Poems for Yom HaZikaron

Below is a selection of poems by Israelis written in commemoration of particular battles or wars. These poems are often read on Yom HaZikaron. 

POEMS BY NATAN ALTERMAN

The Silver Salver

[This poem is based on a statement made by Chaim Weizmann, first President of Israel, that ‘A state is not handed to a people on a silver salver.’]

The Earth grows still.
The lurid sky slowly pales
Over smoking borders.
Heartsick, but still living, a people stand by
To greet the uniqueness
of the miracle.

Readied, they wait beneath the moon,
Wrapped in awesome joy, before the light.
— Then, soon,
A girl and boy step forward,
And slowly walk before the waiting nation.

In work garb and heavy-shod
They climb
In stillness.
Wearing yet the dress of battle, the grime
Of aching day and fire-filled night

Unwashed, weary unto death, not knowing rest,
But wearing youth like dewdrops in their hair,
— Silently the two approach
And stand.
Are they of the quick or of the dead?

Through wondering tears, the people stare.
“Who are you, the silent two?”
And they reply: “We are the silver salver
Upon which the Jewish State was served to you.”

And speaking, fall in shadow at the nation’s feet.
Let the rest in
Israel‘s chronicles be told.

The Third Mother

Mothers are singing. Mothers are singing.
A fist of thunder bangs down. Strong silence.
Red-bearded lamps are marching
in the empty streets in rows.

Autumn mortally ill, weary,
inconsolable autumn,
rain without beginning or end.
No candle in the window, now light in the world,
three mothers sing.

I hear one of them say:
“He was here but yesterday.
I shall kiss his every fingernail and finger.
I see a tall ship in a calm bay,
and my son from the topmast hanging.”

And the second one says:
“My son is tall and quiet.
I am sewing a holiday shirt for my dear.
He’s walking in the fields. He will soon be here.
And he holds in his heart a lead bullet.”

And the third mother says with her wandering eyes:
“No one was dearer or kinder…
Who shall weep when he comes if I cannot see?
I do not know where he finds him.”

And she bathed her eyelashes with weeping.
Perhaps he is only resting. Perhaps
in foreign places he measures
the paths of Your world, O God,
(Like a wandering monk) with kisses.

POEM BY URI ZVI GREENBERG

Those who Live by their Virtue Will Say

They were the chosen… They sang… Now their voices are silent.
The true sons of the race of David that fell with their sword in their hand
Simple and lovely like young David of the Shepherd Clan…
And they shall praise Thee, O Lord, from the dust they’ve returned to!
The dust Thou created them from is the dust of death…
This kind of dust whereof  Thou createth primeval man.
The
Temple Mount and the Rock –
From that dust they’ll praise Thee… Immortal are they!
There is no truth, no glory but them.
And we, in this world, do live by their virtue.
And by their splendour we prosper.
Whoever looks unto their graves will ne’er be enslaved any longer.

POEM BY AMIR GILBOA

And My Brother Said Nothing

extracts [for copyright reasons]:

My brother came back from the field
dressed in grey. And I was afraid that
my dream might prove false, so at once
I began to count his wounds.
And my brother said nothing.

[…]

Then I undid the pack
and took out his belongings, memory by memory.
[…]
And my brother said nothing.

And his blood was crying out from the ground.

POEM BY CHAIM HEFER

The Paratroopers Wept

This Wall has heard many prayers.
This Wall has seen many walls crumble.
[…]
But this Wall never saw paratroopers weep…

[…]
Perhaps it is because the bours of 19
who were born together with the State
carry on their backs — two thousand years…

POEM BY SHAUL TCHERNIKHOVSKY

You See, O Earth

You see, O earth,
how very wasteful we have been:
In your secret laps of blessing
we hid seed – not the clean
Glass-clear pearls of spelt,
but seeds of heavy wheat,
Grains of yellowish barley,
oats on frightened feet.

You see, O earth,
how very wasteful we have been:
Flowers of flowers we hid in you,
fresh with glorious sheen;
They were kissed by the earliest kiss
of the sun just coming up,
Burying beauty with graceful stem,
with the crown of the willing cup;
Before they could know noon
in the midst of innocent sorrow,
Before dreaming of light in growth
or drinking dew upon the morrow.

The best of our sons we brought you,
youth of purest dreams,
Clear in heart and deed,
untouched by earth’s dark streams,
The cloth of their years yet woof,
a cloth of hopes to be,
We have none better than these.
Earth, did you see?

And you shall cover them all.
Let the plant rise in its season!
A hundred measures of might and glory,
for people, homeland vision!
They atone for our lives in glory,
their sacrifice unseen…
You see, O earth,
how very wasteful we have been.

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