synthetic zero

September 20th, 2009

Inspired by Ginna Álvarez posting the original Spanish version of Borges’ meditation on the Golem, I’m posting Matias Giovanni’s translation:

If (as one Greek states in the Cratylus)
the name is archetype for the thing,
in the letters for rose is the rose
and all of the Nile in the word Nile.

So, made of consonants and vowels,
there’d be a terrible Name, the essence
of God its cipher, that Omnipotence
guards in letters and syllables full.

Adam and the stars knew it
in the Garden. Sin’s stain
(so the kabbalists say) erased it
and the many generations lost it.

The cunning and candor of man
have no end. We know that in their day
God’s own people searched for the Name
in the small hours of the Jewry.

Unlike that of some other vague
shadow betrayed in vague history,
there is still fresh and living memory
of Judah Loew, a rabbi in Prague.

Thirsty to see what God would see,
Judah Loew gave in to permutations
with letters in such complex variations
that he at last uttered the Name that is Key.

Portal, Echo, Host and Palace,
upon a doll with clumsy hands
he engraved, and taught it the strands
of Word, of Time and Space.

Through dreamy lids was this likeness
confounded by forms and colors,
utterly mixed in subtle rumors
and made its first timid movements.

By small degrees, like us it was
imprisoned in this resounding net
of Before, After, Yesterday, While, Now,
Left, Right, I, You, Them, Others.

(The kabbalist that gave it home
this vast creature nicknamed Golem;
these truths are told by Scholem
in a learned passage of his tome.)

The rabbi taught to it the universe
“My foot, and yours; here is a clog.”
After some years this thing perverse
could sweep, well or not, the Synagogue.

It could have been a miswriting,
or an error uttering the Holy Name;
despite so high a spell, it did not
learn to speak, this apprentice of man.

Its eyes, less a man’s than a dog’s
and so much less of dog than of thing,
tracked the rabbi through the trembling
shadows of their closed quarters.

Something odd and crude was in the Golem,
since out of its way the rabbi’s cat
scurried. (This cat is not in Scholem
but, across time, I can glimpse that.)

Raising its pious hands to God
it mimed his God’s devotions
or, dull and smiling, it sank
in hollow oriental genuflections.

The rabbi looked upon it with pride
and with some horror. How (he mused)
could I give birth to a pitiful son
and lose the sanity of inaction?

Why did I add yet another symbol
to the infinite Series? Why bring
to the vain skein spun by eternity
another cause, another effect and pain?

In that hour of dread and blurred light,
his eyes lingered on his Golem.
Who will tell us, what did God feel,
looking upon His rabbi in Prague?

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