Man, That Ape


Man, that ape, the first time in his life
He sees an elephant at night,
In all that darkness, the elephant's
Wearing, it seems, a pair of pants.
He broods about this for a while,
Then from some fig leaves, constructs a pair
Of pants, a pull-over, and underwear,
A shirt and shoes and then a hat,
And a skullcap for wearing under that.
Man, that ape.

That's nothing–the first time in his life
He sees the risen moon on high,
He locks his wife in an embrace
To singe the hair from off her face;
And after that, to make her gleam,
First he smears on a chalky cream,
Then sticks on all the gold he's got.
She doesn't emanate one beam.
He howls and bays and starts to scream.
Man, that ape.

The mountaintop and heaven meet,
He raises his right fist to swear
That he will follow it up there;
Since when, too short of time, he's run
From east to west, just like the sun.
The sun comes up, the sun descends:
He climbs, and falls–it never ends.
Man, that ape.


     Yiddish, trans. John Hollander


Moishe Leib Halpern, Yiddish, trans. John Hollander, An Anthology of Modern Yiddish Poetry, Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg, eds., Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969.