Monday, January 06, 2014

A beautiful translation of a Gordon poem; a guest post

I would like to post this wonderful free translation of the first part of Yehuda Leib Gordon's 1875 poem Kotzo Shel Yud. This was originally posted by my talented friend הערשי at Kave Shtiebel, and he gave me permission to post it here:

Jewish wife, who shall know your life?
It comes in the dark, and leaves no mark
Your joys and your anguishes, your hopes and your wishes
In your heart born, and in your heart worn

The world and all the pleasure
For others to treasure
The life of the Jewess a perpetual grind
Forever in her house confined
Bear, deliver, rear, and litter
Bake, and make, and wither

So what if you’re blessed, beauty you possessed
A heart refined, a keen mind
Study is bane, beauty vain
Talent a defect, knowledge abject

Your voice is crude, your hair lewd
You are naught, a goatskin filled with blood and rot
The Serpent’s pest, in you rests

Like the infected, by your own kin rejected
From scholarship, and from the house of worship
In the houses of merriment, you but lament

Good you don't master, the tongue of you ancestor
Thus you are barred, from the Lord’s yard
And you don't hear, the blessing the jeer
“Lord we bless, for not creating us a lass”

Like the heathen and the slave you are rated
Like a hen to breed fated
A heifer threshes, milk gives the cow
What use is it with knowledge to endow?
Why waste time you to rear
Those who follow your counsel in hell will sear

Not only has God closed your womb
Took your husband in your bloom
The cream of your days you while through
But you await your husband’s brother to pull his shoe

On your fathers bed you most grieved
From his inheritance nothing received
They deprive you not only the material
But keep from you the ministerial
For themselves commandments two forty eight
Only three for poor you, said the cheapskate

You are miserable so, Jewess!
You crave to know, to live, but alas
God’s sprout, wilting in drought
Not by sun rays dry, but away from the eye
Fertile soil, bearing luscious fruit with toil
For want of plow, grows weed now

Ere you matured into a conscious soul
You were thrust into a motherly role
Before they taught her, to be a daughter
She married, and her own children carried

Wed him, have you even met him?
Love him, aye; have you cast an eye?
You’re loved, what? Wretched, you know not
Love is apart, from the Jewish heart?

Forty days before, her mother bore
Her match-maker, destined her taker
What good will it do, to take a view
What will it add, to see the lad?

What’s love? Our mothers knew not
We shall not put off, our sister a slut
Head furled, face shrouded in veil
Hair curled, to the razor avail

Why have you eyed, who stands by your side
Whether crippled or bald, whether young or old
It’s all to the same use, you don’t get to choose
Your father will accord, he is your lord
Like chattel sold, from hold to hold

Are they like Aramites to inquire, after the girl’s desire?
As a maiden, your father is your warden
Your husband you please, under his auspices.

Your husband knows no art, he is not skilled
Never planted a vineyard, nor a house built
When the dowry is drawn
The family spawn
He sets looking for a trade
Dejected and dismayed
With options few, he has no clue
He runs away in the night, and leaves you chained in plight.

This is the story, of the Jewess’ glory.


  1. Nice piece. The poem really got around when first published, in 1901, a Ladino translation appeared, published in Cairo (Yaari says Jerusalem) titled La punta de la Yod. One of the very few Eastern European Jewish books to appear in Ladino.

  2. Next up: Jewish poetry from Bobby Fischer, Richard Goldstone, and Noam Chomsky.

  3. back when the anti-establishment bleeding hearts knew how to write!


  5. Unfortunately that lecture from yutorah is cut off in the middle.

  6. First of all, I don't see how you can group Richard Goldstone with Fischer and Chomsky?! (Consider And Gordon is different than all three. Is Kotzo Shel Yud really so off base in its description of the status of Jewish women in his time? I think it is rather spot-on. As to whether things have changed…

  7. Hilarious comment. Awesome.

    I suspect this poem was really written by somebody at JOFA.

  8. And Haaretz can do an antholgy

  9. Here's the original poems text

  10. should that site perhaps be pronounced kawwa?

  11. The author of this poem clearly need a hug.
    Nice translation, though.

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