from the Hebrew of Simon Halkin

                                                            (original posted here)


How dear you are to me, O outcast soul of man,

how lovely in my sight, here in this exile,

where none can spy out your deformities

nor follow, alien and arrogant,

the stunning tortuosities of your chasm.

How well I know them, soul, how well I know them,

those prying eyes, so open and so sealed!


They saw you shaken—their gleam exuded cold.

Your maimedness, still a riddle, even to you,

glittered, a frost that stupefied their greyness.

Cruel to your nakedness, you stood before them,

exposed to the salvation of their gaze,

and they, like to a mist that madly roils

and melts away, looked on your nakedness!

Alas, you begged at dead men’s doors, and waited

with mummies for the dew of resurrection,

when you aspired to snare a passing glance,

that it might linger and behold one moment

what was laid bare in you, a joy accursed:

pain, mingled with the splendor of the silenced!

Despised and sweet, my miserable darling,

a little girl among the barren harlots,

vainly you cried your beauty, stuttering,

like to a pedlar-woman in the market,

heavy of speech and burdened with disgrace.

Who heard your stutterings, felt your disgrace?

The play of pallor and of crimson flush

in your complexion who discerned, poor thing?

Were there not times when even I stored hate

against your muteness, never comprehended?

Did not even I at times, in cruel tempest

against what lay so obdurately concealed,

long to tear your veil from you, as if

thus to expose to view that nakedness,

itself a lie, veiled, as it were, in you.


Yet now I’ll show you mercy, outcast one:

in your disgrace, your silence, you are mine.

In exile, with no stranger by us now

to rule us with the fear of his cold gaze,

you shall confide in me, we shall unite.

I shall behold the heaps of your dark ore,

its gold no longer dimmed for me by dross.

I shall give ear to your primordial sadness,

your formless sorrow I will not deny.

These grey and ancient rocks my soul, are strewn,

like princes of the spirit, on this mountain

and valley floor. Let us go out to them

and in their dark clefts utter our lament;

to their still heart-voice let us lend our ear,

that we may learn from them a moveless life;

for they have taken everything around them

into their fullness which cannot be known.

Magnanimous are these rocks to you, O soul!

The silence of their life, an eye that sees

and is not seen, an ear alert to listen

from deep concealment, and a hidden heart—

deaf and exalted, it will surely answer

the wingbeat of an autumn butterfly,

the shadow of an alien bird flung northward,


the seeping from a bent and wind-stripped bush,

the muteness of the outcast soul of man.


These rocks, my sister and my bride, my soul,

will hide us, we shall sink into their night.

Their wrinkled folds are marks of birth, their beauty

lives sealed as in their childhood, and they know

and live it in their rigidness, the splendor

of their oblivion is unceasing song.



O my grey rocks! It is not man I flee,

for who would flee the sorrow of a thing

so downcast and forlorn? Nor do I make

complaint of man, that he has turned from me;

how should the pine-tree on the northern slope

complain of futile longing for the palm

that faints among the deserts of the south?

It is a stern decree of God for man

that pain should weight on brothers all alike,

yet brother not know brother in his pain;

that every soul should long for its companion,

yet longing fall forever short of grasp;

and even though one soul should kiss another

for one brief moment, never in that moment

may it be kissed by the other in return.

And if I stand here in accusing prayer

before you, rocks so mutely rich, it is

the prayer of one bewildered beyond prayer

I pour into your ears that understand

such murmurings: the prayer of all men, struggling

in muteness, orphaned generation following

on orphaned generation, I entrust

to the deep understanding of your crannies.

Each heart has its own mute and separate grief,

and yet the mother of all griefs is one:

the prison of silence that confines the soul.


O my grey rocks, my grey, my graceful ones!

You will not thrust me from you.  I will ponder

with you by day upon the undefined,

confide, like you, my being to the night.

I will lie down in your moist echoing clefts,

call soft your bosom’s sharp cold edges, breathe

the coolness of your tender scentless moss,

and learn from you to slake my thirst in secret

from the autumn azure, open as eye,

from the gloom of the sky as it goes blind.

I’ll lose myself with you in wastes of twilight,

playing a twilight game of consolation,

stumbling upon the outcast soul of man;

the interpretation of the darkening silence

I’ll drink with you to still a thirsting soul

which the creating kiss of God ensnared.


The creating kiss of God ensnared my soul,

implanted in my soul its own deep thirst,

that it should long for all that it beholds,

and yet yearn, for the holiness of beauty,

to change all it beholds.  The green of spring,

the whitening gaze of dying eyes, the smile

of wondering love that curves a young girl’s lip,

a raven’s croak in dusk somewhere unseen—

All these beseeched my soul: swallow us up,

tell of our beauty! And my soul swallowed up

all that surrounded it, till the oppression

of life’s immured mystery entered into her,

was buried in her.  A dear and speechless burden,

a foetus in its mother’s womb, that richness

shuddered within the soul that, filled to choking,

travailed and could not bring her burden forth.

For with his kiss God caused her to inherit

the hunger that was his; but he withheld

from her the strength to satisfy that hunger.

O soul—rich, yet the poorest of the poor!

O human soul, drenched like a field with blessings

of dew and light from heaven, yet vainly waiting

for that one drop of miracle to fall

upon the treasures of its seed, that they

might sprout, be lifted towards the gazing sun.

A magic spark the heart of man entreated,

a spark that might ignite the smoldering heart

till it became a singing conflagration

whose flashings turn the very night to splendor—

And spark there is none.  The heart is sealed, daubed shut,

and cannot leap beyond its mute confines;

it cannot bend the knee, nor force the cry

of “Holy” from man’s throat.  In fields of spring

filled with the rustlings of all intuition,

in time of melting snow, the spark is sought,

and in the longing after woman’s love,

and in the dream of striving generations

that climb and pass from sight—yet what is sought

is never found, and song itself is helpless

to break the fetters of the mystery.

Grey rocks of mine! What do you know of this,

the grief of song that cannot save from darkness?

I have known the blessing of the tender azure,

veiled in a muslin of transparent clouds,

a feathery birch.  To all ends of the sky

the azure reached, was woven, flock by flock,

into the heart of heaven, and showed down

its alms, spring’s blessing.  And the land around,

an earth of trusting and believing fields,

laid bare its thawing furrows, black with fatness

beneath the melting snow: our mother Earth

joyfully giving suck from age to age.

O ragged mother offering your full breast,

how my soul pines for your secure embrace,

how my soul craves the eternal faith you hold!

break forth, song of the universe, that knits

in me! Hymn of annunciation

that throbs, that shakes the heart of me, break forth!

Silence.  My soul within me melts away,

is lost,  The universal song is mute.


And I have hearkened to the song of ascents

that streams from man’s heart through all generations

while he strives to ascend the mountain peak,

stumbling upon the obstacle-strewn road,

rising and going on.  And high above them

the peak, a radiance that cannot dim,

beams and beckons to the few that go

before the throng that crawls along, dismayed,

confused, like frightened sheep that have grown weary

amid the sandy plains: the herds of men

are led along, up to the mountain’s foot,

but cannot lift up their bewildered eyes

to where the mountain’s summit beams and beckons;

they turn their weary heads around and gaze

in the disconsolate sorrow of farewell

back toward the desert plains through which they passed.

Of little faith, they plod along like mourners

behind their leaders, and their eyes are full

of treacherous murmurings against the few

who with sure step and with straightforward gaze

have set their feet upon the mountain slopes

and between crags go skirting the abyss,

like sons of giants among the human sheep,

to blaze a pathway for the stumbling throng.

The distance widens now between the climbers

and those of erring heart who in their thousands

go groping on the path of their confusion

and, hesitant, ascend against their will.

The distance widens, stretches out between them,

until I see the herds of men all tottering,

stumbling and falling in a straggling line

on slopes, in valleys, in the plains of sand—

until I see the few that climb ahead

halting their climb and turning back a moment.

O song of man’s ascent past the abyss!

One moment stand those strong ones, gazing back

on those who stumble there, by cliff and crag,

and fall, each man’s hand raised against his neighbor—

and all at once those who ascend tear forth

their hearts from out their breast, for burning torches,

a signal fire upraised before the eyes

of the stumblers down there, shedding forth a splendor

unquenchable as the dawn, that beams and beckons:

Near is the mountain summit, within reach!

O song of man’s ascent past the abyss,

grant me to be a mouth to you, O song!

Your might has filled me till I burst in flames,

your fire I have drunk in until I choke.

Silence. My soul within me melts away,

is lost.  The song of man has ceased, is mute.

And what, my grey rocks, what is woman, that

my soul should tune its strings to her, as if

it were a harp which unknown fingers play?

And what the living God in me, whose goodness

I praise both day and night to win His mercy,

and day and night, as one whose strength fails, fling

words toward him: O my God, my unknown God!

Take from me, I pray, these frozen riches,

take from me this desire to turn to beauty

all that I feel in me, and feel in you,

this storm that rage is in my blood and finds

no peace save in an outcry?  And God’s wonder,

silent and wakeful, comes to me again

to quench my soul’s thirst with more thirst, and muteness;

and woman’s eye, where love and sadness dwell,

still longs to comprehend, and never can.

The prison of silence, where each soul’s confined—

who knows that prison, my God, as I have known it?

Rocks great in lovingkindness, to your clefts

I have brought this day my weary soul.  May she

learn at your knees to take delight in silence,

learn at your knees that frozenness is joy.

Wrap her in shadows, princes of the spirit,

refresh her with your hues, that bloom in cold!

Though she is but a child that does not know

how to grow up, accept her as your child,

so that her sobs may slowly die away

in the desertion of your clefts, at nightfall,

the wing of the Shekhinah bring her sleep

within your bosom, deep sleep fall on her

in your dream-strewn captivity; may she find

in you the interpretation of her dream.

Soft be your teats to her! In prophecy

and in sweet revelation my she clasp you,

whispering, My mountains, O my lovely mountains . . .



A single seed, winnowed from mouldering heap

that it at least may live, carrying with it

the future harvest in a distant land,

I have fled from man, who wallows in man’s blood,

who kills, whose soul is faint with love of killing!

Blood, blood, blood.  And only I am undefiled,

I and these disconsolate rocks around me.

Why do I vainly weep for man’s shed blood?

What moves my soul with longing to return

to her uncleanness?  How shall I return

while yet love’s law is mute in me? descend,

while yet my hand is powerless to lift up

my falling brothers? Woe is me, their lewdness

has grown so dark that no song can redeem therm—

woe is me, for there is in me no song

that could redeem them.  Would I had God’s strength

to purify my brothers and redeem them,

or else that my own purity would perish

so that I could defile myself with blood,

become as one of those unknowing mourners,

and holiness in me no more bewail

the victims! Woe is me, that I love man,

woe is me, that I long for holiness!


Leaves blanched by frost and blasted by the wind

and seized as if by thought, come to me now,

trembling as if with understanding, come!

The bitter torrents of the rains have torn you,

the tameless whirlwind ferried you to me,

the wanderer, bewildered, hid in cleft

of rock: I bid you welcome, rest with me!

The living dead are you, that gaze on death,

and I am blind: I know not my own soul.

The hard rains struck you, tore you from the tree,

and ere you settled here among the rocks,

how far you saw, to what heights you ascended

in grey-veiled space! How far and wide you saw,

you visionary dead, that mutely, mutely

you have returned to earth here, seized by thought,

embracing mystery, at last consenting,

forbidding not the wind to set you down,

refusing not to fall discarded here!

As for my soul, it is yet linked with life,

bound up with all the souls of all my brothers:

I fear—O how I fear—my future fall;

I fear the future autumn-time of man.

Rest here beside me, leaves that gaze on death!

Your thin backs shivering in the chill, your rustlings—

for these my heart has some interpretation:


            “Who we are we do not know,

              know not what our lives may be;

            only this we know: our days

              lengthen to eternity.


            Tremors of a hidden life

              wandered, wander, and once more

            will be plucked up, take on new form,

              and be stripped to bare life’s core.


            Tremors of a hidden life

              wandered, wander and again,

            till they have found a new disguise,

              wander, seeing and unseen.


            And when they’ve put their new clothes on,

              they are seen, but no more seeing:

            they with their disguise are one,

              as in fixed and stable being.


            And in disguise the souls congeal:

              fixed and rigid, blind and cold,



each makes its littleness its all,

              hides itself within its folds.


            And thus wrapped up in littleness,

              enfolded, hidden and secure,

            each yearns for liberty—yet less

              than it holds its fetters dear . . . “


Who are you, soul of man that yearns—who are you?

What is your thirst for holiness, for man?


            “Tremors of a hidden life,

              strayed and straying, evermore

            to be plucked up, and find new dress,

              and be stripped to bare life’s core.


            And see: a timorous cricket hid

              in the wood, a cloud, a leaf,

            a foaming wave, a flowing spring,

              a soul of man consumed by grief.


            And all, all of them are naught

              but these tremors deep-entombed,

            sparks of life that found new dress

              and are now immured, embalmed.


            Even as it strays, the soul

              congeals, still living, and goes blind,

            condemned to long for liberty

              even while it seeks to be confined.


            Yes, it will grieve lost liberty,

              yet love its garment wondrous well,

            until its garment comes to seem,

              although a jail, the choicest cell.


            And from their prison none break out:

              the atom of life, the secret spark

            weeps without voice, with none to hear,

              like a convict in the dark.


            And suddenly the door’s flung wide,

              and, all reluctant, forth they go—

            plucked up once more, against their will,

              they stray and wander to and fro.


            Tremors of life they are, no more,

              condemned to long eternally:

            first they long for prison cell,

              then they struggle to break free. . . “



Open your gates, my soul, and let the glory

of your spring enter in! O drenched in mourning,

open your gates and let the spring descend

upon your plains with all their generous seed,

the sun embrace you: O appointed spouse!


Open your gates, my soul, and let the glory

of your spring enter in! The living God—

Listen!—knocks softly at your door and whispers:

Let me in, let me in to your recesses

to dwell there in eternal love, and spread

my wings within your refuge, soul of man!

The living God, the mighty one, seeks shelter

in you, seeks shelter in a merciful soul:

Open your gates, my soul, and let him in!


Bow down, my soul, bow low and bend the knee,

master your trembling, open-eyed, and say:

God of wonders, Lord of life, here am I!

You called me—weak and trembling, now I stand

before you, God.  Who am I, how have I

deserved to come before you? Who am I

that you should seek a sanctuary in me?

And the merciful living God, who thirsts for mercy,

will slowly enter into your recesses,

my soul, without your knowing—as the image

of the beloved steals into the heart

of the unknowing lover, till he wakes

and deep within him feels the silence quivering

with mute and pining melodies, that die

away and, fainting, wake unending waves.


And as he enters your recesses, soul,

whisper to him: My God, I pray, forgive me

for that I love my life, my prison-dwelling,

and fear the day when I must leave my prison

and shed the outworn garment of my life.

I and my littleness—what are we but sounds,

notes in your wakeful playing, floating isles

bathed in the ocean of your life, adrift

upon the ever-swelling tide of dreams?

Forgive, I pray, this isle, this merest islet

which loves the small circumference of its shores

so much that it forgets its father ocean.

forgive the soul that loves its prison walls

and fears the day its prison will be opened.

And then the living God will gently laugh:

I did not know that you had sinned against me

by loving the dark beauty of your prison.

You and your prison, both, are dreams of mine,

I am the dreamer and I am the dream,

and all my dreams are precious in my sight:

you, and your prison’s pain, are dear to me.

And while you pray for my forgiveness, I

within you likewise pray for your forgiveness,

and I am the forgiver, even I.

Sing, soul of man, for you are purified,

you shall descend to man, and I with you,

your being shall be radiant with God’s beams;

and know: if man bows down to you, he bows

only to the divinity within you;

but if he turns away from you, it is

that he has not yet beheld your God.

And do not mourn, nor feel yourself as orphaned:

the pain of man is God’s pain, but as yet

the pain of God has not become man’s pain.

Sing, soul of man, for you are purified,

you shall descend to man, with God in you.


Great with love and compassion, you shall stand

where he has set you, and shall keep your vigil:

a day will come when every single soul

will heart to God’s soft knocking at her gates:

Let me in, let me in to your recesses

to dwell there in eternal love, and spread

my wings within your refuge, soul of man.

And every single soul will yet throw open

her gates, and be a refuge for her God,

a basin for the ocean of his dream

whose tide’s forever at the full.

                                                            Yet silent

now, not pressing for the end of wonders,

you stand where he has set you, keeping vigil,

sustained by hope till your relief arrives:

another human soul will take your post,

your sister, future’s child, will come, although

you will not know her coming, nor she you.

And after her still other souls will come

to keep the vigil for their generations,

hoping, like you, to see the end of wonders,

the eternal spring when every single soul

will open to become a tabernacle

for the living God, will widen to contain

the waters of the ocean of his dream,

full to the vast horizon’s edge for ever.

                                                                              translated by Esther Cameron


 Original first published in Shim'on Halkin, Shirim, Bialik Institute, 1977, pp. 32-48.

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