Lost Paradise

Jaroslav Seifert

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The Old Jewish Cemetery
is one great bouquet of grey stone
on which time has trodden.
I was drifting among the graves,
thinking of my mother.
She used to read the Bible.

The letters in two columns
welled up before her eyes
like blood from a wound.
The lamp guttered and smoked
and Mother put on her glasses.
At times she had to blow it out
and with her hairpin straighten
the glowing wick.

But when she closed her tired eyes
she dreamed of Paradise
before God had garrisoned it
with armed cherubim.
Often she fell asleep and the Book
slipped from her lap.

I was still young
when I discovered in the Old Testament
those fascinating verses about love
and eagerly searched for
the passages on incest.
Then I did not yet suspect
how much tenderness is hidden in the names
of Old Testament women.

Adah is Ornament and Orpah
is a Hind,
Naamah is the Sweetness
and Nikol is the Little Brook.

Abigail is the Fount of Delight.
But if I recall how helplessly I watched
as they dragged off the Jews,
even the crying children,
I still shudder with horror
and a chill runs down my spine.

Jemima is the Dove and Tamar
the Palm Tree.
Tirzah is Grace
and Zilpah a Dewdrop.
My God, how beautiful this is.

We were living in hell
yet no one dared to strike a weapon
from the murderers’ hands.
As if within our hearts we did not have
a spark of humanity!

The name Jecholiah means
The Lord is Mighty.
And yet their frowning God
gazed over the barbed wire
and did not move a finger --

Delilah is the Delicate, Rachel
the Ewe Lamb,
Deborah the Bee
and Esther the Bright Star.

I’d just returned from the cemetery
when the June evening, with its scents,
rested on the windows.
But from the silent distance now and then
came thunder of a future war.
There is no time without murder.

I almost forgot:
Rhoda is the Rose.
And this flower perhaps is the only thing
that’s left us on earth
from the Paradise that was.

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