Dan Pagis Again

כתוב בעפרון בקרון החתום
דן פגיס

כאן במשלוח הזה
אני חוה
עם הבל בני
אם תראו את בני הגדול
קין בן אדם
תגידו לו שאני

I’ve taken the liberty of posting the original Hebrew version of this poem, which, for some reason, is haunting me this week. I can’t get past the impossibility of translating the plural ‘you’ that is embedded in the Hebrew verbs ‘Tagidu‘ and ‘Tiru‘. How does one convey that in English? To simply say ‘you’ doesn’t imply nearly the same amount of weight as the pluralised Hebrew forms of the word. The native meaning is so central to the essence of this poem, to its heaviness, its warnings.

I find myself stuck on the solitary image of Eve, in Hebrew ‘Em Kol Chai’ (the mother of all of life), in the midst of a world populated by men. It is her voice that we are hearing in this poem, but it is confounded by the reverberations implicit in her dual status as Mother of all and specifically as Mother to Cain and Abel. The simplicity of the statement ‘I am Eve’ is central to this image that Pagis creates of Eve alone. She is anchored in this place, perhaps the anchor itself, and although she has clearly lost control of her fate, she is, nonetheless, wielding a conviction or faith (emunah) that sees her tone remain calm and focused. I am Eve. It is as though she is reinforcing her identity, her belief in herself and in her G-d, her awareness that while her physical self may die, her essence is eternal. I am Eve – here, there, everywhere.

Eve.

It is enough to just say her name. It needs no adjectives, nothing to enhance its meaning. I am Eve.

The others in this poem exist only in terms of their relationship to this universal mother. Abel is known only as ‘bni‘, my son. Without her he does not have a self, he is metaphorically lost. Cain (whose name sounds ironically like the ‘kan’ – here – which starts the poem) is absent, divorced from the fate of his mother and brother, perhaps in part responsible for that collective fate. Nonetheless, he is still considered as Eve’s son, differentiated by the adjective ‘hagadol‘ – the eldest – and by his connection to Adam. Cain is ‘ben adam‘, literally, the son of Adam and also a man (the Hebrew has two meanings). What does this mean? How does this relate to the function of this poem as a warning to Cain or to all that he represents?

If the poem is Eve’s message from the grave that even the sinners should never forget that she is their mother, how do we reconcile Eve’s own sin in the Garden of Eden?

What do you read in this poem?

And, what do you make of the fact that the only connection that this poem holds linguistically to the Holocaust is its title?

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7 responses to “Dan Pagis Again

  1. I think it is inerently related to Holocaust, actually.
    Kain, killed Abel, the way Nazi’s killed Jews and others. Especially painful given that Gemany was a fairly safe place for the Jews just 20 years prior.. .
    Chava is their mother. She is hurt. And even more so she does not know what is going on, what evil joke is being played on her and her offspring… She still remmembers them young children, playing together…
    And most important, the poem is intentionally unfinished. You can pretty much go back to the begining, and repeat the poem in cirlcles. Like a wounded animal. Like a person preoccupied with a distressing thought…

  2. “If the poem is Eve’s message from the grave that even the sinners should never forget that she is their mother, how do we reconcile Eve’s own sin in the Garden of Eden?”

    Interesting question. Remember, that in Jewish philosphy, her sin was not all that great. In Jewish mystical tradition, the first couple sinned in order to fall, for the sake of fullfilling a greater pourpose” with their sin, humanity was cast away from G-d, and is now still yearning to return to Him. This made human history possible.And that is important becuase we want to paricipate in our own creation, and ethical evolution.

  3. She ani is the only word that rhymes with anything, that is important, because thi si what is responsib;e for why we want to go to the begibibg of the poem as soon as we read the end.

  4. Maria, thanks for your comments. Yes, clearly the poem is directly connected to the Shoah, but the only clear sign that Pagis gives of this is in the title. It is quite subtle I think and the connections that he is forming between contemporary Jewish (world) history and the Torah are wonderfully profound.

  5. Maria, I am intrigued by your notion that Eve’s sin in Gan Eden was relatively minor … I wonder whether you are implying that Hashem knew that she would fall for the snake’s rationalizing? Are you saying that this was engineered so that people could have a hand in their own making? What about the notion of free will? I realize that this is probably more of a philosophical question, but nonetheless it is worth asking because it does seem to relate quite directly to one’s reading of this poem.

  6. PS – I wonder what you mean by ‘paricipate in our own ethical evolution’? Are you referring to our own growth in a spiritual sense or do you mean something else?

  7. Hi Justine,
    To answer the question of whether Adam and Eve’s sin was major, you have to ask the eternal question of why did G-d create the world, or more importantly “WHY DID G-D CREATED AN IMPERFECT WORLD?”
    In the words of Kiddush on Fri night we quote the famous verses of Genesis, the end of which is translated into English as “that G-d created by doing.” You probably know that this is a poor translation. “Asher bara Elokim laasot,” really should be translated: “That G-d created ‘to do/make.'” In other words that G-d created for “doing.” This implies that something yet remained to be done, made, build in His creation. So, it was not complete at its completion. The answer I liked the most, is that G-d created a world that needs to be PERFECTED by humans. It is the great honor G-d bestowed upon us — not only we are given the oportunity to enjoy the world, we are destined to eventually TAKE PRIDE for out contribution to making this world the way IT IS INTENDED TO BE.

    For this to happen, the humans had to go outside of the garden of eden, and live our difficult human lifes… So, what they did with the “original sin” was actually a mitzva. I have heard of a medrash that mentions them thinking through it . Ok i am too tired now. will have to continue later. Thank you for contacting me.

    Shavua tov,

    Masha (aka Maria)

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