I’m reading Rachel’s collected poems straight through for the first time. And being a translator (but not, I should emphasize, a poet), I can’t resist the temptation to try my hand at an English version of one. This is an ongoing project that I’ll be updating as I polish and improve it.
I told Rachel’s story in my book A Crack in the Earth. I noted there how Mt. Nevo was a central image in Rachel’s lyrics—and a central image for her readers as well. Nevo is the mountain from which Moses looked out over the Land of Israel, which he would never enter. In Rachel’s poetry, it’s the place from which the speaker looks out on an alternative life, the life longed or hoped for. The poetess stands in the wilderness and looks to the Promised Land.
As in other of her verses, this untitled poem, dated 1927, has the poet defiantly, but perhaps not so persuasively, affirming that Nevo is a worthy place to be. At the very least, it is a place where poems can be written—as the Promised Land, perhaps, is not.
אֵינִי קוֹבְלָה! בְחֶדֶר צַר
תִמְתַק כָל כָך עֶרְגַת מֶרְחָב,
לִימֵי תוגָה, לַסְתָו הַקַר
יֵש אַרְגָמָן וְיֵש זָהָב.
אֵינִי קוֹבְלָה! נוֹבֵע שִיר
מֵרֹאשׁ פִסְגָה, מֵהַר נְבוֹ.
I don’t complain! In a narrow room
The need for space becomes so sweet;
On melancholy days, in autumn’s chill
There’s scarlet and gold to see.
I don’t complain! A poem wells up
From a wounded heart, a heart in love,
And desert’s sand is like a greening field
From atop the peak, from Mt. Nevo.