Nathan Alterman (1910-1970) is considered one of the most influential modern Hebrew poets. Born in Warsaw, Nathan Alterman settled in Tel Aviv in 1925. He achieved distinction on two levels: his popular satirical verse reflected the political aspiration of the pre-State Jewish population (many of his poems were banned by the British Mandate authorities), and as a sophisticated modern poet he became the leading "imagist" of his generation.

Alterman was a leader of Hebrew poetry's avant-garde. He viewed symmetrical repetition as a supreme source of order and beauty; each of his poems has a fixed number of stanzas and sentences and a rhyme scheme. He was also a playwright and essayist, and translated works by Shakespeare, Moliere, and Racine into Hebrew.

Alterman’s love poetry is an expression of romantic agony. The following poem, Niggun Atik (Ancient Melody) echoes the cry in Song of Songs (8:6), “Love is as fierce as death, envy as mighty as Sheol”.

Niggun Atik (An Ancient Melody)

If your tears flow at night like a river,
My joy I shall kindle like straw,
My bed, if you shiver, will warm you,
I shall cover you, sleep on the floor.

If you yearn to join into the dancing
I will play till my bowstrings all break,
If a gift for your birthday you fancy,
My life it is yours, love, to take.

If bread or if wine you are wanting
Head bowed, I will stay on my feet
'Til I’ve sold both my eyes in the market
So my darling can drink and can eat.

But if ever when I am not with you,
you laugh and carouse without thought,
I’ll burn down the rafters above you
With the anger my jealousy’s wrought.

Art inspired by Marc Chagall

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