If Only


Translated from the Hebrew by Saleet Malin


If only my senses were like wildflowers
always open
to the winds, to the expanses.
If only my thoughts,
my dress and my home,
like the setting of the sun – burning splendor.
If only I was music
from head to toe –

Then you would be bliss
you would be an ocean
whose shores are eternal gardens.
You would wrap my pain with the silk
that is in your heart
whose colors are as diverse as the stars.

But because my life –
the insult of exhaustion and sickness –
Because my life –
the lack of understanding of dust –
you are not bliss
you are not the ocean
whose shores are eternal gardens.

Because I wore
out of mischief and shame
a mask of an old black woman,
a disguise of no-more-hope,
you did not recognize me
when we met in the forest
during the light festival
of loneliness.

לוּ הָיו

מאת: זלדה

לוּ הָיוּ חוּשַי כּפִרְחֵי בָּר
פְּתוּחִים תָּמִיד
,לָרוּחוֹת, לַמֶּרְחָב
לוּ הָיוּ הֲגִיגַי
,שַׂלְמָתִי וּבית-מְגוּרַי
,כִּשְׁקִיעוֹת הַשֶׁמֶשׁ – הָדָר לוֹהֵב
-לוּ הָיִיתִי מוּסִיקָה
-מִקַּרְסֹל עַד קָדְקֹד


הָיִיתָ אֹשֶר
הָיִיתָ אוֹקְיָנוֹס
.שֶׁחוֹפָיו גַּנֵּי-עַד
הָיִיתָ עוֹטֵף עַצְבוּתִי בַּמֶּשִׁי
אֲשֶׁר בִּלְבָבְךָ
.זֶה שֶׁגּוֹנָיו רַבִּים כַּכּוֹכָבִים
-מִפְּנֵי שֶׁחַיַּי
,גַּם עֶלְבּוֹן הַלֵּאוּת וְהַחֹלִי
-מִפְּנֵי שֶׁחַיַּי
,גַּם אִי-הֲבָנָה שֶׁל עָפָר
-אֵינְךָ אֹשֶר
אֵינְךָ אוֹקְיָנוֹס
.שֶׁחוֹפָיו גַּנֵּי-עַד

מִפְּנֵי שֶׁלָּבַשְׁתִּי
מִתּוֹךְ הוֹלְלוּת וּמִתּוֹךְ בּוּשָה
,מַסְוֶה שֶׁל כּוּשִׁית זְקֵנָה
-מַסֵּכָה שֶׁל אֵין-תִּקְוָה-עוֹד
לֹא הִכַּרְתַּנִי
,כְּשֶׁנִּפְגַּשְׁנוּ בַּיַּעַר
.בְּחַג אוֹרוֹת הַבְּדִידוּת

From: Zelda, Pnai, Poems of Zelda (HaKibbutz HaMeuchad, Tel Aviv, 1967).


Known to the public as Zelda, Zelda was born Zelda Schneersohn Mishkovsky to a Chassidic family in 1914 in the Ukraine and moved to Jerusalem in 1926. Over her lifetime she published six works and was a well-known, beloved poet in both the religious and secular circles in Israel in her lifetime, winning three awards for her published works including the Bialik Prize for Literature. Zelda’s published works include: The Invisible Carmel (1971), Be Not Far (1975), It is Surely a Mountain, It is Surely a Fire (1977), and On the Spectacular Difference (1981).

Zelda’s life was not an easy one – her father passed away when she was young and after her marriage, at age 35, she was not able to have children. Her husband also died an untimely death in 1970. Despite all of this Zelda was known as a very hospitable poet and accepted female boarders to whom she was devoted in various ways, even helping to finance their weddings. When she was dying from cancer in her last years it was these friends that surrounded her.

Translator’s Note: I decided to delve into translating Zelda’s poetry after Linda Zisquit gave our Translation class an assignment to explore the work of an Israeli poet throughout the semester. I chose Zelda because I had one of her books – it was a gift my mother gave me years ago – before I had decided to study poetry, before I could read or really speak Hebrew, and before I had become religious. Now was the time to tie all these strings together. Amazingly, I found myself deeply relating to Zelda’s emotional landscape – the beauty in the pain, the sorrow living in complete harmony with holiness and faith. Her world could somehow naturally encompass this entire range of emotion and is probably why she was one of Israel’s widely beloved poets. In translating her work I often found that the most literal translations of the words from Hebrew to English were the most powerful.  I hope to offer English readers a taste of the breadth and depth of Zelda’s poetry and communicate what I can of the emotional power I felt in her work.



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