I'm trying to locate the origin of this poem
October 8, 2017 11:56 AM   Subscribe

Hey, I've recently completed a Hebrew translation of an American show which contains this poem: "'Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing to love,
to hope, to dream, to be.
To be, and, oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this.
And a holy thing.
A holy thing... to love.
For your life has lived in me.
Your laugh once lifted me.
Your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
'Tis a human thing, love.
A holy thing...
to love what death has touched."

Not only is this poem a climactic moment near the end of the series, it is also used extensively in the series trailers.

Now, internet research shows this is a poem attributed to medieval-era Jewish poets Judah HaLevi OR Emmanuel of Rome. If the original version of this poem is in Hebrew, I would, of course, like to be able find it and quote it accurately in my translation. Unfortunately, I've not been able to locate it.

Can anyone find a definitive source for this poem? Thanks!
posted by Silky Slim to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My googling found me this blog, where the comments suggest it's actually by someone named Chaim Stern. I found a similar attribution in the google books link to the bibliography ofthis book, and that's about all I can find. If it's an unpublished poem often re-used in funeral services, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it's picked up a misattribution along the way.
posted by theweasel at 3:18 PM on October 8, 2017

The Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston, Illinois, has a PDF of "Yom Kippur Afternoon / Yizkor / Neā€™ilah 5777 Readings" that attributes the poem to Chaim Stern. There is nothing at the main site about Stern, however.

What a beautiful poem!
posted by bryon at 4:25 AM on October 9, 2017

So, it can be found in the "Mishkan T'filah for Gatherings," a Reform siddur, and is attributed to Chaim Stern, as part of the Aleinu/Mourner's Kaddish section of the book (under "Meditations before Kaddish"). There is no Hebrew; it is only presented in English (and given that Chaim Stern was the foremost liturgist of Reform Judaism and lived in Brooklyn, it might legitimately exist only in English), and in slightly different form than above:

It is a fearful thing to love
what death can touch.

A fearful thing to love,
hope, dream: to be --
to be, and oh! to lose.

A thing for fools this, and
a holy thing,
a holy thing to love.

your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was a gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.
'Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing,
to love
what death has touched.

It might have been originally published in Gates of Prayer, the original Reform siddur that Stern wrote, but I know it's in the book mentioned above. (Given it's a Reform siddur and various versions of the siddur mention getting permission from Stern himself, I am fairly confident that this is the authoritative version and that Stern is the author.)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:11 AM on October 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Thanks for all your research so far, all!

Interestingly, this show takes place in the old west... If Chaim Stern is indeed the author, I wonder if the writers were aware that the poem was written by someone who was born in 1930.
posted by Silky Slim at 9:48 AM on October 9, 2017

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