from Anim Z’mirot

Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg
German
1150 – 1217

 

Melodies I weave, songs I sweetly sing;
longing for Your Presence, to You I yearn to cling.

In Your shelter would my soul delight to dwell,
to grasp Your mystery, captured by Your spell.

Whenever I speak of Your glory so resplendent,
my heart yearns deeply for Your love transcendent.

Thus I glorify You in speech as in song,
declaring with my love: to You do I belong.

Without having seen You I declare Your praise;
without having known You I laud You and Your ways.

To Your assembled servants and in Your prophets’ speech,
You alluded to Your glory which is beyond our reach.

The scope of your greatness and he marvel of Your strength
are reflected in Your actions all described at length.

They have imagined You, but never as You are;
they tell of Your deeds, to portray You from afar.

They speak of You with parables in countless varied visions,
while You remain as One throughout all of their renditions.

They try to portray You as one now young, now old,
with hair now dark, now gray, as if it could be told.

Youth and force in battle, old age on judgment day;
like a seasoned warrior, with strength He clears the way.

He wears triumph as a helmet on His head,
His power and holiness have stood Him in good stead.

His head is covered with dawn-dew bathed in light,
His locks of hair are covered with dewdrops of the night.

He takes pride in me, the source of His delight;
and He will be my splendor whose praise I will recite.

His head is envisioned as pure and beaten gold,
bearing His holy name in letters large and bold.

With kindness and dignity, with splendor that they share,
His people Israel crown Him with their prayer.

Adorned is His head with the curly locks of youth,
black as a raven. He is splendid as the truth.

Nothing is more precious among all His good pleasures
than Zion, seat of splendor, chief among His treasures.

His cherished people adorn Him as a crown,
a royal diadem of beauty and renown.

He beautifies the people He has carried since their birth.
For Him they are precious; He pays honor to their worth.

In mutual devotion, in each other we glorify;
I know that He is near when unto Him I cry.

Radiant and ruddy, His garments red as wine,
He compresses sinning nations as grapes on a vine.

The knot of His tefilin He showed to Moses, humble, wise;
the Lord’s vision and His ways revealed only to his eyes.

Exalting the humble, enthroned upon their praise,
He takes pleasure in His people, exalted through heir ways.

Your word is based on truth from the start of all Creation;
since we always seek You, seek the welfare of our nation.

Cherish my plentitude of song as Your own;
may my verses be permitted to approach Your throne.

My praise I humbly offer as a crown upon Your head;
we no longer offer incense, accept my prayer instead.

May the words of this my song be precious as the Psalter
once offered in the Temple with sacrifice upon the altar.

May my prayer rise to the Creator of the miracle of birth,
Master of beginnings whose might and justice fill the earth.

And when I chant my prayer, may You greet it with assent;
the spirit of ancient offerings to You is my intent.

May You find sweet and pleasing my prayer and my songs;
my soul goes out in yearning, for You alone it longs.

Someone is Silent

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 95th birthday.

Elisabeth Borchers
German
1926 – 2013

 

Someone is silent
and you think he is speaking
and you answer
and speak well
and reveal yourself
layer by layer that you cannot
give you who is speaking
and it gets cold and colder

someone is silent
and you wait
for the silence
to all ends
and further
and the word does not carry
and you do not know
where the light is
the light and dark

someone is walking
and you think
he is walking well
and you follow him
and keep up with him
and do not go mad

someone is walking
and you think he is walking softly
on soft soles
and you pluck the softness
and leave the hard
and the ice crunches
and you say I can’t hear it

Autumn Eyes

We present this work in honor of the 15th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Hilde Domin
German
1909 – 2006

 

Press yourself close
to the ground.

The earth
still smells of summer
and your body
still smells of love.

But the grass
is already yellowed above you.
The wind is cold
and full of thistledown.

And the dream which waylays you
shadow-footed
your dream
has autumn eyes.

The Three Kingdoms of Nature

We present this work in honor of the 240th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
German
1729 – 1781

 

I sought, while drinking, to unfold
Why Nature’s kingdoms are threefold.
Both man and beast, they drink and love,
As each is gifted from above;
The dolphin, eagle, dog and flea,
In that they love and drink, agree.
In all that drink and love then, we
The first of these three kingdoms see.

The plants the second kingdom are,
But lower in creation far;
They do not love, but yet they drink,
When dripping clouds upon them sink;
Thus drinks the clover, thus the pine,
The aloe tree and branching vine,
In all that drink, but love not, we
The second of these kingdoms see.

The stony kingdom is the last,
Here diamonds with sand are classed;
No stone feels thirst, or soft desires,
No love, no draught its bosom fires.
In all that drink not, love not, we
The last of these three kingdoms see.
For without love, or wine, now own!
What wouldst thou be, oh Man? – A stone.

If Love is Chaste

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 400th birthday.

Sibylla Schwarz
German
1621 – 1638

 

If love is chaste, what bears adultery?
If love is good, and does no evil own,
How can its fire so many flames propone?
If love is joy, why’s it called cruelty?

Who love adores, sails on a lustful sea,
And lets himself into death’s net be sewn,
Which does not tear; he lives for sin alone,
Is stripped of virtue, worships vanity.

For life eternal totally he dies,
And sees his grief but when his grave he spies.
Whoever has been found in loving’s fit,

Let him hate love and flee it in all haste.
Does love taste sweet? Let him despise its taste.
Is love his bread? Let him feed dogs with it.

Love

We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Eva Stritmatter
German
1930 – 2011

 

How terrible was the flame
In which together we once burned
In the end an ember remains
And the usual happens, even to us.
That’s not ash, that last trace of fire
Shows our daily work. And how precious
this tiny bit of warmth, I learned
in this worst year
of all my years.
Should another winter like this come
and another such snow fall upon me
Only this warmth can save me
from death. What else
should hold me? What remains of our Love:
We had each other. No grass
will grow over us, no stone
so long as this ember glows.

So long as there’s an ember
there might be fire…

The Historian’s Complaint

We present this work in honor of the 25th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Heiner Müller
German
1921 – 1995

 

In the fourth book of the Annals Tacitus complains
About the duration of peacetime, seldom interrupted
By silly border wars with whose description he
Has to make do, filled with envy
Of the historians before him
Who had mammoth wars at their disposal
Conducted by emperors who thought Rome was not grand enough
Subjugated nations, captured kings
Uprisings and state crises: great stuff.
And Tacitus apologizes to his readers.
As for me two thousand years after him
I have no need to apologize and can not
Complain about the lack of great stuff.