Hebrew Humpty Dumpty Vision

Anne (Chana) Kleiman is one of two poets featured in Women’s Hebrew Poetry on American Shores: Poems by Anne Kleiman and Annabelle Farmelant (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2016). She wrote, her daughter told translator Yosefa Raz, in “Sabbath Hebrew,” influenced by Bible and prayer, as well as previous Hebrew poets. So, bringing in biblical uses of the words she chose, and other echoes from Jewish text, seems helpful to understanding her work.

This page explores one series of Kleiman’s poems with annotations, largely from Bible verses, with a few bits about popular culture in the 1940s just as a reminder of what might have been influencing the poet.

“To the Musician [Lanagid],” was originally published in Hebrew in 1947 as part of a collection called Netafim/Droplets. It is followed by eight untitled stanzas which form an arc that will likely be familiar to many struggling with memory and grief, especially in time of turmoil.

I share here “To the Musician,” followed by the first and last leg of the poetic journey that follows. (Perhaps I’ll check with the publisher about sharing more of this series and other parts of this volume, which I really love and think was overlooked.)

To the Musician

The Hebrew and English are both
(c) Wayne State University Press 2016
Annotations and discussion are from V. Spatz, 2022

I do not know when and why –
but the moment the melody takes hold,
my eyes tear,
my soul trembles,
and yearns, and longs,
wrestles and breaks free,
to the melancholy of the chord

I picture you, the musician,
head to violin
quivering –
like a sapling by a clear brook
swaying its crown to the keen of the wind

— Translation by Yosefa Raz, from above referenced Women’s Hebrew Poetry volume. Below is the Hebrew.

Image: Hebrew poem “Lanagid”

רועדת Roedet

“Who looks on the earth, and it trembles [וַתִּרְעָד]; who touches the mountains, and they smoke.”
— Ps 104:32

“…and when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling [מַרְעִיד].” – Dan 10:11

דבקת Doveket

I cling [דָּבַקְתִּי] to Your testimonies – Ps. 119:31

“…but Ruth clung [דָּבְקָה] to her.” – Ruth 1:14

פלג Palag

“…like a tree planted by streams [פַּלְגֵי] of water.” – Psalm 1:3

“…the rock poured me out rivers [פַּלְגֵי] of oil.” – Job 29:6

SAPLING: Ilan rakh

רך Rakh

“For I was a son unto my father, tender [רַךְ] and an only one in the sight of my mother.” — Prov 4:3

“Leah’s eyes were weak [רַכּוֹת].” – Gen 29:27

“Thus says the Lord YHVH: ‘I myself will take of the lofty top of the cedar,* and will set it; from its top, I will crop off a tender [רַךְ] twig, and I will plant it upon a high mountain and eminent;…and it shall bring forth boughs…’” – Ezekiel 17:22

*”cedar” is “erez” in Hebrew, and other references to “tree(s)” in this passage are “etz,” rather than “ilan” as in poem. Regarding ilan

אילן Ilan

Ilan appears only once in the Tanakh, and ilana [אילנא] five times. All six occurrences are in Daniel Chapter 4. The chapter describes a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel’s interpretation, and what follows.

“וְחֶזְוֵי רֵאשִׁי, עַל-מִשְׁכְּבִי; חָזֵה הֲוֵית–וַאֲלוּ אִילָן בְּגוֹ אַרְעָא, וְרוּמֵהּ שַׂגִּיא”
“And the visions of my head upon my bed: I saw, and behold, a tree in the earth, and the height was great.” – Dan 4:5

The tree grows to reach heaven, its fruit great, birds dwelling in its branches, and beasts sheltering below. A holy messenger orders it cut down, with only a stump remaining. Its heart will be changed to that of a beast for seven seasons (Dan 4:13). Nebuchadnezzar lives out aspects of the vision, taking on the qualities of beasts, his “hair turning to eagles’ feathers and his nails like bird claws” (Dan 4:30); at the end of seven seasons his mind returned to him, as well as his kingdom’s glory. (Dan 4:33).

Immediately following, in Daniel Chap. 5, is the famous story of the writing on the wall at a party thrown by Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar.

A Humpty Dumpty Arc

Brooding Over Her Fragments

English translation by Yosefa Raz. Anne Kleiman’s Hebrew follows.

The Hebrew and English are both
(c) Wayne State University Press 2016
Annotations and discussion are from V. Spatz, 2022

In the motionless heavens
I saw
the pale moon [n1] –-

She appeared [note]

a Humpty Dumpty egg,
brooding over her fragments.

n1 [Y. Raz’s endnote]: Kleiman uses the female noun for moon, levanah – literally, ‘the white one.’ – n78, p.215, Women’s Hebrew Poetry

Note [V. Spatz]: In Hebrew, the indentation structure highlights “chaziti” (I saw) and “nidm’tah” (she appeared) in a way that doesn’t work in the English.

Hebrew stanza, “In the motionless heavens…”

חזיתי Chaziti

“I will hold forth; listen to me;
What I have seen [חָזִיתִי ], I will declare” – Job 15:17

“…the vision [הֶחָזוֹן] that he sees [חֹזֶה]…” – Ezekiel 12:27

“The upright will see [יֶחֱזוּ] [God’s] face” – Psalm 11:7

“…to behold [לַחֲזוֹת] the graciousness of YHVH…” – Psalm 27:4

Note: Women do see things in the Bible, sometimes experiencing what later tradition recognizes as prophecy. But I didn’t find an example of a woman as the subject of the root chet-zayin-heh (if you know one, please share). The example above from Job (his “friend” Eliphaz is speaking) at least provides a first-person verb which can be used by any gender. See Shachar Pinsker’s Introduction to Women’s Hebrew Poetry for discussion of gender and the challenge of female writers using biblical language to “express themselves poetically as the subjects rather than the objects of masculine desire, a metonymy for the nation, or a projection of masculine self-images” (Pinsker, p.7).

…The challenges for non-binary writers and readers are something else again….

לבנה Levanah

Levanah appears in Isaiah and Song of Songs but not earlier in the Bible. It is also used in Rabbinical Hebrew; see, e.g., “Kiddush Levanah [Sanctification of the Moon].”

“…fair as the moon [כַלְּבָנָה], clear as the sun…” – Song of Songs 6:10

“And the light of the moon [הַלְּבָנָה] shall be like the light of the sun….” – Isaiah 30:26 (also in Ashkenazi machzor for high holidays)

בצה Beitzah

בצית [beitziyat] is the plural construct form of “beitzah [egg].”

“And my hand found as a nest the riches of the peoples; and as one gathers eggs [בֵּיצִים] that are forsaken, have I gathered all the earth…” – Isaiah 10:14

“The wing of the ostrich beats joyously; but are her pinions and feathers the kindly stork’s? For she leaves her eggs [בֵּצֶיהָ] on the earth, and warms them in dust…” – Job 39:13-14

Note: For some sense of what was happening in the US in 1946 — possibly relevant to the poet’s use of Humpty Dumpty imagery — note that a new film short, “Mother Goose,” was released that year. The entire film, an early example of stop-motion animation created by Ray Harryhousen, is available via Archive.org and other sources. Humpty Dumpty appears at about 7:45 in the 12-minute film. (Image descriptions below.)

For some additional cultural scene setting: Betty Smith’s novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, was released in 1943; the movie came out in 1945, and its soundtrack included “Moonlight Bay” (1912) and “Shine on, Harvest Moon” (1908). Many other “moon songs” — including Moonlight Serenade, Moonlight Cocktail, Moonlight Becomes You, and Moon Glow — were popular in the 1930s and 1940s.

Skip down for just a few more bits of background about the US, Chicago, and the Kleimans in the 1930s and 40s.

שוקדה Shokdah

“I watch [שָׁקַדְתִּי]; I am like a lone bird upon a roof.” – Psalm 102:8

“…happy is the one who listens to me, watching [לִשְׁקֹד] daily at my gates…” – Proverbs 8:34

“‘So I will watch [אֶשְׁקֹד] over them, to build and to plant,’ says YHVH.”
– Jeremiah 31:27

“Except YHVH build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except YHVH keep the city, the watchman wakes [שָׁקַד] in vain.” – Psalm 127:1

שבריה Shevareyha

“You have made the land quake. You have torn it open; heal her breaches [שְׁבָרֶיהָ] …” — Psalm 60:4

“Land [eretz] is a feminine noun, so this “her breaches” form is the same one Kleiman uses to speak of “her fragments.”

“And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and its interpretation [שִׁבְרוֹ]…”– Judges 7:15

Thiss verse includes an unusual use, akin to modern English “break it down.” This use in the context of dreams also resonates with Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s tree-dream.

Waning gibbous moon, photo from Pen Ash (Pixabay)

Image is of the waning gibbous moon — more moon visible on the left, than not — is a bright near-sphere, meant to suggest, if not really resemble, an egg; it shows craters, which might stand in for “fragments.” Moon is set against a dark blue background.

Gathering Anew

English translation by Yosefa Raz. Anne Kleiman’s Hebrew follows.

The Hebrew and English are both
(c) Wayne State University Press 2016
Annotations and discussion are from V. Spatz, 2022

Now I wander lonely
on paths we both knew,
gather the dreams [n2]
that we scattered so richly –
trying to hold them in my hands

Hebrew stanza, “Now I Wander…”

In stanza six, Kleiman speaks of dreams and yesterdays, wondering “were they real?” Raz points out the resonance with a poem by Rachel [Blaustein] (1890-1931) — see n2 below. As in Rachel’s poem, Kleiman describes grappling with change and loss. While Rachel’s poem is about communal yearnings, Kleiman’s seems more personal. Yet both poets are working to sort through a “swirl of sorrow, joy, and dreams,” seeking out what is real and lasting.

Kleiman outlines a journey, over the eight stanzas:

  • brooding over fragments,
  • first tears and a new bud,
  • searching for answers (or repair),
  • returning with the season of old pain, continuing fog.
  • a visit from, and sending out in compassion, yesterdays;
  • amid that “swirl,” questioning what is real; and
  • exploring what can be trusted, or expected, for tomorrow.

Finally, by stanza eight, she is walking alone, “in her palms [בְּכַפַי] to gather [לִלְקֹט] dreams [חֲלוֹמוֹת]” scattered on a path once shared. (More on gathering to come.)

n2 [Y. Raz’s endnote (to stanza six)]: An allusion to Rachel’s poem “Ve-ulai lo hayu ha-dvarim” (“Perhaps, These Things Never Were”), from the 1930 collection Mineged (From Afar) – n80, p.216 Women’s Hebrew Poetry.

Note [V. Spatz]: The Rachel poem can also be found in the bilingual edition, Flowers of Perhaps, with translations by Robert Friend with Shimon Sandbank. (New Milford, CT: Toby Press, 2008).

ללקט lilkot

“My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the bed of spices, to browse in the garden, and to pick [וְלִלְקֹט] lilies” — Song of Songs 6:2

“You give to them, and they gather [יִלְקֹטוּן] it…” — Psalm 104:28

“He said to his kinsman, ‘gather [לִקְטוּ] stones,’…” — Genesis 31:46

“The children gather [מְלַקְּטִים] wood …” — Jeremiah 7:18

“Yet, some of the people went out to gather [לִלְקֹט] on the seventh day…” — Exodus 16:27

“And she got up to glean [לְלַקֵּט]…” — Ruth 2:15. One of many gleaning references in the Book of Ruth

Back to the Book of Daniel….While the root lamed-kuf-tet does not appear in Daniel 4, the penultimate verse presents a scene of someone who had lost everything, including apparently including their sanity [מַנְדְּעִי], gathering their wits and much more:

“At the same time my understanding returned to me; and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and my splendor returned to me; and my ministers and my lords sought me; and I was established in my kingdom, and surpassing greatness was added for me.” — Daniel 4:33

Palm and Hand

Many a hand [yud-dalet] and palm [kaf-pei] appear in the Bible and in later Hebrew literature. In addition, God’s arm [zayin-reish-vav-ayin] plays a prominent role in the Exodus. Here are a few notes about hands and palms, which appear in this series.

Hand in Rachel’s Poem

The third stanza of Kleiman’s series opens with “And always, but always, a hidden hand [n3].”

n3 [Y. Raz’s endnote (to stanza three)]: The image of the huge hand of fate may allude to Rachel’s description of a giant malevolent hand in “Rak ‘al ‘atsmi lesaper yadati” (“I only Knew to Tell about Myself”) – n79, p.215 Women’s Hebrew Poetry

The poem referenced likens the speaker to an ant climbing up a tree and then blocked by a “contemptuous giant hand.” The speaker says that, like the ant, the experience of being knocked back makes her afraid of going forward. The poem can also be found in the bilingual 2008 Flowers of Perhaps (full citation above).

Hand in Kleiman’s Poem

There is at least one hand [yad] in four of the eight stanzas in Kleiman’s series. The final stanza contains palms.

Two of the hands are somewhat abstract: a “hidden hand” in stanza three, already mentioned above, and a “groping hand” in stanza four. These hands are perhaps not unlike the one in Rachel’s poem. But the verses shared below also suggest other possible meanings. (And “hidden” in Biblical/Rabbinical language strikes me as less waiting-to-pounce-in-a-dark-alley and more God’s-ways-are-mysterious.)

In stanza five, the hand is the speaker’s own “sorrowing hand.” In stanza seven, there are two personal hands: “your [masculine singular] hand” and “my hand.”

Although there are “hands” in the English translation for stanza eight, the Hebrew word in the final stanza is “b’chafai [in my palms].”

יד Yad

“’…for by strength of hand [יָד] YHVH brought us forth out of Egypt.’” – Exodus 13:16

“And he said: ‘The hand [יָד] upon the throne of YHVH…’” – Exodus 17:16

“And the form of a hand [ יָד] was put forth…and brought me in the visions of God…” – Ezekiel 8:3

“And there appeared in the cherubim the form of a man’s hand [יַד] under their wings.” – Ezekiel 10:8

“The roundings of your thighs are like the links of a chain, the work of the hands [יְדֵי] of a skilled workman.” – Song of Songs 7:2

כפי Chafai

“‘…I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My palm [כַפִּי] until I have passed by.’” – Exodus 33:22

“Behold, I have engraved you on My palms [כַּפַּיִם]…” – Isaiah 49:16

Note: God’s promise in Isaiah 49:16 is linked in several commentaries with Song of Songs 8:6, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.” In B. Taanit 4a, the verses appear together in an exploration of the visibility, and invisibility, of God’s providence.

Lost and Found

Anne Kleiman may not have intended to call up reverberations of the Psalms’ tree planted by the stream in “To the Musician.” And maybe she had no thoughts about providence, when she chose to end this poetic series with a word that echoes Isaiah 49:16. But she chose to express this emotional journey — Humpty Dumpty reference and all — in her “Sabbath Hebrew.” And that brings with it biblical ideas about trees and hands and palms and what we gather and why.

It is possible that Kleiman chose “ilan,” rather than other words for “tree,” without thought for the Book of Daniel, where the word uniquely appears. But I find the resonance powerful. There is no easy analogy from Nebuchadnezzar’s story to this series of verses. They do share an overall arc from vibrancy, through loss and confusion, then back toward wholeness.

I share Kleiman’s prayer- and study-based connection to Hebrew. And so feel that she and I together are gathering fragments from the langauge and sacred text as part of trying to discern what is unreal, what is solid, and what still eludes.

A few more bits about mid-Century Chicago and Beyond

Also in 1946, The US Atomic Energy Commission was formed in 1946, and there was a serious accident at Los Alamos. The Flamingo Hotel opened in Las Vegas in 1946, and the LaSalle Hotel in Chicago suffered the worst hotel fire in the city’s history.

Harry S. Truman gave the first televised State of the Union address; in 1947, he gave the first televised White House address: In a reminder of shortages of the time, he encouraged skipping meat and poultry once a week to aid hunger in Europe. Meat, and meat-packing, were big issues across the whole country and an issue in particular for Chicago, where the Stock Yards were a major part of the economy.

The “Century of Progress” World’s Fair was held in 1933, the same year that Mayor Cermak was shot to death by a bullet thought to be intended for President Roosevelt. By the late 1930s, Chicago’s “Democratic Machine” was firmly in power.

Milton Friedman joined the economics faculty at the University of Chicago in 1946, and the 75-year-old tradition of the Latke-Hamentash Debate began that year. (For the sake of clarity: In Chicago, this is a Chanukah-related event; the DC event, which migrated with some Chicago folks, is held near Purim and is called a “Symposium.”)

Chicago Jewish life offered congregations in various movements, as well as Hadassah and other groups in which Kleiman’s family participated. Kleiman and her (second) husband participated in, actually met through, Chug Ivri (Hebrew discussion group), and they attended lectures and gatherings at College of Jewish Studies (later Spertus Institute).



  1. Cartoonish view of a large nest, holding two eggs, on the grassy ground with a brick wall nearby behind.
  2. A ladder is now learning on the brick wall, and a small, clothed body with a large white egg-head, is climbing.
  3. In front of the brick wall are large pieces of eggshell.