“A”-4

11 July 1929, rev. 23 July 1942

In revising “A”-4, LZ extensively rearranged the movement and deleted a substantial passage; see Textual Notes.

12.18    Stars of Deuteronomy: see Deuteronomy 1:10: “The Lord your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.”

12.20    We had a Speech, our children have / evolved a jargon: this alludes to an often heated dispute over the use of Hebrew and Yiddish, with the latter disparagingly referred to as not a proper language but a mere “jargon.”

12.22    Gate of Psalmody:

13.11    Fierce Ark! / Gold lion stomach…: the Ark of the Covenant, in which the Jewish people kept the stone tablets with Moses’ Ten Commandments, the Tablets of the Law. The Ark was a chest built from shittim wood, often identified as cedar, covered with gold and having two cherubim or winged lions on its cover. Red hair was particularly associated with King David, and with Jews generally.

13.18    He calleth for Elias: from J.S. Bach, St. Matthew Passion, No. 61b Recitative; Christ’s cry from the cross (see Matthew 27:46). Elias or Elijah was Hebrew prophet who many believed would return as the harbinger of the Messiah and sometimes has been identified with Christ. 

13.19    Clavicembalo: It., a harpsichord. See 5.18.5, 7.41.8, 7.42.4, 8.105.6.

13.23    ‘Religious, snarling monsters’ —: source unidentified; the single quotation marks distinguish this from the following translations from Yehoash set in double quotation marks.

13.25    “Rain blows, light, on quiet water…: this and other lines set in double quotation marks are LZ’s translations from the poetry of Yehoash (see note at 14.18). Through 14.17 is an imitation of the Japanese titled “Shimone-san” from In geveb, vol. 1, 69; see 7.42.12.

14.18    Yehoash: pseudonym of Yiddish poet and translator Solomon Bloomgarden (1872-1927), who immigrated to the U.S. in 1891 and lived primarily in NYC. Much of his poetry includes translations and imitations from many linguistic cultures, including Japanese, as evidenced in this movement. Other translations from Yehoash appear in “Poem beginning ‘The’” (CSP 13, 16, 20). LZ selects poems from In geveb (In the Weaving) published in two volumes 1919, 1921. LZ submitted translations of Yehoash to Poetry as early as 1920, when he was 16 and had just entered Columbia University (see Selected Letters 22).

14.21    “Heavier from day to day / Grow my limbs with sap of forests” / “Deep roots hammer lower”: from the Yiddish of Yehoash (see preceding note) and the same poem is continued at 15.25-16.2. The original poem is “Tsvishn beymer” (Among the Trees) from In geveb, vol. 1, 84-85. A translation of the complete poem by Barbara & Benjamin Harshav can be found in Sing, Stranger: A Century of American Yiddish Poetry, A Historical Anthology (Stanford UP, 2006): 90-91, from which the following stanza is extracted:
Deep in the forest stands my tent,
No one will come to me.
Like a wave flowing away
Is the far distant world . . . 
By day, I strike
Deep roots in the ground,
By day, my limbs grow heavy
With the sap of the forest—
Big stars are my audience,
Green grass my poems . . .

14.24    “And to the Sun, I bow…: through 15.5 an incomplete rendition from the Yiddish of Yehoash (see note at 14.18), “Tsu de zun” (To the Sun), In geveb, vol. 2, 35. A literal translation by Sarah Ponichtera:
I bow to the sun:
On the gray backs
Of the mountains; if you follow
Along the edges of the rocks
You will find my prayer.
You great, quiet
Bestower of man and tree and sand,
If your face flames
In the last redness, give me of
Your light
A spark, against every demon who laughs
In the darkness, and against every snake
Which crawls
On me in the grave of night.

15.7     Set masts in dinghies: echoes the opening of EP’s Cantos translated from Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey: “Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and / We set up mast and sail on that swart ship.”

15.8     “Wider is the ash around the fire” / “Treasures turned to sand”: from the Yiddish of Yehoash (see note at 14.18).

15.11    The courses we tide from: see 5.17.19, 12.173. The word “tide” appears quite frequently in the early movements of “A” (see 1.4.1, 3.9.1, 4.12.4, 6.38.22), and although this particular phrase appears to be LZ’s, there are various possible precedents, such as the proverbial, “Time and tide wait for no man,” which can be found in Chaucer, “Prologue to the Clerk’s Tale,” or the following passage from Shakespeare, Julius Caesar IV.iii.218-221:
Brutus: There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

15.12    Tree of the Bach family / Compiled by Sebastian himself…: J.S. Bach put together a family genealogy with comments, from which the following remark is quoted. Veit Bach (d. 1619) was Bach’s great-great-grandfather who settled in Wechmar in Thuringia, Germany and began the family tradition of music (Terry 4-5).

15.22    A carousel: see 12.3 (in the original printing of “A”-4, there are two explicit mentions of carousel in the opening lyric, see Textual Notes) and 6.24.4.

15.24    “My petted birds are dead”: from the Yiddish of Yehoash (see note at 14.18).

15.25    “I will gather a chain…: from Yehoash, “Tsvishn beymer” (Among the Trees), see note at 14.21. The third section of the poem follows in the translation by Barbara & Benjamin Harshav:
I dreamed of getting free
And got entangled tighter,
I forged my chain myself,
Every day a new link . . . 

In quiet crucibles, I will now 
Melt down all the heavy chains,
Then all the stilts will drop,
And all the glued-on wings . . . 

I will pick daisies, 
Pluck red anemones,
And of all the false thrones
No trace will remain . . . 

I will lie in the fields
And will ask earth and stars:
Let me hear your truth,
Mine was a lie . . .