Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In Honor of Memorial Day: Upon the Highway

In honor of Yom ha-Shoah, which was last week, and Memorial Day, which is today, I have decided to share a well-known Israeli song, “Upon the Highway,” written by Natan Alterman and set to music by Naomi Shemer. The speaker is the mother of a baby boy. As she sings her child to sleep aboard a barely seaworthy ship on a stormy night, she tells him the story of why they are making this perilous, clandestine voyage to pre-state Israel, which was then barred to Jewish entry by the British.

The recording was made in 1972.



Upon the Highway a Tree Once Stood

Lyrics: Natan Alterman
Music: Naomi Shemer
Performed by the Navy Troupe, 1972
Lead singer: Haya Arad

The translation is mine (which means that any errors in it are mine as well).

Upon the highway a tree once stood –
stood listing, leaning earthward.
Sleep, child, sleep. Night is falling,
A stormy night upon the water.

Hush, child. The ship pitches sideways,
listing in the raging wind.
Upon the highway a tree once stood,
with neither bud nor apple on it.

It was to this tree, my son,
that your mother’s father used to go
as the evening shadows nested in the tree
and nothing stirred.

Your mother’s father would lean his head against it,
facing toward Jerusalem.
Weeping, he would recite the afternoon prayer
to his God, just the two of them.

To that same tree, my son, your father
was tied, bound with cords.
They beat him with iron rods and whips, my son,
as hot breath like steam ascended.

When the whip, sharper than a knife,
had become red as fire,
your father sank silent to the ground,
at the time of the afternoon prayer, as evening fell.

Slowly he sank from his altar,
his face turned toward Jerusalem.
Hush, child. The ship lists to the side,
pitches, kisses the water.

The ship pitches sideways,
and rises, claw extended!
Upon the highway a tree was cut down –
cut down to become the mast of a ship!

Hush, child. The gate of glorious fame
will open before that mast.
Today it, too, is a pillar of prayer;
today it, too, is an altar.

Upon the highway stood a tree
that will never fall to the ground.
Sleep, child. The ship lists to the side,
sails onward, cleaving water.

Another video of the song may be found here. Here is the link to the Hebrew lyrics on Shironet.

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