Stanza Four, the final stanza of Bialik’s poem, goes like this:
וארור האומר: נקם!
נקמה כזאת, נקמת דם ילד קטן
עוד לא-ברא השטן –
ויקב הדם את-התהום!
יקב הדם עד תהמות מחשכים,
ואכל בחשך וחתר שם
כל-מוסדות הארץ הנמקים.
But cursed be the one who says; Avenge!
Revenge like this, revenge for the blood of a small child
Satan has not yet created –
and let the blood pierce the abyss!
Let the blood pierce through the deep-dark abysses,
and devour, in the darkness, and breach there
all the rotting foundations of the earth.
Bialik’s final prayer moves beyond the request for tit-for-tat justice. His curse on the one who, like the author of Psalm 137, imagines revenge for the blood of a small child to be something God might actually devise, may strike us as a nice liberal point of view, the kind of thing any enlightened person today might think.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Bialik does not resign himself to less than tit-for-tat justice, as enlightened middle-class people do, who in the process become less than men and less than women, and satisfy themselves with substitutes for justice like personal peace and prosperity.
Bialik knows that much more than tit-for-tat justice is the only satisfactory solution. The rotting foundations of earth itself must be breached. The language is apocalyptic. The world order as Bialik knows it must come to an end. Anything less would be insufficient.
Bialik taps a rich vein of biblical prophecy in the conclusion of his prayer, a vein that continues to be misunderstood and maligned by most interpreters. It is that stream of biblical tradition which sees the world as something far less than the best of all possible worlds. It is that stream of tradition which longs for the destruction of the status quo, and its replacement by something radically new.
רֹעָה הִתְרֹעֲעָה הָאָרֶץ
פּוֹר הִתְפּוֹרְרָה אֶרֶץ
מוֹט הִתְמוֹטְטָה אָרֶץ
וְכָבַד עָלֶיהָ פִּשְׁעָהּ
וְנָפְלָה וְלֹא־תֹסִיף קוּם׃
earth is breaking, breaking;
earth is splitting, splitting;
earth is tottering, tottering.
Like a drunk the earth
will sway and sway;
like a shanty, rock to and fro.
Its crime will weigh upon it;
it shall fall, to rise to no more.
כִּי קֶצֶף לַיהוה
הֶחֱרִימָם נְתָנָם לַטָּבַח
וּפִגְרֵיהֶם יַעֲלֶה בָאְשָׁם
וְנָמַסּוּ הָרִים מִדָּמָם
וְנָמַקּוּ כָּל־צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם
וְנָגֹלּוּ כַסֵּפֶר הַשָּׁמָיִם
כִּנְבֹל עָלֶה מִגֶּפֶן
For the Lord is in a rage
against all the nations;
in a fury against all their array.
He vowed them to destruction, consigned
them to slaughter;
their dead shall be thrown away,
their corpses send up a stench.
The hills will dissolve in their
all the array of heaven will molder;
the heaven will roll up like a
all its array will shrivel
like leaves shrivel on a vine,
like fruit shrivels on a fig tree.
The third and fourth stanzas of Bialik’s prayer allude to Isa 34. The destruction Bialik envisions does not involve a tit-for-tat slaughter, but it continues to contemplate the end of the regime of both heaven and earth as Bialik knew it.
Here is the vocalized text:
וְאָרוּר הָאוֹמֵר: נְקֹם!
נְקָמָה כָזֹאת, נִקְמַת דַּם יֶלֶד קָטָן
עוֹד לֹא-בָרָא הַשָּׂטָן –
וְיִקֹּב הַדָּם אֶת-הַתְּהוֹם!
יִקֹּב הַדָּם עַד תְּהֹמוֹת מַחֲשַׁכִּים,
וְאָכַל בַּחֹשֶׁךְ וְחָתַר שָׁם
כָּל-מוֹסְדוֹת הָאָרֶץ הַנְּמַקִּים.