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  • Writer's pictureCorbin Allardice

Commonplace Book 3: Walt Whitman

[Note: Although perhaps contingent--the result of unfinished or sloppy work, of bad bookkeeping or so on--it seems apparent from the present entry, as from those before, that, in his diaries and private writing, Varshe used translation too as a compilational technique; he produced new poems through abridement, rearrangement, juxtaposition etc., that is, through what Nietzsche terms "interpretation ([forcing], adjusting, abbreviating, omitting, padding, inventing, falsifying, and whatever else is of the essence of interpreting)."]


You air that serves me with breath to speak!

You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them shape!

You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!

I believe you are latent with unseen existences, you are so dear to me.

You flagg’d walks of the cities! you strong curbs at the edges!

You ferries! you planks and posts of wharves! you timber-lined sides! you distant ships!

You rows of houses! you window-pierc’d façades! you roofs!

You porches and entrances! you copings and iron guards!

You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much!

You doors and ascending steps! you arches!

You gray stones of interminable pavements! you trodden crossings!

From all that has touch’d you I believe you have imparted to yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me,

From the living and the dead you have peopled your impassive surfaces, and the spirits thereof would be evident and amicable with me.*


Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!

Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!

Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!

Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court,

and the judge expound the law.

Camerado, I give you my hand!

I give you my love more precious than money,

I give you myself before preaching or law;

Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?

Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?**


STRANGER! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?

And why should I not speak to you?***


Du luft, vos du gist mir otem tsum reydn!

Ir zakhn, vos ir ruft tsunoyf mayne tsezeyte

gedanken un git zey a geshtalt!

Ir shtegn oysgetrotene af beyde zaytn fun’m


Ikh gloyb, ir bahalt lebns-geheymnisn,

Ir zent mir azoy tayer!

Ir flaterdike shtotishe gasn! Ir sharfe gasn-

Vinklen! Ir paromen! Ir dokn un vayte shifn!

Ir hayzer-reyen! Ir fasadn mit fentster!

Ir dekher! Ir toyern un ayngangen!

Ir gzimsen un ayzerne shtakhetn!

Ir fentster vos ayer durkhzikhtik gloz ken azoy fil


Ir tirn un trepn, vos shtaygn aruf!

Ir groye shteyner fun shoseyen, vos tsien zikh on a sof!

Ir oysgetrotene sheyd-vegn!

Ikh globe, fun alem, vos hot aykh barirt, hot ir

epes zikh genumen un ir vet es mir itst gebn,

Fun di lebedike un toyte, vos hobn gevoynt af

ayer shtume oyberflekh un zeyere gayst veln

mir zikh ofenbarn un mir frayntlekh zayn.


Kum! Der veg iz far undz!

Er iz zikher--ikh hob im oysgepruvt--

nit halt zikh op!

Zoln di verktsayg blaybn in varshtat,

Un dos gelt--nit fardint!

Zol dos papir nit far-shribn blaybn afn tish,

un dos bukh nit geefnt inem shank!

Farloz di shul! Nit her dem lerers reyd!

Zol der prediker predikn af zayn bime!

Zol der advokat zih lodn in barikht,

un der rikhter taytshn dos gezets!

Khaver! Ikh gib dir mayn hant!

Ikh gib dir mayn libe, tayerer fun gelt.

Ikh gib dir zikh aleyn on predikt un gezets!

Vestu mir gebn zikh aleyn? Vestu kumen geyn mit mir?

Veln mir tsuzamen zayn undzer gantsn lebn?


Fremder, ven du bagegnst mikh

Un vilst mit mir reydn,--

Farvos zolstu mit mir nit reydn

Un farvos zol ikh mit dir nit reydn?

By Walt Whitman

Yiddish translation by Moyshe Varshe

Annotated by Corbin Allardice

*- Song of the Open Road, part 3. For whatever reason verse 3 is omitted in the Yiddish (and thus has been omitted here.)

**-Song of the Open Road, part 15. For some reason Varshe switches verses 3 and 4, and I have done the same (khas ve-sholem!) to Whitman’s English here.

***- To You, from Leaves of Grass.

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