I found this poem in a little volume by the Yiddish writer Lamed Shapiro. This was one of the great Yiddish prose modernists, who was known for his portrayal of urban anomie and the pogrom grotesque. He seems to have been in a more pastoral mood here. The poem, called “Modeh Ani” is a reverie on the first prayer of the morning, in which we give thanks for being returned to another day of life. This is my translation.
by Lamed Shapiro
I walk through the woods. How great the stillness
in its cold bosom; how deep the silence.
Nothing but spirits whisper here among the branches
looking at me, and running ahead.
I walk through the woods, hearing the mute prayers for dew
of oak and pine, the bushes and flowers.
It seems to me now I will never arrive
and the woods will stretch on all around and forever.
A trace of sky, the size of my heart
bleeds from between the green canopy
and below the shadows switch and live
running the gamut from dark gold to black.
A sunbeam breaks through and suddenly vanishes
and the heart that is sky quickly shimmers with joy.
There, to the side, as if frightened from sleep
a bird gives a peep, and then thoughtfully sits
and is quiet a while, and then for a while sings.
I walk through the woods, where my footsteps are marked
by the moisture of grass, the dew of the morning.
For protection from sorrow and shelter from care
I give thanks and I praise you, oh merciful god.
Thanks for returning, in mercy, my pledge,
my body and breath, without blemish or harm,
for guarding my poor, fragile image in darkness
Therefore I will bless you, give praise to your name.
Joy to you, trees, and to birds and to people.
Joy to you, world!