The Hebrew word “shir” means both poem and song, an indication that in ancient time, the two were one. Poetry was not written but recited, it was a musical art.
We recite a lot these days, rhyming, chiming, putting words to a rhythm. We chant at protests and outside coutrooms. The result rarely sounds artistic (except in the case of “poetry demonstrations” organized by the “Culture Guerilla” organization) but it does something to ease our pain. We feel, perhaps naively, that we’re making a difference by making some noise.
All of this brought to my mind the following poem, composed by Nathan Zach in the early to mid 60s. Zach is known as a literary rebel, the man who moved Hebrew poetry from old-fashioned structures to free rhyme and free association. There’s a sense of freedom in these lines, and also a sense of sadness, both of which are so much a part of our reality these days. The poem is taken from his book “All the Milk and Honey”.
How else to sweeten days if not with poems
How else to sweeten days, if not with poems.
How else to sweeten? young lads will hear
and dreamily dance, young maids will wipe a tear, elders
delighted by a poem shall forget their bad hearts, they too shall wipe a tear, how else to sweeten?
Apart from their home, aways,
or in the midst of their bad home,
Let the poems of this poet offer them comfort
Let them know they were written in evenings
Let them know they were written in love
Let them stand before them as if before seas
Much water will not extinguish the family picture
When they’ll drink of them – sounds will rise
Joyful, and join them in barefoot dance
Over all the mountains
Where always happy is the children’s sadness,
The memory of their bad youth.
Dylan Thomas wrote: “I am dumb to tell the crooken rose / my youth is bent by the same wintery fever.” Our youth too is bad. It’s been spoilt by too much violence and the terrible crime of the occupation. there isn’t a morning in which we don’t wake up to bad news. There isn’t an hour when we don’t deal with the complexities of this place.
2011 carries with it a threat of accelaration. It opens with racism and fascist trends on the rise. It began with the truly senseless death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah. How else to sweeten but with poems and demonstration chants? We will try and offer more of both as the year progresses, and hope for a good one for all.