We went through days . . .

Anna Margolin Translated from the Yiddish by Richard J. Fein
September 4, 2020
Photo: Tim Foster

(English follows the Yiddish, below.)

These days, “these days” feels to me like an insufficient expression. The pandemic’s convergence with the ongoing pandemonium of racial capitalism has unfastened time from its usual scripts. The past, contested; the future, uncertain. The waves of grief and the botched routines intensify my sense of time’s formlessness. Units—hours, days, years—often feel like relics; I can’t seem to get them to correspond with things around me. I miss a scheduled phone call with a friend, stay up until dawn, show up late to an endless series of meetings that don’t require me to go anywhere. The formlessness of things erodes the common ground of both space and time: Unable to share a room, we can barely share an hour.

When I encountered the first line of “We went through days . . .” by the great 20th-century Yiddish poet Anna Margolin, something in me rose to attention. In the line, beautifully translated by Richard Fein—“We went through days as if we went through wind-blown gardens”—I found a new way to understand where I already am: Time and place, which I’d been thinking of as linked yet distinct, here collapse into one another as indistinguishable elements of experience. This is a poem that witnesses form, both temporal and spatial: “days” and “evenings”; “dark cloud,” “stubborn trees,” “falling stars.” But by the poem’s end, I am restored to my sense of formlessness, now transformed into a formlessness not of isolation, but of connection, as a collective self joins with a broader atmosphere: “we weaved ourselves in wind.” Passing through this poem, I no longer require the coordination of like units to be with others. I just relinquish myself to what is, and am, in its midst, among.

– Claire Schwartz

. . . מיר זײַנען געגאַנגע

.מיר זײַנען געגאַנגען דורך טעג װי דורך שטורעם־דורכציטערטע גערטנער
.געבליט און גערײַפֿט און געאיבט זיך אין שפּילן מיט לעבן און טויט
.כמאַרע אַון ברײטקײט און טרוים איז געװעזן אין אונדזערע װערטער
און צװישן פֿאַרעקשנטע בײמער אין זומערדיק־רוישנדע גערטנער
.האָבן מיר זיך פֿאַרצװײַגט אין אײן אײנציקן בוים

,און אָװנטן האָבן געשפּרײט זיך מיט שװערער פֿאַרטונקלטער בלויקײט
,מיטן שמערצלעכן גלוסטן פֿון װינטן און פֿאַלנדע שטערן
,מיטן בלאָנדזשענדן לאַשטשענדן שײַן איבער צוקנדע גראָזן און בלעטער
און מיר האָבן פֿאַרװעבט זיך אין װינט, אײַנגעזאַפּט זיך אין בלויקײט
.און געװען װי די גליקלעכע חיות און װי קלוגע און שפּילנדע געטער

We went through days . . .

We went through days as if we went through wind-blown gardens.
Blossomed and ripened and practiced at playing with life and with death.
Dark cloud and nerve and fantasy—each of them in our words.
And among the stubborn trees in summer-rustling gardens
we branched out into our one and only tree.

And evenings spread themselves with a heavy darkening blue,
with painful desires of winds and falling stars,
with straying caressing glow over twitchy grass and leaf,
as we weaved ourselves in wind, soaked up in that night-blue,
and were like joyful animals and like crafty and frisky gods. 

Anna Margolin (1887–1952) published one book of poems, Lider (1929), her great book of introspective poetry.

Richard J. Fein has published a collection of personal essays, Yiddish Genesis, and his latest book of translations is The Full Pomegranate: Poems of Avrom Sutzkever.