Mikhl Likht: from “Procession: VI” (an excerpt)
Translation from Yiddish by Ariel Resnikoff and Stephen Ross
And I also will sing war when this matter of a girl is exhausted.
— Ezra Pound: “Homage to Sextus Propertius,” V. 1.
My genius is no more than a girl.
— ibid., V. 2.
[ S I R V E N T E 1 9 2 4 ]
Revolutions lie in wait for princesses;
for swans, where by waterbanks, hunters.
So summon your swan-princess manners
Contributions poeticized by me
From a respected wonder-resolution
Oh you, my kind-hearted person ot-ot, kateyger;(1)
Human-sympathy, woman-love gentle carrier:
Your joy — is enjoyment, your suffering — my execution!
With intent to mock all strange attributes
Of the concept in chivalric sirventes
Beg to indicate nothing but reminders to oneself
With swan-princesses fitting statutes:
We (knight — I and you — princess-swan)
Are (how sophisticated) wife and husband.
[Song of Harmoniousness]
My heart is not a slanderous instrument, no, not a
Tiring, interminable babbler; yet, yet it persuades,
Stimulates my lips without letting them seek yours.
And shyly, my heart, when it finds itself unpoor, then
My poverty’s cost commissions yet again
Ecstatic contiguity with yours.
It withdrew like a beautiful-word-pusher, and
See how my tongue gets incited with pure passion by
A flame you’re in the middle of, like you’re asbestos.
In an unassuming dumbstruckness my heart functions
Right through the stunning pain, trouble-distracted by your
Bringing no dissonances into the contiguity.
[On the Way to Stories]
Let’s be prudent, look ourselves over on the corner,
I with my rhythms, you with your colors
Against the Hispano-Suiza put put.
We should thus be prudent about dying
Like how right zeyde(2) was, often saying:
“People are conspicuous as moths on chamois leather.”
Soon we’ll be hearing horns, space-and-glory resonance
Accompanying piccolo, clarinet, bugler;
Ascent to the paradise of hearing, breath-hell
On the moulding of the dreamt ladder —
See how faces overcome themselves all over
The purification, the squall, in that redemption.
I, a moth, that sits myself right here next to you?
You, a mothess matured in a womanhood-antechamber?
We — to live we eat room and board like shnur un eydem?(3)
Let’s paint (whether death competes animatedly
To stamp us with jaundiced-earth color)
As if sharp-rhythmically our first pleasure.
Listen up and I’ll conjure you a song,
“Once there was an emperor and his empress …
Euphony also came along to caress from the limbs …
Her eyes beam; his eyes shimmer …
“My dear, it seems to me you are tired in every limb …”
“You, my dear, appear even more tired than I.”
To look around oneself on the corner, to be extra-prudent, leave
Static-art to such a person whom it has corrupted
A breath without exhalation, an ear without hearing:
I with my rhythms, you with your colors
Must resist that aggressive time-sclerosis,
The Hispano-Suiza rim-like crouch.
[Song of Midday]
Last evening in my room the life of a spirit,
A short-lived one, revealed itself to us —
Why and when? — like a flower in early spring
Shoots sunbound in petal-fold bouquet.
Days-end, as the faded blossom.
Spiritcycle, as the short-breath duration.
We strolled out of the revelation-cave,
not entirely inappropriately, onto an agon-path of philosophy.
What happened in my room last evening
Is a coda rhythm
Quieter than the sound of strings beneath a sordine:
Preludes, interludes in our moods
Blinding us in overfold to the sunbound
Our halfday … beams stream down vertical
Distanced from sunrise and set.
Your words sunk deep into my midnight stroll
And aroused my curiosity with amusing speculations
— pruv? — the word striking as a relief,
A flat note escaping a magical flaneur’s lips.
— Pruv? — What proof? Who needs proof?
So who’s dealing in credit? So who’s dangling with false klinging?
So take and give already not the same who from us on God’s own?
What luck carries out one more war, less awarding?
No. It rained. A lazy vey
of wind. Conversational relation in a commune … the last
“repellant” swindle for a reason
which is no reason at all … pruv?
Nor have your lips whispered the word
For found in an encyclopedia of stately reckoning:
Nor have my ears heard
The word’s shuddering combinative symbol.
[The preceding is a continuation of the ongoing translation by Resnikoff & Ross of Processions, the great epic work by Mikhl Likht (1893–1953), which, while written in Yiddish, can be seen now as an integral part of the New York-centered American “Objectivists” moment, along with contemporaneous works by Pound, Zukofsky, Williams, and others. Earlier translations from Likht have appeared on Poems and Poetics, along with several discussions by Ariel Resnikoff of the relation between Likht and Zukofsky, et al, both literary and personal. In the meantime the work of translation continues, as does the search for publishers and for magazines and journals in which to publish further installments. Writes Resnikoff: “We invite all interested parties to be in touch.” (J.R.)]
1. Yiddish: lit. prosecutor; prosecuting angel.
2. Yiddish: lit. Grandfather.
3. Yiddish: lit. son- and daughter-in-law; referring to the tradition of a newly married couple moving back into the women’s parents’ house after the wedding.