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  • Writer's pictureCorbin Allardice

Poem 6: Investiture

Investiture (Untitled)

God invested in me:*

A pure, white soul,

With a child’s laugh

And with a child’s cringe, **

And two white doves for eyes.

I stabbed that soul,

A sacrifice to the devil brought.

Blood spurted under the knife

Blood spattered my face and flesh,

And the stains stare like ugly wounds,

And the stains stare

Like a tight-lipped witness

Keeping a terrible secret.

And in that evil hour,

With a charm, the devil

Had claimed my dead soul

Which lay at his feet.

Now dead, may it live forever in my flesh!

Now I walk listless


In my soul

To the quiet crawling

Of cold and greasy worms.

And I know:

The hour has come,

Soon God will call,

Soon God will demand

His investment returned.

A tender smile rests on God’s lips

It’s for his tidy sum,***

A white angel stands to one side,

A golden crown in hand:

And in ziv-ha’shkhine-light****

Tzadikim form a wheel

Dancing, singing

They go toward

God’s chosen soul.

To them, I will bring a carcass.******

And in a great rage,

Whose will is the will to defile,

God will take my soul

And disown it

And command it

Never again to come before him.

With a dead soul

Full of worms

I will wander,

For generations,

For generations,


Got hot mikh a pikodn gegeben:

A neshome, a vayse, a reyne

Mit a kindishn tsapl,

Un kindishn lakhn.

Un oygn--tsvey toybn.

Ikh hob di neshome geshtokhn,

A korbn gebrakht dem nit-gutn.

Fun untern meser dos blut hot geshpritst

Mayn layb un mayn ponim farshpritst.

Un s’kukn di flekn, vi vundn gor miese

Un s’kukn di flekn

Vi eydes gor shtume,

Vos hitn in hartsn a shreklekhn sod.

Un es hot der nit-guter

In der sho, in der beyzer

Mit a kishef bafoyln der toyter neshome.

Vos iz im tsufusns gelegn,

Zi zol in mayn guf eybik lebn a toyte.

Itst gey ikh arum,

Un her zikh alts tsu

Vi s’krikhn shtil um

In neshome bay mir

Kalte un glitshike verim.

Un kh’veys:

S’iz gekumen di sho,

Bald vet got rufn,

Bald vet got monen

Zayn pikodn tsurik.

A libhartsiker shmeykhl af gots lipn rut

Far zayn sheynem pikodn,

A malekh a vayser shteyt bay der zayt,

A gingoldene kroyn in der hant;

Un in zev-hashkine-likht

Makhn tsadikim a rod.

Tantsndik, zingendik

Geyen antkegn

Got’s oysderveylter neshome.

Ikh vel a nevole zey brengen.

Un in tsorn in groysn,

Vos farshvekht iz zayn viln,

Vet got mayn neshome

Fartraybn fun zikh,

Un vet ir bafoyln

Zi zol shoyn mer keynmol

Nit kumen far im.

Mit a toyter neshome

Vu s’krikhn um verim

Vel ikh umvoglen

Biz doyres,

Biz doyres...

By Moyshe Varshe

Translated by Corbin Allardice

*- “Got hot mir a pikodn gegeben,” literally “God gave me a deposit (פּקדון)/God gave me something held in trust.” I opted instead for “invested” to maintain the economic register (a consistent theme in Varshe’s theological writing). It’s worth noting that pikodn, phonically and graphically resembles pakhdn (coward).

**- “Un mit a kindishn tsapl,tsapl literally means “tremor, tremble, jerk.”

***- Pikodn

****- Ziv h’shkhine (זיו השכינה) translates to “the radiance of the Shekhinah,” with the Shekhinah referring to the feminine aspect of God, but more generally also the divine presence. It is in the afterlife (oylem habe/yene velt) that righteous might be able to ‘delight in the radiance of the divine presence’; that is, Ziv h’skhine can refer to a kind of divine reward to righteous. The major Hasidic text, Tanya, characterizes it as such “Hence it has been said: "Better is one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the whole life of the world to come." For, the world to come is that state where one enjoys the effulgence of the Divine Presence, which is the pleasure of comprehension, yet no created being— even celestial— can comprehend more than some reflection of the Divine Light; that is why the reference is to "Effulgence of the Divine Presence" ( Ziv ha-Shechinah). But as for the essence of the Holy One, blessed be He, no thought can apprehend Him at all, except when it apprehends, and is clothed in, the Torah and its Mitzvot; only then does it truly apprehend, and is clothed in, the Holy One, blessed be He, inasmuch as the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one and the same” (Tanya, Chapter 4). The 18th c. Mussar (ethical teaching) Messilat Yesharim writes “Behold, what our sages, of blessed memory, have taught us is that man was created solely to delight in G-d and to derive pleasure in the radiance of the Shechina (divine presence). For this is the true delight and the greatest pleasure that can possibly exist. The place of this pleasure is, in truth, in Olam Haba (the World to Come). For it was created expressly for this purpose” (Messilat Yesharim 1:1).

*****- The word for “carcass” here is nevole (נבלה) which, in modern Yiddish, means “infamy, abominable act, etc.” These meanings of religious impurity derive from its biblical and talmudic use as a term referring to dead animal bodies, sometimes in relation to ritual sacrifice. Both senses are resonant and active in Varshe’s text.

******- The Yiddish here is “biz doyres/biz doyres…” This would most accurately be rendered as “for generation,” but the preposition biz literally means “until.” As such, there is an element of latent expectancy, perhaps a kind of messianic or anti-messianic waiting, active in the phrase which I chose to foreground.

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