Abraham Sutzkever

(1913 - 2010 / Smorgon, Russian Empire)

Ode To The Dove - Poem by Abraham Sutzkever


Seldom, once in a childhood, dazzling in rainbow of colors,
An angel descends from the stars, his tune will be with you forever.
An angel appeared — and vanished on the other side of the world,
Over my chimney he left me a sign — a beautiful feather.

Not just an ordinary angel, how would one have thought of a boy?
A wonder! A dove is the feather in snowing magnet of dawn.
Newborn, hovers the dove, learning — it takes just a moment,
Till she glides down at the steps of his porch in silvery rings.

Soft finger nests of the boy keep her warm, stroke the down.
Her snowy plush comes alive, cooing with a sunny breath.
The boy will teach her to fly, to peck the mist like peas.
'You saved my life, dear boy,' she nods her snow-white head,

'What gift shall I grant you, think fast: perhaps you would like
The mystery of my whiteness, an eternal snow, an amulet?'
Groggily, answers the boy: 'My dearest, if you I inspire,
Come whenever I call you, in rain and in snow and in fire.'


Sounds imprisoned in lips, like pearls in ocean castles,
Mute for thousands of years, and over the muteness — a knife.
'Sweet dove, child of my childhood, give voice to the lips, give voice,
Harken to weeping of sounds or else a dream will be drowned…'

Suddenly — a kiss on my lips. Who am I, where am I? The castles
Open up by themselves. The muteness — sliced by a knife.
Pearl and pearl and pearl, filled with mysterious sea rustlings,
Raining down from my lips, I am caught in a pearl terror.

…Crickets, like cobblers, hammer the grasses into my brow,
A meadow swims up in my attic and leaves a tear on my cheek.
Slaughtered roosters crow to honor one moment of mourning.
Melted snows pour ignited spirit in my ear.

Who intoxicated my fingers to write a verse like this:
All who ended their lives have sown in my heart their courage?
'Sweet dove, you gave me a mirror — a sheet of paper that sings,
My wandering words you took in, and spread over them your wings!'


Sheet of paper, you monument, the dove builds a nest in your body,
In you, not in marble, eternal is the face of the dreamer.
Here, between rough echoes, among sunken clay forms,
I gather silver syllables, to feed my childhood's dove.

Sunset sings in an oil lamp. And under the magic lantern
I build of bony sounds, coated with my blood — a temple.
He did not finish his word: rough and unhewn is the Word!
The volcano of poetry glows, sealed in bronze abysses.

Here, with my pen, I conduct my own silent orchestra:
Souls fly in with the rain, trickle down through my ceiling.
Cherries, immured in trees — I order them to change places:
They come on their purple feet to live as cherries in words.

A worm appears in the temple. He may not cherish such magic.
Real cherries in words scratch his palate like sand.
The dove coos like a sister: 'Command the return of cherries:
You are the weight and the weigher, vanished visions inherit!'


Girl dancer, my love, who are you? Were you born of a violin?
My throbbing garden body your dance has dug up with a spade.
Sick is the little dancer, somnambulent, in silver nightgown,
She swims away like a wave into cold, splashing worlds.

My head is filled with remedies to heal her heavenly figure —
Meanwhile a boy from the moon fell in love with my love.
Like Saul, I hurl at him spears — the boy hides among branches.
If I would bind him in poems — he gives me a silver finger.

Double windowpanes I order, to shelter my luck from men…
The panes are as whole as my love, and pure and double, but he
Swallows her out through the panes, lures with a beautiful gift:
Instead of dancing in the temple, she dances on the rim of the moon.

'Sweet dove, you tell the moon: it must not burn too hot,
Teach the dancer to fly, flying so high one must know!
I shall reward you with seeds, the rarest seeds and the best,
Let her not fall on thorns, if she must — let her fall on my breast.'


To build and build the temple, with sunny thought to build it!
The devil comes in a fire, to set for my dove a temptation.
Gray is the sun in the sky. He spins gray mold on all colors,
The temple is burned out, its pillars flee like beasts.

Children like golden birds — he lays them out in skeletons,
Venom on lips of sounds, to poison the hearts of poets.
Faces are stuck on necks, like shadows of axes below.
Happy are all the dead when iron and flesh are brothers.

A mire, the earth and sky, and I am sunk to my neck.
Fire — and I in the dark. A stone with extinguished sparks.
Only the saved sheet of paper in my believing fingers,
The fires must kneel before it — here, they lose their dominion.

I know: my sheet is the dove who won't let my fingers freeze,
Words like grandchildren must remember the time of tyrants.
Days with no dove are moths. Hail to pure forms that I love!
I gather silver syllables to feed my childhood dove.


'Yes, I am guilty, guilty, it was a sin to demand
That you bring back the dancer to me, to the earthly stalks.
An abysmal fire has devoured her young, unique blue,
Now my brow is searing with pearls in ash — with her gray.'

'No, you're not guilty, not guilty, the dancer dances the same
Warm dance of your youth under smiling blue vaults.
You wander from land to land, cut off mother-earth from your navel,
Above you, the dance will help to hoist the world on a pitchfork.'

'The dance above is a dream, where should I wander, my dove?
Eyes of the dead like nails all over my body, nailing
My soul to the Nothing. My bread and my salt — a ruin.
Under my steps is my homeland, moldy with grass is my country.'

'I shall give you my wings to fly, pull out of the nails your body,
A white thought like a sail will swell up with a wind of freedom.
You are not indentured to death, the days will go around for a while,
Eternal is only the legend and it will appear with a smile.'


World. What is world? Just its tune — like a wave, like a woods, like a world.
Its celestial tune will wail in my veins and demand: prevail!
I extinguish the wailing with seas, unfamiliar cities greet me.
Stop! A rain of terzinas was played here by Master Dante.

'Master of Hell, would you like to exchange Hells with me for a moment?
I shall stroll easy in yours, and you — in the fires over there…
It will not diminish, master, your eternal, marble glory,
You are still Alighieri, your hell — still an allegory.'

Men… Where are they, men?! How can we envy the dust?
Only the words of one bear their spirit, their faith.
Graveyards toll sounds — but unheard…For me they are a shelter.
Stop! Like a lion, Ha-Levi sang my yearning from Spain.

Hey, you poets, without you, life is a fleeting dream,
Without poetry, life would have knelt before death like a camel.
Man and beast would have tortured themselves, alien and mute,
My faithful dove would not have accompanied me on her flute…


Oh dancer, tell me, where are you? My hair feels close your flutter…
The dove is unable to tell me: Where is your home, your stage?
A gazelle in sunny dew sometimes brings me your eyes,
Who is the garden tremor where bloom Chagallian blues?

Beyond the forest, in a rain, who inhales me, like a rainbow?
Who is the naked wave — no limbs and so supple, a bow!
Who is the snow avalanche, shining over rims of rock?
An eagle would kiss her breast, and she pours wreathes on his body.

Who is the mirror in tears? Who are the new faces?
Who is the woman in the coffin, the rose-covered funeral?
The wheels of the years, they turn, and devour and spin my shadow,
On this very day, a spade has covered itself in a grave.

Who is the white transformation, that cannot get out of a birch?
Who is the echo of silence and who is the silence in pink?
Will no one answer me now? Inside me, is madness in heat?
On this very day, the stones stoned themselves in the street!


A stone meteor fell — far in the world, its tune
Drew me to travel through jungles, till once I saw it lying,
Full of the scents of stars. Nearby, on a boulder, a lion
Forged tolling bells with his roar, and a flame melted them all.

Who is the stone? I know it. Music under golden ribs.
The skychild calls me by name. Lips are drawn to lips.
'I am the dancer, don't ask … Hail to the lion's roar!
The king told me in advance your coming, your coming, your coming.'

Limbs gel. Until my body, consumed in the flames of love,
Is altogether extinguished — 'Oh, calm my lips, come close!
I shall leave you a sign: my last three drops of blood,
Before the moon becomes a tombstone white at my head.

I am the snow avalanche, the white birch, the mirror,
I am the echo of silence, encompassing you all around.
Gather the sounds, the images, in your region a hunger may swell …
Live them, enliven, describe!'
And thus did we say farewell.


Under a tree at the Red Sea. The waves will finish my ode.
Hush. In its shadow — a millstone, nimbly turned by the sun.
I inhale the white locust dunes — the guardians of time and memory.
Here my people wandered for forty biblical years.

Under the sand, miles of footsteps, vast as the desert their number.
Let the locust dunes reveal more profoundly my visions!
Where are my four decades — in the desert, along with those?
Bones remained, only bones — the grace of a blind hyena?

And the dove coos on my shoulder: 'Good morning! And may I ask:
Years, are they really bones? A puff — and they play vis-a-vis.
Stalks with children's eyes are moving under the dunes,
Resurrection of stalks, and above — a cloud with violin strings!

'Dear dove, are you the same, your wings not gray, could it be?
Shall I build my temple here, as I built it day after day?
Shall I take my magic lantern, make it grow green, bloom blue?'
'To build and build the temple — with sunny thought, build it anew!'


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Poem Submitted: Monday, July 21, 2014

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