text both reconfigures and deviates from Bialik’s urtext. Yet, one need not wade too deeply into the assemblage of words and line breaks to realize that such a project is flawed at its core. Insofar as literature creates, so too does translation. It is up to us, the readers, to reconcile the paradoxes of authenticity that this double act of creation breeds. 

Mouse over text to reveal original.

Arise and Go Forthקומי צאי

Arise and go forth, my sister, bride,1
Arise and go forth, arise and go forth— 
I’ve brought for you spring tidings: 
Behind the fence of my garden
A bud has appeared, a bud has appeared
The voice of a sparrow2 was heard on my house.
,קוּמִי צְאִי, אֲחוֹתִי כַלָּה
–קוּמִי צְאִי, קוּמִי צְאִי
:בְּשׂוֹרַת אָבִיב לָךְ הֵבֵאתִי
מֵאֲחוֹרֵי גֶדֶר גַּנִּי
,נִרְאָה צִיץ, נִרְאָה צִיץ
נִשְׁמַע קוֹל הַדְּרוֹר עַל-בֵּיתִי

Since the morning watching your doorstep
The glimmers of age, the glimmers of age,
Kissing the mezuzot 3 of your entryways;
Go forth to them, naive, pure,
And they’ll wash you and refresh you, 
And cause your eyes to shine. 
מִן הַבֹּקֶר שׁוֹמְרִים סִפֵּךְ
,זָהֳרֵי גִיל, זָהֳרֵי גִיל
;נוֹשְׁקִים מְזוּזוֹת פְּתָחָיִךְ
,צְאִי אֲלֵיהֶם, תַּמָּה, בָּרָה
,וּשְׁטָפוּךְ וְחִדְּשׁוּךְ
.וְהִקְרִינוּ אֶת-עֵינָיִךְ

God’s grace has passed over the earth
On a wing of light, on a wing of light—
And in the streams joy has descended:
Spring has come! Spring has come!
The trees in the garden have blossomed,
The cherry tree has whitened. 
עָבַר חֶסֶד-אֵל בָּאָרֶץ
–עַל כְּנַף-אוֹר, עַל כְּנַף-אוֹר
:וּבַפְּלָגִים נָפְלָה רִנָּה
!אָבִיב בָּא! אָבִיב בָּא
,לִבְלְבוּ בַגָּן הָעֵצִים
.הַדֻּבְדִּבְנִיָּה הִלְבִּינָה

In the heart also returned and lived4
The flower of my beloved, which gave its fragrance—
Arise and bless him in your Spring;
I too, I too
Will embed my Spring in you
And bless you and have you bear my fruit
גַּם-בַּלֵּב שָׁב וַיְחִי
–פֶּרַח דּוֹדַי, נָתַן רֵיחוֹ
;צְאִי בָרְכִיהוּ בַּאֲבִיבֵךְ
אַף אֲנִי, אַף אֲנִי
אֶת-אֲבִיבִי בָּךְ אַשְׁכִּינָה
.וַאֲבָרְכֵךְ וַאֲנִיבֵךְ

Donning light, a gown of whiteness,
And in your braid a ribbon of blue, 
Come forth to me like a spirit-vision!
And you’ll gleam, and laugh,
And your laughter will be full of grace,
And your fragrance will be like an apple. 
עוֹטָה אוֹר, שִׂמְלַת ,צְחוֹר
,וּבְצַמָּתֵךְ קִשּׁוּר תְּכֵלֶת
!צְאִי אֵלַי כְּחֶזְיוֹן רוּחַ
,וְנָהַרְתְּ, וְשָׂחַקְתְּ
,וִיהִי שְׂחוֹקֵךְ מָלֵא חֵן
.וִיהִי רֵיחֵךְ כַּתַּפּוּחַ

Together we’ll sail to the field
And to the mountain and to the valley,
And there I’ll gather forget-me-nots;
Collect, I’ll collect pearls of dew, 
Pearls of dew— 
Jewels for your neck. 
יַחְדָּו נַפְלִיג אֶל הַשָּׂדֶה
,וְאֶל הָהָר וְאֶל הַגָּיְא
;וַאֲלַקְּטָה שָׁם זִכְרִיּוֹת
,אָסֹף אֶאֱסֹף פְּנִינֵי-טָל
–פְּנִינֵי-טָל
.אֶל צַוָּארֵךְ מַרְגָּלִיּוֹת

Collect, I’ll collect rays of light,
Rays of light, 
And I’ll gather among the lilies;
I’ll adorn your forehead with luminous buds 
Golden blares, gilded wreaths
And I’ll tie to your head small crowns.
אָסֹף אֶאֱסֹף קַרְנֵי ,אוֹר
,קַרְנֵי אוֹר
;וַאֲלַקְּטָה בֵּין שׁוֹשַׁנִּים
,אֶעֱנֹד מִצְחֵךְ צִיצֵי זִיו
,צְפִירוֹת זָהָב, זֵרֵי פָז
.וְאֶקְשֹׁר לְרֹאשֵׁךְ כְּתָרִים קְטַנִּים

Together we’ll go down to the spring,
And like you, full of tenderness, 
Cheerful, bright, and airy, 
Under the Lord’s skies
With the wave and with the sparrow
My song will shine and ring.
יַחְדָּו נֵרֵד אֶל ,הַמַּעְיָן
,וְכָמוֹךְ, מָלֵא רֹךְ
,עַלִּיז, בָּהִיר וְאַוְרִירִי
תַּחַת שְׁמֵי אֲדֹנָי
עִם הַגָּל וְעִם הַדְּרוֹר
.יַזְהִיר אַף יְצַלְצֵל שִׁירִי

Arise, my sister, brideВстань, сестра моя, невеста

Arise, my sister, bride,
Go forth to the garden,
Go forth to the garden—
I’ve come with greetings of May:
I have in my garden a flower
That’s given a shoot-
A petal,
Welcoming the first swallows.
Встань, сестра моя, невеста,
Выйди в сад,
Выйди в сад—
Я пришел с приветом мая:
У меня в саду цветок
Дал росток—
Лепесток,
Первых ласточек встречая.

The swarm of sunbeams at the door since morning
Watches over
Your arrival,
Showering sparkling caresses:
Go forth you, luminous, to the garden—
They’ll embrace, revive,
And light your eyes with joy.
Рой лучей с утра у двери
Стережет
Твой приход,
Сыпля искристые ласки:
Выйди, светлая, ты в сад—
Обовьют, возродят,
И зажгут весельем глазки.
Мчат они Господню милость

They rush grace to the Lord
On wing
Along the earth,
And their vernal rumble murmurs
In every brook, “Hello, May!”
All my garden—a green Eden,
Cherry trees adorned with white.
На крыле По земле,
И журчит их гомон вешний
В каждой речке: «здравствуй, май!»
Весь мой сад — зеленый рай,
Белым убраны черешни.

And in the soul—a flower of love…
Go forth, look, bless
My flower with your spring:
And I’ll give away my spring
And with spring I’ll flood you
And I’ll raise up your flowers.
А в душе — цветок любви…
Выйди, глянь, благослови
Мой цветок весной твоею:
И отдам весну мою
И весной тебя залью
И цветки твои взлелею.

Go forth in maidenly beauty,
With a blue ribbon in your braid
In a white cloth, in a white heat!
Illuminate the garden with your smile…
Your spring aroma—
Like a forest apple.
Выйди в девичьей красе,
С синей лентою в косе
В белой ткани, в белом зное!
Озари улыбкой сад…
Твой весенний аромат—
Словно яблоко лесное.

We’ll leave to roam the fields.
The mountains,
The meadows:
There I’ll pick forget-me-nots,
I’ll gather with them pearls of dew,
Pearls of dew—
A necklace for my babe.
Мы уйдем бродить по нивам.
По горам,
По лугам:
Там сорву я незабудки,
Соберу с них жемчуг рос,
Жемчуг рос—
Ожерелье для малютки.

I’ll collect a sheaf of sunbeams,
A sheaf of sunbeams,
I’ll thread some roses and lilies,
sequins, gold, scarlet
And I’ll weave for you a crown
From glimmers, sparks, and dust.
Соберу я сноп лучей,
Сноп лучей,
Нанизаю роз и лилий,
Блестки, золото, багрец
И сплету тебе венец
Из мерцаний, искр и пылей.

And by the waves, where the bushes sleep,
Full of tenderness, like you, —
Brighter, more joyful, more miraculous
Than the first swallows of spring,
More sonorous than the babble of a wave
I’ll ring out to the sky in song!
И у волн, где спят кусты,
Полный нежности, как ты,—
Ярче, радостней, чудесней
Первых ласточек весны,
Звонче лепета волны
Зазвеню я в небо песней!


1 Song of Solomon 4:9
2 Also: Freedom and Liberty
3 A Jewish ritual object affixed to the doorways of interior spaces
4 Genesis 47:28

The editors would like to thank Itai Zwecker, Olga Mironova, and Alexis Gunderson for their invaluable contributions to this project.