by Aaron Zeitlin

Translated by Jon Levitow (2009)

Go become yourself the words,
Yourself the essence.

– Angelus Silesius

Poems should be like Elijahs
entering the homes of wretched brothers.
I wait for poems that turn into poets,
I wait for poets that turn into poems.

I wait for unexpected wonder,
when poets become the words they write,
each poem fills with blood and shows its face
and approaches people – as a poet.
New breath for old hearts!
Make cold frogs jump!
Let dry stumps blossom!
Proclaim Sabbath throughout all the worlds!

Aaron Zeitlin (1898 – 1973) was the son of the noted Yiddish writer and thinker Hillel Zeitlin. After an invitation to New York by director Maurice Schwartz for the production of his play Esterke (“Esther”), the start of World War II on 1 September 1939 prevented his return to his family, all of whom were murdered in the Shoah. He settled in New York City where he worked as a journalist and a professor of Hebrew literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Zeitlin’s literary writings include bilingual (Hebrew and Yiddish) poems, narratives, dramas, essays, and criticism. Noteworthy is his contribution from the Warsaw period. He was a moving force in the inclusion of Yiddish literature and Yiddish writers as members of the World PEN Organization (late 1920s), whose branch in Warsaw he chaired in the 1930s. Tragically, German militarism destroyed a number of his unpublished manuscripts and works in progress, including five volumes of poetry ready for publication. (Annotated biography of Aaron Zeitlin courtesy of, with edits.)

Editor’s Note:
Today’s post was inspired by a combination of outside sources. First, my father challenged me to determine the meaning of “zeesh punim,” a yiddish phrase. While contemplating the meaning of this phrase, As It Ought To Be posted a poem that inspired and moved me, that piece being On This Earth What Makes Life Worth Living by Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish.

I wanted today’s post to be by a Yiddish poet. Yiddish is the language of my ancestors, a dying language that was nearly wiped out with the Holocaust. I also wanted today’s post to be a celebration of poetry and life, as Mahmoud Darwish’s poem is. What these two poets have in common is the ability to celebrate life and poetry through tragic events, to see the beauty in life even amidst so much death and tragedy. May their spirits come together through poetry to shift the energy of the middle east and bring about peace between men who would otherwise be brothers.

Want to read more by and about Aaron Zeitlin?

About Sivan Butler-Rotholz

Sivan is the Managing Editor of the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought To Be and holds an MFA from Brooklyn College. She is a professor, writer, editor, comic artist, and attorney emerita. She is also the founder of Reviving Herstory. Sivan welcomes feedback, poetry submissions, and solicitations of her writing via email at sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com.
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  1. maya elashi says:

    Thank you for the reference to Mahmoud Darwish … his spoken word which speaks for life, justice – through the veil of a foreign tongue – conjures the beauty spoken by Neruda, (k)no(w)? And, YES, like music, may poetry effect the way of peace.

  2. Karim Abuawad says:

    I like the poem, but I like the wonderful note even more. Thanks, Sivan.

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