The page of Pinchas Sadeh

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The works in this site were translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Ganan, the owner of this site.

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This page is dedicated to the memory of the Hebrew Poet Pinchas Sadeh.

Pinchas Sadeh (1929-1994) the famous Poet of Israel, started out as a painter, (at least that is what he wanted to be as a young man). At 17 he wished to join Bezalel, the Jerusalem School of Arts. Ardon, the director of the school was ready to accept him as his pupil, but Sadeh had not a penny for his soul. Ardon was ready to to accept him as a non-paying student but had to explain to Sadeh that at any rate students have to buy the canvas, the paint, all of which cost, of course, money, which Sadeh didn't have; so Sadeh had to decide to choose literature which one can do with a piece of paper and a pen. At any rate, hence Sadeh's predilection for painters and pictures in his poetry.

The Vision of Francesco Goya

Do not turn your head away,
There against us on the hill's crest
The castle of our dreams, my dearest,
Stands, all wrapped in misty grey.

We hover, dearest love, on heights
Since times beyond human memory
Betwixt this grievous earth's misery
and the yellow evening-sky.

Come please, do embrace me, closer
Would we could just reach the crest,
We'd find there ease and rest
to be redeemed, little sister.

But the hunters, my only sweetheart
on the mountain there below
-O, ready to kill is their arrow-
level their weapons to my heart.

This famous painting by Goya may have been the one that inspired Sadeh to write his poem.

That poem stands as a kind of motto at the head of an essay Sadeh published in MOLAD, January - February 1970, (Volume 3, No 223) about the painters Goya, Nolde and Cezanne.

Emil Nolde, or: I have dreamt that the Earth is my Beloved.

Sometimes (thus Emil Nolde wrote in his autobiography in the chapter dealing with the days of his youth) I would wander about alone in the meadows, in the wake of my thoughts and vague sensations I would lie among the high ears of corn, invisible, my back towards the earth, my eyes closed, with widespread arms, thinking, so did lie your Redeemer, after he had been taken down by the women and men from the cross... and verily I dreamed that the whole earth, the great, oval, wonderful earth is my sweetheart". Only these words, words of piety and devotion suit the situation of mankind in the cosmos, a situation which in itself is religious, those words and not the vanities of the times, not the noise of the marketplaces, not the desperate foolishness of critics and others like them justify the existence of the artist, his way, his struggle, his achievements and finally his death, because in them come to full expression his cosmic sensibility, his insight that the earth to be his grave is his sweetheart, that the clouds in the sky are his comerades, ("I looked up at the heavens, at the clouds in the sky, vast and unfathomable, and I felt they are my friends" - writes Nolde) that his fate and destiny are with the flux of the water, with the ever changing flowers, with the boulders and the stones. And this cosmic sensation is also the bridge of the genuine artist not only over space but also over time, since he perceives himself at that moment near and alike to the man whom he calls his "Redeemer", the man who lived nineteen hundred years ago before him in a strange and faraway land in Asia. Emil Nolde was born in 1867 to a family of peasants. [Sadeh goes on and describes Nolde's life and work] [In the second part of his article Sadeh writes about another great painter, Cezanne].

Paul Cezanne, or: what does it mean to be a saint?

Paul Cezanne was a saint. What does the mean? A few days ago a letter reached me from a youth in Haifa, and among other things it says: in the Book of Discussions Through the Night the question is put to you whether you feel to have done well having finished a genuine piece of work. And that is your answer: "Yes, but after a while the feeling disappears, since here is no redemption in action". Having read your answer I shuddered, and wanted to cry havoc - Son of Man! If all our poems and suffering and pain, if our will and love and pityand thoughts, if all these, all these have no effect whatsoever, and make no difference either to us or before God, what is left then, and what is the purpose to do certain things and to prefer a certain way of life to another one"? My answer to his question is that although it is true that it is not worthwhile "to do certain things", yet their not being worthwhile is the justification to do them. Rabbi Dov Be'er of Mezeritsh heard once a voice announcing to him that he lost his inheritance to the world to come. And the Rabbi answered the voice: "Since my share is lost, and there will be no payment for my toil, I can hence work for God - at long last - not for wages". All my life I have felt, and the laws of ethics in me have also told me so, that the good works of the spirit, and the works of evil are those whose purpose is the material and the utilitarian, and while we do not know concerning the former how God judges them, yet the ultimate judgment lies nevertheless in his hands. In "A la Recherche du Temps Perdue" Proust says (I quote from memory), that presumably the source of our highest values is not this but some other world, the one perhaps from which we ourselves originate, and whence we brought with us here the dim memory of the values reigning there, since, after all, in this valley of doom, dominated by materialism and stupidity, deception and flattery, what will justify and bring about the existence of the spiritual, the sublime, the genuine and the worthwhile. In these words of Proust I find the answer, in addition to the former answers and as a complement to them, to the the question about the meaning of sainthood, which is, as a matter of fact, the question about the meaning of our existence in general. And the answer is, that the saint is he who is most faithful to these values that have no roots neither fruit in this our world, in the way of fulfillment of the Commandments, that has no earthly reward, or, in the words of Jesus, who said that his kingdom "is not in this world".
Paul Cezanne gave his whole life to the arts. Sometimes he worked on a painting for months, even for years. In his painting "Les Grandes Baigneuses" he invested eight years of work, and drawings he made show that this picture occupied his mind for thirty years. His friends saw him sitting before his easel hours on end contemplating and reflecting and trying to understand the meaning of things. Once a year he offered a work to the yearly exhibition, only to be again and again rejected. He was considered a miserable failure, squandering his life on queer, eccentric, grotesque and absurdly ludicrous experiments. He was put on the cross for sixty-seven years of his life, yet his hands remained free to paint. And so, in an irate, demure spirit, far away from the noise of the markets and the buzz of their lies, he went on with his work year after year. He was not accepted. And that means that those who did not understand him could not comprehend even that they did not understand him. Such is the nature of miscomprehension.
Another picture Sadeh was inspired by in writing the following poem - but also his book based on the story of Abimelech in the Bible - was Albrecht Duerer's Apocalypsis.

The Angel

Death rides a horse in the skies.
With ease and splendor it rides in the azure sky, in silence.
Death rides a horse in the skies and its face is a maiden's.
Her eyes are of amber, her feet are white like the lilies.
She is girt by her sword, a sword wrought of the Sun, a sword
For the four quarters of the earth.
A sword for Damascus, for Rabbath Ammon, for Jerusalem,
A sword for the artless and the wise, the borrower and the lender, the lover,
For the one who has not as yet slept with a woman.
Death rides a horse in the skies.
On earth sits the poet and writes her face on the water.
In the woods the apes laugh, flowers bloom as the tongues of fire.
The grass grow, dogs bark, empires fall, prophets
Dream of gods, women are foresaken and beloved.
And many buy and sell their houses,
And one may think they live, but they are dead.
This world will have no resurrection.
Death rides his horse in the azure skies, in silence.
Its face is a maiden's, her feet are white as lilies.
Her eyes are the hue of amber, and she smiles.
Before her feet the Dragon lies, the Plague, the blood and the cup of ire.
Before her feet the Mourning and the Fear and endless abysses.
But her feet are white as the lily and her face is of a virgin's.
Above the woods, the flowers, the grass, above the infinite, vast sea of life,
Above the brooks of Damascus and Amman, above the hills of Neapolis and Jerusalem
Death rides his horse in the skies.

Not only paintings and the Fate of painters inspired Sadeh's Poetry: Music was also one of his main themes.

The Death of Heinrich Schutz

He died an easy death at the afternoon
To the sound of his friends who stood around him, singing.
It passed in Dresden, on the sixth of Nov., sixteen-hundred seventy two

His main works: "David's Psalms,
With several Motets and Concertos", 1619.
"The history of our Lord Jesus' Cheerful & Glorious
Resurrection", 1625.
"Sacred symphonies", in three volumes, 1636-1657.
"Small Religious Concerts" in two volumes, 1639-1645.
"The Seven Words of our
Beloved Saviour and Redeemer, The Anointed Jesus, on the Cross,
Composed in a most moving mood". 1647.
All these I read in a book, And this too;
"After his death, he was soon forgotten".

The somewhat dry tone of this poem, is, of course, to balance sentimentality. Even so Sadeh's compassion shines through. One of the main aims of his poem is to get immersed in the fragrance of religious works.

Sadeh writes of course also of the fleeting Fame in this world - although here he might have been mistaken, because Schuetz's fame still lingers in his works performed everywhere, in churches and in secular performations. P. Sadeh: To Two Esteemed Ladies, (Poems, p.24):

Sadeh wrote several books of poetry, prose and literary essays - like Poems 1947-1970, Poems 1985-1988, To Two Esteemed Ladies, (a book or poetry), and his last, Ich Sing Wie A Faigele (a Vogel, a bird: The poems are in Hebrew, but the title is in Yiddish: "I sing like a little bird", a song his mother used to sing him when a child). His debut consisted of the novel called "Life as a Parable": his books are made of prose and poetry. His second book where prose and poetry consist an indivisible unity is "The Book of the Yellow Peaches".
He wrote also a novel, called The Human Situation, planning to it a second part, but never reaching it.
Another poem based on the all-importance to him of music:

On the Ratification of the peace-treaty with Egypt

Beautiful music I hear. Sweet music
The morning sky through the window-panes. Clouds and easy wind.
Sweet music I hear. In Afghanistan
The former president, Ali Butto, was hanged. Maybe in Pakistan.
In Iran, too, they hanged the Premier. Thus it was broadcast
Just now in the news. It seems, Premiers thus transpire.
Beautiful music I hear; sweet music. Bizet, La jollie fille
Du Perth. Nietzche praised him highly. Ultimately
He preferred him to Wagner. Well, though, did he not
Go a bit too far? Yet, how sweet is the music, so the music, so sweet.
The engineers of the Communication System are on strike today. Thus
it was broadcast just now in the news. So are the tax-collectors, postmen,
The musicians of the Philharmonic, the members of the medical profession.
For a moment I deemed I heard: the mendicant profession.
How sweet is the music I hear.
And the beautiful girl. My god, the beautiful girl in the green meadows, in the sheaves of
light like lace between the pine,
In the Valley of Esdraelon. The girl I loved. The love which wounded my heart. That melted my heart. And all the years that passed.
Beautiful music I hear. Sweet music.
Still the news;The deed of ratification of the peace-treaty with Egypt
Will be exchanged tomorrow. The ratification. What a word. What else still might these fellows still invent.
The girl with the beautiful feet walking on the lawn, amidst the white flowers.
She is now redeemed by Death, the right-honourable.
She is walking, singing.
After so many years I hear her song. I see the flowers.
The shadows the pine trees cast on the grass. Her feet, the adorable.
Sweet music I hear, this morning, in the scorching wind.
Blowing from the south, from the Sinai deserts.
Farewell, fair maid of Perth, on the shores of foggy Tay.
Peace be with you, maid of the Valley of Esdrael.
My years on earth are numbered; never again shall I see you.
Beautiful music I hear. Death. Flowers white. The gloom of pines on the lawn.
The happy flute's melodies.
Where do you draw me to now, my soul?
What does it mean the sadness and pain, the sweetness of the morning?
Oh, beautiful music.

Pinchas Sadeh is a religious poet - not in the institutionalized sense, but in a most individual way of personal experience. I started liking his poetry - and prose - (he did both) reading his most famous novel (translated into English by Richard Flanz, first published in Great Britain 1966 by Anthony Blond) Life as a Parable. This book presented some of his poetry, the main bulk of which I came to know in his Collected Poems 1948-1970. I started translating his poetry poetry (after doing some work on his works of prose), out of sheer love to them.

I am very content that internet was born; it gives me an opportunity to present these poems to a larger public. True, English is my second language only; yet, I hope my translations will answer readers' anticipations and help to spread Sadeh's, my favorite author's fame. Well, there are so many trends of translation, and tastes are different.
Sadeh's poetry excels in the knowledge of suffering : - as you, kind reader, may have already noticed.
. Our meanest suffering comes from loneliness. Witness Sadeh's poem

The Parable of the Feast

You lie at midnight on your bed. You do not dream and have no illusions.
You do not dream new dreams, do not any more
Expect to hear your lover's footsteps on the stairs.
You do not see tomorrow hold in store solution
To your hardships not to gone day's sorrow
Like to the flickering lamp's yellow light, like to the clock's ticking,
Like to the fluttering in the wind of the shutters,
You go on and on asking, and still again you ask, where's your happiness fled so many days.

And you ask, whereto had the wonderful isles gone away, in which red-beaked birds
Sang amidst the branches of your childhood palms.
And you know, that your life lies with them as a corpse, smiling
Under worlds and masses of deep, heavy foods.

But then, take not of the parable (Matthew XXII, 1-10) of the king
who held a feast, and sent his slave to call the worthies who were invited: and they
Refused to come.
And thus the king did say then to his slaves: Go and stand
On the thoroughfare and all that pass call then to the feast.
And thus tell them: Come to the king's party, ho all of you ho all,
The poor, the naked, the unclean, the sinful, unhallowed, you the taxcollectors, you,
The lost sheep of the world.
Come hither, you all, and the king will receive you.
If they did not come the sunny days and bright hours, the spree of your life,
If the red-beaked birds did not come to sing you at the windowsill of your room
Songs of love sweet and enticing, - Why shouldst thou sit alone at the laden table? Why shouldst thou Attend alone to the fruit and the wine?
Throw open your heart's gates, get thee down to the crossroad.
Call all who pass to the banquet laid.
And thus tell them: Come you all to the feast, ho you all
The heavy gray days of slow rain, you days of slow rain, you days of storm, you heavy hours.
Come, sorrow, come, distress, and you too, agony, and you too forgotten memories,
You, pride and solitude, come' all my mistakes.
Come, all of you to me, sit around the table.
Eat of my bread - my body: drink the wine - my blood. Come
Lie down on my pillow
And be with me one flesh.

If "The Parable of the Feast" exemplifies womanly loneliness, the following poem does so concerning the forlorness of a man.


A man lies on his bed, it is dark
But his eyes see the maid his knees touch hers
He send his hands to embrace her lips are open
He feels her she is white she is warm and tender
She is painfully fair and bright till it smarts but she is not here
Who will pay for his thin time in hell
In the darkness he lies in the grave on his bed
Flowers bloom in the world rivers flow girls

A man lies on his bed, it is dark
But his eyes see the maid his knees touch hers
He send his hands to embrace her lips are open
He feels her she is white she is warm and tender
She is painfully fair and bright till it smarts but she is not here
Who will pay for his thin time in hell
In the darkness he lies in the grave on his bed
Flowers bloom in the world rivers flow girls love
He lies amidst his sheets and blankets and his eyes are sad
Darkness pours over his room like waters that fill the sea
Her knees touch his he sends his hands to touch her in caress
But she is not here
Flowers bloom in the world rivers flow girls love
Clouds ride like light angels stars are ablaze in flame
But who will pay for his pain
Who may forgive God who wrought him and forgot
Him Lying in his grave on the bed of the sea, the boundless deep,
While darkness puts its arms around him and his body is put out like
Light too and his soul
Now he lies peacefully on his bed his eyes close he falls asleep.

Egyptian Night

The Maid;

On the sandy path
So slowly - my heart was sinking -
I have born the basket
With my little sibling.
Water, reeds around;
I lay there a-shiver;
Afar now I knell Dusk sets on the river.

The Waters;

From the springs in hills unknown
Abyssinian abysses
Shaded by brown date-palms
And carobs like molasses
By the yellow dunes
Dry and dead reed and grass
Under the silver moon
Endless we flow and pass.

The Maid;

Ho you holy waters
Please flow still and deep.
There in the reed basket
The child is now asleep.
Please do not wake him
Flow by slow and mute
Carry him tenderly
He's a boy so cute.

The Waters;

In most deadly silence
Like angels in the ether
Amidst mourning shores
We pass and travel.
Not like you, the maiden
Kneeling on the shore,
Doomed for ever
To live and suffer sore.

The Maid;

Now the night has come
Darkness reigns and quiet.
The sky is calm.
The earth is silent.
Ho you holy water
Please flow still and deep
There in the reed basket
The child is now asleep.

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Dore: The Finding of Moses

Religion - and all he, (Sadeh) as a modern man felt about it was the only and main subject Sadeh dealt with in his poetry and prose. He actualized before his inner eyes the heroes of the Bible - the ancient kings of Kanaan, (The Book of Genesis, chapter 36), Moses, (Moshe), his sister Miryam, David, and others.

These are the Kings that ruled in Edom

These are the Kings that ruled Edom;
Bela, Beor's son, of Denhaba, the Golden; Jobab, Zerach's son, of Bazra;
Husham of Theman, from the South; Hadad B'n Badad, whose town was smitten:
Samla from Masreka, the town of the crimson wine; Saul
from the Paths of the River; Bel-Hannan, Achbor's son.
And Hadar of Peo, who wed Methabel, Mitrad's the king's daughter,
The daughter of the town at the shores of the scarlet-gold water.

David, Jesse's son in his psalms, in his hymns in verses
Called for God from the depths of abysses.
When in deepest distress
In his loss, in his sins, in his stress
he prayed to the God of his Fathers
But who will comprehend what fear means
when, for a moment, the veil is lifted from above the silencescarlet-gold water.
that spreads about there beyond the mourning, and the nought,
from beyond existence!

These are the Kings that ruled Edom;
Bela, Beor's son, of Denhaba, the Golden; Jobab, Zerach's son, of Bazra;Husham of Theman, from the South; Hadad B'n Badad, whose town was smitten:
Samla from Masreka, the town of the crimson wine; Saul
from the Paths of the River; Bel-Hannan, Achbor's son.
And Hadar of Peo, who wed Methabel, Mitrad's the king's daughter,
The daughter of the town at the shores of the scarlet-gold water.

Mystical, Neo Platonic tendencies appear in Sadeh's peoms like in the next one, speaking about "unio mystica", the mystic union of the soul with the divine experience:

I did yearn to become as nought


I did yearn to become as nought, in such sleep deep from deep
That God's hand may touch me into salvation.

I will sleep my sleep into the deepest night. My dreams asunder
I will send, like branches of trees towards the stars.

I shall plant my breath into you, balmy breeze, breath of winds and spirits, into the scent of oranges
That extract their gold from the broken crust of the earth beneath.

And I shall see how the transience and transsubstantiation rule all, the blue turns black, the brown
grows gold, and there is between them no division.

As also my happiness, transformed into sorrow, will return as rapture, although, to be sure, there is,
after all, between them no division.

There is a body of poems of Sadeh I call "Poems of Creation":

Two lines: After the Rain

Look at the miracle and see:
God has put leaves on the tree.

Five lines: I saw the god descending

I saw the gold descending on the trees to bless us
And the vapours I saw rising from the belly of the earth to be watered.
And the east I saw growing purple at sunset.
And I heard the birds rising in their flocks from the earth.
And I saw the earth in its splendour while being created.

Two lines: After the Rain

Look at the miracle and see:
God has put leaves on the tree.

Five lines: I saw the god descending

I saw the gold descending on the trees to bless us.
And the vapours I saw rising from the belly of the earth to be watered.
And the east I saw growing purple at sunset.
And I heard the birds rising in their flocks from the earth.
And I saw the earth in its splendour while being created.

That may be the strange power of poetry: everyday phenomena - "the birds rising in their flocks...", indeed the purple sunset - that the poet writes about and lo! there they are in his poem in all their freshness, as if one meets and sees them in his innerest eyes for the very first time.

Seven lines: A letter

To the much-honoured. The worthy philosopher. Baruch Spinoza.
And as for your words: That it is impossible for God to wish not to be.
I shall answer thus: That for God nothing is impossible.
Among His countless forms He may exist as Absence, as Nothing, if He please.
Like birds fallen into the sea. Like morning-mist. Like love.
Because, right-honourable, our life is Love and the Death that comes after.
Be peace to you, sir, from me.

Do you remember, perchance, those old almanachs, with poems of summer, autumn, winter?

The Gods

I see gray clouds.
White clouds, azure clouds.
It cannot be but the autumn
is coming, winter is at the door.

I think a year has passed.
Inside Time, in the depths unfathomable
Life changes, time is at its own;
Gods pine away, expiring, gods
die and grow alive anew.
Something happens there, full of godly wisdom,
Full of love, fear, longing and misery.
Only a slight echo reaches our life.

In the Spring I slept

In the Spring I slept, in the summer I died, but you, fall, brought me back to life again,
In you always my first love awoke,
Entwined, like a bush, by the leaves of my days and my nights.

Embarrassed, proud, hopeless,
Like you, am I.
And such was my first love.

And that is why I do live only in you again,
Because what is a man's life altogether, if not
His very first love all over.

New acquisitions (new translations)(2001)

At Holon's Cemetery

At Holon's Cemetery, after we die
At the window we shall sit, you and I.

What happiness! The silent hours!
And you will be mine, and I will be yours.

We shall remember, but say no word
Of all the suffering, of all that occured.

Years of light of an afternoon endless.
An eternity comes, another one passes.

The river of Lethe, black-green, by and by.
At the whole universe, only you and I.

The elderly King David dances

On the white snow glide
The sledges. The deers hide.

Where is life? Where?
Maybe in Africa. Not here.

Paths in the forest. Foggy grass.
I won't see them again, alas.

Happiness, sister, and distress.
Blah blah. The second one less.

How the nymphs took me in once.
Now they pick their noses, in a trance.

My friend, Reb Nahman, I can't put it milder:
We got entangled in the webs of the spider.

I have slept with a dead Juno.
But I forgot. I am alone now.

What more can I do, hence,
But to dance?

Encounter in Bad Gastein

Ja'acov Ashman
A friend deceased years ago,
Appeared to me in a dream
In these days.

It was in Bad Gastein. The hills
Were covered by snow. But, meseems,
A cable car passed there by
As if in slow motion, at some distance.
The evening was blue. Everything was endowed
By some blue magic.
We sat together in a small coffee shop, in a garden, amidst some foliage.
We both knew that he was dead, and I, in a friendly wonder
Made a remark concerning his good looks.
As to that, he just shrugged his shoulders,
As if to say, (and he even said it, I believe), that there is nothing
To wonder at, the situation
Not being as bad as it seems to some.
I also remember: during our encounter
I noticed that he seemed scintillating.
I mean to say, his bodily existence was made of light
Waves emitted within intervals almost imperceptible.
(Yellow Peaches, pp. 87-88)


High above you soar
Among the happy star
In the light-drunk orbits
Of worlds not-to-be-known.
Flowers at your forehead,
Of crimson and velvet
Your prophets' drops of blood
Frozen into your crown for ever.

Not even a grain of dust
On the city-walls.
Your olives and palms
Sent their roots into celestial spectra.
There is no path in the hills,
Nor in the sea, leading to you.
Only a heart lost in pain
Will maybe find the way.
Your towers, still ablaze
In fire and gold, burn in your memory,
And the son of Jesse, in your palaces
Still calls for God, from the depths.
Amoz's son, the seer
Sees still Him sitting on the Chair,
And the one from the Galil, still bleeding
Stoops under his brown-gilt cross.
Smiling softly, you soar and pass
On the wings of Seraphs and Cherubs,
High above yellow Asia's plains,
Above Europe's towns of smoke.
High above the lands of the nations you hover,
That curdle in the dusk, like huge, heavy animals,
Suddenly and sometimes gnashing their teeth at each other
Only to sink again into their nameless dream.

You are born from the earth, high above the rivers
Of Babylon, full of fears,
Towards the spiky hills of Spain,
Towards the darkest German forests.
They won't see you, look at you,
The gnawing beasts, buried in their papers,
But the ocean, with its green peal of psalm
Will bear to you its richest Hosannas.

Look down on us in mercy, Flower of Heaven,
Haven on earth to our suffering mankind,
Bearing its low burden under pain,
Fatigue, evil and folly.
Have on me too mercy,
A guest in your world for an hour,
A lonely wanderer on the desolate ways
On the night-strewn paths of the soul.

From above the hellish darkness
Of this world full of distress
Your dove-white body sparkles in the light,
City of God, Bride of the Heaven.
Happy is he, to whom it will be given
To see your lovely face,
Happy he who will be present
To bow down to kiss your ivory white feet.

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