Abba Kovner - Lithuanian/Israeli

Abba Kovner
(1918-1987)
Born in 1918, Kovner grew up in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he became involved in a Zionist youth movement. During the German occupation he joined a resistance movement. Following the end of the war, Kovner tried to enter Palestine secretly, but was arrested and imprisoned by the British in Cairo and later in Jerusalem. Eventually he was freed by the Jewish underground. In 1970, Kovner was awarded the Israel Prize for Literature. During his lifetime he published two prose volumes and several collections of poetry. Kovner remained politically active throughout his life, founding Moreshet, a center for collecting life stories and testimonies of Holocaust survivors and resistance fighters. He was also director of the Israel Society of writers. Kovner died in 1987.

 

 

That's Not in the Heart

                          I

I do not hold a mirage in my hand--
my shirt's in my hand. The plain filled
with my wheat. All of it. Soaked by dew
flat at my feet. Its beauty
turns each image pale. The returning heron
and the apple garden. Sun
plucks at my shoulders like my daughter's fingers.
And this day
recalling soon
the smell of the harvest:
this morning (I say to myself)
even in the burned forest the bird
has come back to sing.

 

                         II

Useless. I try now to understand that what happened.
We declared two minutes of silence
so silence would not grow in the windows
of our homes. And no way out, my brother.
The world does not stand on a cry

at night. On a man
with something in his heart, because
what's in the heart is nothing. Because
the living live by the will of those who go
where they were not willing to go.

Useless: I try now to define who you were---
word shadows! Only your returning shadow
exists. My hands will never
touch you. Your coffin
never leaves my shoulders.

 

Death Is Not To Be Preferred

When leading a band of harried fighters
or standing face-to-face with the enemy,
holding out in the siege
and standing alone
on the ramparts,
he never said death is to be preferred,
that life is negotiable;
anxious
frightened
by severe privations
he never asked anything
of Almighty God
but to grant him favor
and ease his pain
when he leads the congregation
in communal prayer;
and forgive our sins
in love
and joy
and gladness
and peace
O God,
Mighty 
And Awesome.

 

One Living Word

No more willful silences.
No more verbal contact, he who loved to listen to so many will never again hear his own voice among them.

He will sit with his friends over talk from now on under constraint.
The talk. The thoughts. The friends.
And as he listens through the secret door he will turn his inner ear to the dark mumur: Son of man,
all this and all this never was and never will be
as good as one living word.