The Sheaves of Grain, Submissive Now, Bend Low translated by Alexis Levitin Beyond the sea famine had spread like fate. Jacob, tense, made the situation clear: “Before all’s gone, before it is too late,” His anxious children gathered round in fear, “To Egypt we must go to purchase grain From Pharaoh’s stored up wealth. For word has spread His viceroy, whose wisdom has won fame Declares his will to give the starving bread From Pharaoh’s stores. Young Benjamin alone Will stay with me. The rest of you should go To bow for me to Egypt’s foreign throne.” Kissing the arid crimson earth, unsown, The sheaves of grain, submissive now, bend low At last, before their brother, still unknown.
Leonor Scliar Cabral is one of Brazil’s leading linguists. She is also a poet who still loves traditional forms, such as the sonnet. Her book Consecration of the Alphabet consists of one rhymed sonnet for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The book was published in five languages in Brazil, with my translations into English.
Alexis Levitin translates mostly poetry from Brazil, Portugal, and Ecuador. He has published forty-six books of translations, the best known being Clarice Lispector’s Soulstorm and Eugenio de Andrade’s Forbidden Words, both from New Directions.
Translator’s note: The Book of Joseph retells the Biblical story of Joseph in a series of sequential sonnets. Leonor’ challenge is mostly technical: how to tell the tale in perfectly rhymed iambic pentameter sonnet form. The challenger is even greater for the translator into English, a notoriously rhyme-poor language.