The World According to Itzik: Selected Poetry and Prose

The World According to Itzik: Selected Poetry and Prose

by Itzik Manger, David G. Roskies

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480440777
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/15/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 463 KB

About the Author

Leonard Wolf is a distinguished novelist and translator of Yiddish books, short stories, and poetry. He has taught courses in New York University’s School of Continuing Education since his retirement from San Francisco State University.     

Itzik Manger (1901–1969) was a Yiddish poet, playwright, prose writer, and essayist, born Isidor Helfer in the multiethnic city of Czernowitz, Ukraine. Yiddish song and a love of literature permeated the Manger home. Sometime after being demobilized following World War I, he moved to Bucharest, where he became a leading spokesman for the Yiddish secular movement in greater Romania, wrote for the local Yiddish press, and did the lecture circuit, speaking on the ballad as well as on Spanish, Romanian, and Gypsy folklore. He lived in Poland, until forced out in 1938; in France, briefly; and then found refuge in England at the start of World War II. He died in Israel in 1969.

Read an Excerpt

The World According to Itzik

Selected Poetry and Prose

YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2002 Fund for the Translation of Jewish Literature
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-300-09248-2


Chapter One

LOT'S DAUGHTERS

Lot's daughters sit in the kitchen Whispering among themselves. One of them plucks a new-killed goose, The other one mends a dress.

The First one says, "A week ago It was my fortieth year. Today when I looked in the mirror, I saw my first gray hair.

Father carouses in taverns And the years pass swiftly by. My bridal shoes in the closet Lie waiting, hopelessly."

The second lets her needle drop And sits engrossed in thought. "Sister," she says, "my bedclothes At night grow feverish hot."

She says, her breathing parched, "I dreamed A blue-clad soldier came And slept all night between my breasts ... It was a lovely dream.

And then he left the dream and me- He does not reappear- As if no troops were garrisoned Among us any more."

The first one says, "Now listen, Because I have a plan. If bridegrooms will not come to us- A father is also a man."

Her cheeks are flushed, her breath is hot, Her voice unsteady, dim: "Sister, on this very night I mean to lie with him. Tomorrow, you. Why should we wait? Our father is drunk as Lot. And mother, in that cursed town Of Sodom turned to salt."

They're both inflamed. Around their lamp Beats a tardy butterfly ... "Sister, get ready. Our father comes Stumbling heavily."

ABRAHAM AND SARAH

"Abraham, when will we have a child? We're not getting younger, you know. Other women my age would have had Eighteen children by now."

The Patriarch Abraham puffs at his pipe And waits, then he says with a smile, "A broomstick, my dear, can be made to shoot If the Lord thinks it's worthwhile."

"Abraham, love, each night I hear My body sobbing for life ... Hagar is only your handmaiden While I am your own true wife.

Often, it seems to me that the star That gleams in the windowpane Is the soul of my child that's wandering Among shadows and wind and rain."

The Patriarch Abraham puffs at his pipe And waits, then he says with a smile, "A broomstick, my dear, can be made to shoot If the Lord thinks it's worthwhile." "When I see Hagar's son playing With sunbeams in the sand I find myself caressing him And grief overwhelms my hand.

And when I take him in my lap His smile's so bright and sweet, I feel my blood turn strangely cold And then my eyes are wet.

Abraham, when will we have a child? We're not getting younger, you know. Other women my age would have had Eighteen children by now."

The Patriarch Abraham puffs at his pipe And waits, then he says with a smile, "A broomstick, my dear, can be made to shoot If the Lord thinks it's worthwhile."

HAGAR'S LAST NIGHT IN ABRAHAM'S HOUSE

Hagar, the servant, sits in the kitchen; A smoking oil lamp spills The shapes of shadowy cats and dogs To flicker on the walls.

She weeps because her master Fired her today. "Beat it, you bitch," he told her. "Can't you let me be?"

It was Sarah who egged him on, That proper deaconess, Saying, "You get rid of the girl Or give me a divorce." Hagar takes out of her trunk A summer hat of straw; She takes her green silk apron And her bloodred beads of coral.

These were the gifts he gave her Once upon a day When they strolled the meadow By the railroad right-of-way.

"How like the smoke of a chimney, How like the smoke of a train Is the love of a man, dear mother, The love of any man.

God knows where we will run to, Myself and his bastard child, Unless in some alien kitchen We are allowed to hide."

She takes the kitchen broom up, She sweeps the kitchen floor. Under her blouse, her heart says, "I love him." She sweeps some more.

Again, she does the dishes, She scours the copper pan. "How like the smoke from a chimney Is the love of any man."

HAGAR LEAVES ABRAHAM'S HOUSE

The dawn is blue at the window, Three times the rooster crowed. Outside the horse is neighing, Impatient for the road. Hagar is worn with weeping; Her child lies in her arms: Once more she casts her eyes around The gray, familiar room.

Outdoors, the teamster haggles For his fare with Abraham: "All right, six dollars, even, For hauling both of them."

The pony scrapes the gravel As if it were saying, "Come on! Give me a chance to show you How to make the highway tame."

"This is our portion, Ishmael; Darling, dry your tears. This is the way of the Fathers With their long and reverend beards."

She foresees herself abandoned In a railroad waiting hall In a foreign country and she sobs Into her Turkish shawl.

"Hagar, stop that sniveling- Woman, do you hear me or no?" Hagar takes her bundle, Hagar turns to go.

He stands with his silken cap on, The pious Abraham- "Dear mother, tell me, does he feel My heart's defeated pain?"

The whistle blows; they've started. She sees, through tear-rimmed eyes, The village houses slowly Scrape backward in a haze. She takes the earth and heaven To be her witnesses: This is the way of the Fathers With their long and reverend beards.

HAGAR ON HER JOURNEY

Hagar, worn with weeping, Sits on a highway stone. She asks of every passing wind The way that she must go.

One says, "Hagar, take the east." Another, "West, that's where." A third wind is a prankster And plays among her hair.

Hagar asks the passing birds Flying through the air. One whispers, "You go north." Another, "South, that's where."

She weeps, "For years, O God, I served him faithfully. See now how any bird or wind Can make a fool of me?"

Hagar lifts her head And sees a caravan Led by the Turkish sultan With a mantle all of green.

Nearer, he comes, and nearer, Then speaks. His voice is firm: "Tell me, are you Hagar, Servant to Ibrahim? And your little baby boy, Is Ishmael his name? We have heard our prophet say That we descend from him."

The sultan falls before her, He kneels down in the dust. "Our lineage finds its honor. Allah, O Allah be praised."

Not knowing what the truth is, She can only stare While the moon is a silver crescent Glistening in her hair.

ABRAHAM TAKES ITZIK TO THE SACRIFICE

The gray light of the dawning Touches the earth with dawn. Eliezer, the loyal servant, puts The black team's harness on.

Taking the child up in his arms, Old Abraham shuts the door. Over his ancient roof, there gleams A blue and pious star.

"Up, Eliezer"-the whip rings out, The road has a silvery look. "Sad and lovely," the poet says, "Are the roads of the Holy Book."

The graying willows on the way Run to the house again To see if his mother stands beside The cradle of her son. "Daddy, where are we going now?" "To Lashkev-to the fair." "Daddy, what are you going to buy At Lashkev-at the fair?"

"A soldier made of porcelain, A trumpet, and a drum; A piece of satin to make a dress For mother, who waits at home."

Abraham feels his eyes grow moist And the steel knife pressing, where It scalds the flesh beneath his shirt ... "To Lashkev ... the fair ... some fair."

"Eliezer, stop at the water mill. Stop for a while and wait. Isaac, my son, and I will go On from there on foot."

Eliezer sits and grumbles, and casts Down the road an anxious look. "Sad and lovely," the poet says, "Are the roads of the Holy Book."

THE PATRIARCH ABRAHAM GETS A LETTER

The Patriarch Isaac walks in the field, Serious, solemn, and grave, And sees a butterfly perching on A cornflower, where it waves.

A moment, two, and it's gone- Far, far, without remorse- Ah, has the charlatan at least Given the flower a divorce? In Isaac's eye there gleams a tear- "The world is filled with sin." Then slowly, gravely, Isaac goes To his father Abraham's tent.

The Patriarch Abraham on the sill Chats there with the postman, Who has brought a letter, sealed, For Abraham, Terah's son.

"The bride's well-dowered, lovely, too, And everything's all right. Very soon I'll bring her home," True Eliezer writes.

"Yes, very soon, I'll bring her home With camels, jewels, and cash. Her name is Rivke, and she's famed For the way that she cooks fish."

Abraham smiles and gives The postman some baksheesh. Ah, since his dear wife, Sarah, died, Abraham's not tasted fish.

He shuts his eyes-Ah, he feels good To hear the melody. Of the Gemara Yitshok sings- He'll grow in piety.

Amar Abai, how sweet it is. The old man nods and smiles. In his beard a sunset ray Plays, trembling, for a while.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The World According to Itzik Copyright © 2002 by Fund for the Translation of Jewish Literature. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Let Us Sing Simply,
Introduction,
POETRY,
Itzik's Midrash,
Introduction,
The Sacrifice of Itzik,
I Praise Thee Lord,
Eve and the Apple Tree,
Eve Brings Adam the Apple,
Abraham Scolds Lot,
Lot's Daughters,
Abraham and Sarah,
Hagar's Last Night in Abraham's House,
Hagar Leaves Abraham's House,
Hagar on Her Journey,
Abraham Takes Itzik to the Sacrifice,
The Patriarch Abraham Gets a Letter,
Rachel Goes to the Well for Water,
The Patriarch Jacob Meets Rachel,
Leah Brings Mandrakes from the Field,
Jacob Teaches the Story of Joseph to His Sons,
Bathsheba,
King David and Abishag,
Abishag Writes a Letter Home,
Cain and Abel,
King David,
Songs of the Megillah,
Prologue,
Invocation,
The Song of the Runner,
How the Blessed Mordecai Found Favor in the Eyes of the King,
Queen Vashti,
The King's Banquet,
Vashti's Song of Grief,
Queen Vashti Being Led to Execution,
Esther Getting Ready for the King,
Mordecai Leaving Esther's Wedding,
Fastrigosso's Elegy,
Queen Esther Can't Sleep,
Fastrigosso Dreaming,
The Blessed Mordecai, the Mediator,
The Queen Comes to the King,
Fastrigosso Has the Birds Carry a Greeting to Esther,
Haman Telephones Vayzosse, the Editor, at His Office,
Fonfosso, the Master Tailor, Delivers a Eulogy on Fastrigosso,
The King Ahasuerus After the Assassination Attempt,
Mordecai Comes to Queen Esther,
Wicked Haman Can't Sleep,
Wicked Haman in the King's Courtyard,
Fonfosso and His Apprentices Sew a Uniform for Haman,
Pious Mordecai Waits for Satan,
The Master Tailor, Fonfosso, Prepares to Fast,
Queen Esther, Fasting,
Haman Gets Ready for the Masked Ball,
The King Is Angry,
Haman Being Taken to the Gallows,
The Master Tailor, Fonfosso, Presides over a Banquet,
Fastrigosso's Mother Lights a Memorial Candle,
Ballads,
The Ballad of the White Glow,
The Ballad of the Crucified and the Verminous Man,
Old-Fashioned Ballad,
Hospital Ballad,
The Ballad of the Man Riding to the Fair,
Ballad,
The Ballad of the Blue Pitchers,
The Ballad of the Necklace of Stars,
Erotic Ballad,
The Ballad of the Man Who Went from Gray to Blue,
Occasional Poems,
In the Train,
Baal Shem,
Satan's Prayer,
Evening,
Saint Besht,
Like a Murderer,
With Silent Steps,
November,
At the Kolomey Station,
Twilight,
The Words of the Journeyman Tailor Notte Manger to the Poet,
There Is a Tree That Stands,
Rabenu Tam,
Reb Levi Yitskhok,
Since Yesterday,
For Years I Wallowed,
Epilogue,
PROSE,
Autobiographical Episodes,
Childhood Years in Kolomey,
At Grandmother Taube's in Stopchet,
A Portrait of a Tailor's Workshop,
Fiction,
Excerpts from The Book of Paradise,
The Tales of Hershel Summerwind,
The Story of the Nobleman's Mustaches,
The Rabbi of Chelm: May His Memory Be Blessed,
Essays,
First Letter to X. Y.,
The Ballad: The Vision of Blood,
Sholem Aleichem, the One and Only,
Folklore and Literature,
Notes,

What People are Saying About This

Ruth R. Wisse

Manger's deceptively folkish style, which mixes fantasy and autobiography, Biblical plots and a fin-de-siècle East European setting, pathos and parody, angels' wings and social protest, the lyric and dramatic, has been brilliantly rendered into English by Leonard Wolf.
(— Ruth R. Wisse)

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