Monday, August 13, 2007
I don’t want to admit it
but I’ve been a sheep
but you let me lie down on the sweet lawn
helped me to speechless waters
restored my painful feet
you led me down garden paths that were not ironic
or filled with worrisome garden gnomes
but where I had to go
I’ve walked in death-shade, in night valleys
in places where invariably I was dark
yay! as my daughter says sarcastically
but I didn’t fear evil and wasn’t overwhelmed by death
When my thoughts were my enemies
you made reservations in a nice restaurant
and the entire staff was there filling my wineglass
picking up my napkin, feeding me salmon
Surely I will not dwell in the my parents' basement of life forever
but will soon take my place on cosmic TV where I shall be light
In the third line of this poem there is the word 'but'. It's a bit of an important question whether I delete this 'but' or not. It's the difference between the narrator being a sheep because he/she has accepted the help from the 'you' of the poem and, despite having been a sheep, he/she has been helped by the 'you.' And, in this, case, I'm assuming that being a sheep is negative. Obviously it isn't in the original "The Lord is my shepherd" context. (In 'translating' this Psalm, though I omitted the references to "Lord", I wanted it to be possible to read this poem both ways: with the you being 'You' and with the you being 'you' and open to interpretation.)
Here, by the way, is the original Psalm read in Hebrew.
I was talking to Greg Betts a while back about using sacred texts. Greg showed me this great poem that he'd written using only the opening lines from every (I think every) chapter of the Old Testament and the Koran. It makes for an interesting poem, one mixing a panoply of cultural and religious resonances. I don't know about the Islamic tradition, but I know that both the Christian and Jewish traditions often weave in allusions and quotations, even particular word uses, from their sacred texts. Texts are often paraphrased. (Many hymns are paraphrases of psalms.) It's not considered profane to use the texts in other contexts. I didn't think that it would be in any way offensive to most Jews or Christians for Greg to use the texts in a collage. I have the impression that, at least in the Jewish tradition, texts -- being the finite expression of an infinite God -- are open to infinite examination.
I didn't know how the Islamic tradition would respond. (Not that I was suggesting censoring the piece, I was just wondering how the tradition would regard such a use. Clearly part of appropriating a text is understanding how the tradition from which it was appropriated from would respond. And not that one has to in any way abide by --or be bound by-- the traditional or in indeed the orthodox response.)
Greg's piece, (published in the last issue of dANDelion), I've heard, has got an excellence response from readers. I understand that many people found the interleaving of texts from both traditions a powerful statement, opening up dialogue and understanding.
Yesterday, I attended the Hamilton Fringe Festival and heard "The Ballad of Monisch, a Yiddish/English Comic Operetta based on the classic poem by Peretz translated, set to music and performed by Marty Green."
Among the more remarkable things Green performed were Yiddish translations of country songs. They're on his album "A Boy Named Sureh) (i.e. a boy named Sue.) Check out the link to hear "My Way" and "The Ballad of Yankel Yisruel" (The Ballad of Jimmy Brown, also known as Three Bells.) Green explained how he translated this texts, creating great humour in the cross-cultural transformation. In "My Way," the narrator did it not 'his way', but 'His way'. The line refers to how he did it 'according the Torah.' In "The Ballad of Jimmy Brown," Green manages to weave in the opening words of the Jewish prayer for the dead. Green has a book, Tales of a Wandering Jew, a translation of Falk Zolf's memoir of life in Tzarist Russian that begins in English and then gradually turns to Yiddish. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to check it out, but the concept of a book gradually changing from one language to the other is beguiling.