Elegy for the Jewish Villages

When I first read Edward Hirsch’s poem Elegy  for the Jewish Villagespublished in his collection Special Orders (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), I was struck by its immense power to evoke loss — the abrupt and senseless loss of the four once-thriving Jewish communities in Poland he names: Hrubieszów, Karczew, Brody, Falenica — but the slow and inevitable, but just as senseless, loss of everything we have ever seen, known or experienced.  

The piece was premiered at a private event in New York City on April 11, 2019 by baritone Matthew Patrick Morris and contrabassist Yi Hsuan Chiu.


On October 19, 2021 mezzo-soprano Jessica Bowers and cellist Susannah Chapman recorded Elegy for the Jewish Villages for a virtual concert in memory of Rosalie Calabrese.  Rosalie had been Executive Director of the American Composers Alliance for over 30 years. 

Elegy for the Jewish Villages
after Antoni Slonimsky

 The Jewish villages in Poland are gone now –
Hrubieszów, Karczew, Brody, Falenica …
There are no Sabbath candles lit in the windows,
no chanting comes from the wooden synagogues.

The Jewish villages in Poland have vanished
and so I walked through a graveyard without graves.
It must have been hard work to clean up after the war:
someone must have sprinkled sand over the blood,
swept away the footprints, and whitewashed the walls
with bluish lime. Someone must have fumigated
the streets, the way you do after a plague.

One moon glitters here – cold, pale, alien.
I stood on the dark countryside in summer but
could never find the two golden moons of Chagall
glittering outside the town when the night lights up.
Those moons are orbiting another planet now.

Gone are the towns where the shoemaker was a poet,
the watchmaker a philosopher, the barber a troubadour.

Gone are the villages where the wind joined biblical songs
with Polish tunes, where old Jews stood in the shade
of cherry trees and longed for the holy walls of Jerusalem.

Gone now are the hamlets that passed away
like a shadow that falls between our words.

I am bringing you home the story of a world –
Hrubieszów, Karczew, Brody, Falenica …
Come close and listen to this song –
the Jewish villages in Poland are gone now –
from another one of the saddest nations on earth.

© 2008 by Edward Hirsch  [Special Orders, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008]
Used with permission of the author.

© 2018 Michael Dellaira ; Publishing license granted to American Composers Edition (BMI)