Saturday, January 17, 2009

`Touch It So Lightly'

“A dark violet plum,
the last one on the tree,
thin-skinned and delicate as the pupil of an eye,
that in the dew at night blots out
love, visions, shivering,
and then at the morning star the dew
grows weightless: That
is poetry. Touch it so lightly
that you don’t leave a fingerprint.”

A plum tree grew outside our backdoor. Hemmed in by the house and a wall of tall elms, it was stunted and came to resemble an oversized toilet brush, but its fruit was juicy, sweet and bountiful. The skin of the plums was deep purple, the fruit yellow-orange. When plums fell to the ground and bruised or split, wasps and yellow jackets feasted. Plums in the grocery are hard and flavorless measured against the fruit of our twisted little tree.

“Poetry,” the poem above, was written in Yiddish in 1954 by Abraham Sutzkever, and translated by Chana Bloch (in The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Poetry, edited by Irving Howe, Ruth R. Wisse and Khone Shmeruk). Sutzkever was born in Lithuania in 1913 and grew up in Siberia, where his parents fled during World War I. In the 1930s he belonged to the Young Vilna group of writers and artists. He escaped the Vilna Ghetto in 1943 and joined the partisans. After the war he lived in Moscow and Łódź, and immigrated to Israel in 1947. That a man who endured so much history could write so delicate a poem is remarkable. That his theme is the essential delicacy of poetry is doubly remarkable:

”Touch it so lightly
that you don’t leave a fingerprint.”

Sometimes a spindly, boxed-in tree bears the sweetest fruit.

1 comment:

Nige said...

I have a plum tree barely 6ft tall, with weeping branches - I guess it's meant to be that way - and the fruit is gloriously good and plentiful...