Poems of Africa by Avraham Sutzkever

From the introduction to  from Elephants by Night:

“These translations try to offer in English a unique group of poems by one of the twentieth century’s greatest poets. That they evoke so thoroughly the magic and mystery, the poignancy and tragedy, the nobility and strangeness of Africa as seen through respectful, amazed European eyes is achievement enough. That they do so in Yiddish, the language of the Central and Eastern European Jewish diaspora—famed for its parochial ironies, its religious and often diffident stance toward life, and above all, of course, its relentless Jewishness–nearly staggers credulity. It is not surprising that Sutzkever’s reputation rests on much else.

“Yet here these poems are, composed by a man who was young and famous and stunningly strong in his art in the heyday of European Jewish life between the wars; whose mother, wife, baby, friends, and other family were murdered by the Nazis; whose passion joined him to the partisans who violently and gallantly resisted those most brutal of oppressors; who turned even those savage events into lasting art; who went on to fight again for the birth of Israel, and to live there, keeping a literary Yiddish lifeboat afloat in a sea of Hebrew; who traveled throughout Africa, as one of Israel’s, and the Jewish people’s, first ambassadors to that continent, opening himself to its powerful sources of life and risk and creativity and death; and who turned that experience into sumptuous, incisive poems that brilliantly refracted African light through Jewish prisms, each a jewel, binding Jewish and African culture and experience together in ways no reasonable person could have imagined…

“Many of the poems from Sutzkever’s collection Helfanden bei Nacht: N’siya iber Afrika, 1950 (Elephants by Night: Journey over Africa, 1950) are here, and that collection gives this one its title. The last two poems are later reflections on his African experience, the last an eerily beautiful meditation on memory. In all I have tried to stay close to the Yiddish as I understand it, but I have taken liberties. To translate, they say, is to betray; one might hope to add: in the service of a larger faithfulness. I love these strange poems very much, and I hope I have conveyed a small sense of why.”

All rushing, all sounds sleep.

Terror sleeps under seven streams.

And the elephant sleeps so soundly,

Someone could cut off his tail.

All rushing, all sounds sleep.

There is no noise to wake them.

All rushing, all sounds sleep

In the two open eyes—

Sleep in the two open eyes of God.