Ad Anah – The Heavens Weep and Are Not Answered

This unattributed kinah – or song of lament – dates from medieval or pre-medieval times. It is traditional for the eve of Tisha B’Av, the holiday of our mourning. While the holiday’s origins are in national mourning, it has come to be a time to sit with the sorrow of today’s calamities, the slow destruction of the Earth, and our own personal sorrows and griefs. This kinah was new to me when I saw it this year. An alphabetical acrostic, it describes the heavenly bodies – sun, moon and the constellations of the Zodiac – mourning with us in our time of calamity. This sense of the universe being present as witness and partner moved me. So I sat down and penned this interpretive translation, giving my best shot to an alphabetic acrostic in English. The Hebrew original can be found here. There are some beautiful musical treatments. Here is one traditional setting of the Hebrew. And here is another.

Ad Anah Bikhyah

How long must we weep for all that is broken?
For our sake, and Heaven's, let us be whole.

At the time of our calamity, our unthinkable loss
Both we and the Upper Jerusalem wept.
Celestial bodies and angels above
Dropped tears; let loose their despairing laments.
Each constellation – Orion, Pleiades – plus
Forefathers and foremothers pleaded on high.
Garbed too in sackcloth, the angels all grieved, while
Heaven's bright sun and moon dimmed their light.
Inconsolable Aries wept for lambs led to slaughter.
Jostling Taurus bellowed at Judah's hard yoke.
Keening Gemini cried for families broken.
Lost lads and maidens led Virgo to woe.
Mighty Cancer crossed waters but could not slake our thirst.
Nor heeded were prayers roared by Leo so fierce.
Of death out of balance with life complained Libra.
Prickly Scorpio trembled like the tip of a sword.
Quivers of Sagittarian arrows – inert.
Rivers of tears ran from Aquarius' cup.
Sacred goats untended brought Capricorn low, as
The two fish of Pisces gasped for breath.

Under foreign skies we still await rescue.
Visions of home fill our longing mind's eye.
Wandering lands that briefly embrace us,
Expelling us then when our uses run dry.
Years have worn on. When will You hear us – and
Zodiac's prayers, and angels on high?

Interpretive Translation by Irwin Keller, Tisha B'Av 2019

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