In this terse, moving poem (1953) by Uri Zvi Greenberg, one of the leading Hebrew poets of this century, a man of broad shoulders and manly stature walks empty-handed into the distance, leaving behind not only his shoes, but the memory of his shoes. While he has forgotten his shoes, his shoes do not forget him: they wait for him. [For more about Greenberg the poet, see below.]

I stood, and my two eyes saw this:
I didn't know who the man was,
his name, or his tangled history.

It was a morning all of gold,
and this man marched up to the electric pole
as if to a borderline that he had chosen,
and there he stepped out of his shoes,
and leaving them behind, as if on a threshold,
he began walking barefoot,
to somewhere beyond this final point,
towards an endless beginning far in the distance:
without house, or bed, or bosom;
without a loaf of bread or a jar of water...
light and empty-handed.

I saw his broad shoulders,
his high stature, his manly steps
going away, going from here to his distances,
without the memory of his shoes,
which wait for him here.

(Translated by T. Carmi)
Click here for Hebrew words

Share your thoughts with us about this poem.
Who is the barefoot man? Where is he going?
Why does he leave everything behind? What do the shoes symbolize?




Uri Zvi Greenberg (1896-1981) was born in Galicia and received a traditional Hasidic upbringing in Lvov, where he witnessed the Polish pogroms. He published poems in both Yiddish and Hebrew and was a prominent member of a Yiddish avant-garde expressionist group centered in Warsaw and Berlin. Greenberg emigrated to Palestine in 1923, as a sympathizer of the Socialist Labor Party and later (in the wake of the Arab riots of 1929) joined the right-wing Revisionist Party. He was elected to Knesset in 1949 as a member of the Herut party, and was awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew Literature in 1957.

Two extended stays in Poland in the 1930s strengthened his premonition of impending tragedy in Europe, and many of his poems from this period focus on the vision of horror which obsessed him. Unlike most Hebrew writers who were committed to a secularist-humanist Zionism, Greenberg's poetry reveals a religious mystical view of Zionism as the fulfillment of Jewish historical destiny; his poetry expresses belief in Jewish sovereignty as the redemption which will arise from the ashes and despair of the Holocaust. In much of his personal poetry as well, Greenberg expresses his agony as a prophet-priest suffering the mythos of Jewish catastrophe and redemption.

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