L. I. Peretz, “Hope and Fear” (1906; Voltairine de Cleyre, tr.)

HOPE AND FEAR.*

(Translated from the Jewish of L. I. Peretz.)

. . . My heart is with you.

My eye does not get weary looking at your flaming banner; my ear does not get tired listening to your powerful song . . .

My heart is with you; man’s hunger must be appeased, and he must have light; he must be free, and he must be his own master, master over himself and his work.

And when you snap at the fist which is trying to strangle you, your voice, and your ardent protest, preventing you from being heard — I rejoice, praying that your teeth may be sharpened. And when you are marching against Sodom and Gomorrah, to tear down the old, my soul is with you, and the certainty that you must triumph fills and warms my heart and intoxicates me like old wine . . .

And yet ….

And yet you frighten me.

I am afraid of the bridled who conquer, for they are apt to become the oppressors, and every oppressor transgresses against the human soul ….

Do you not talk among yourselves of how humanity is to march, like an army in line, and you are going to sound for it the march on the road?

And yet humanity is not an army.

The strong are going forward, the magnanimous feel more deeply, the proud rise higher, and yet will you not lay down the cedar in order that it may not outgrow the grass?

Or will you not spread your wings over mediocrity, or will you not shield indifference, and protect the gray and uniformly fleeced herd?

You frighten me.

As conquerors you might become the bureaucracy: to dole out to everybody his morsel, as is the usage in the poor-house; to arrange work for everybody as it is done in the galleys. And you will thus crush the creator of new worlds—the free human will, and fill up with earth the purest spring of human happiness—human initiative, the power which braves one against thousands, against peoples, and against generations? And you will systematize life and bid it to remain on the level of the crowd.

And will you not be occupied with regulations: registrating, recording, estimating—or will you not prescribe how fast and how often the human pulse must beat, how far the human eye may look ahead, how much the ear may perceive, and what kinds of dreams the languishing heart may entertain?

With joy in my heart I look at you when you tear clown the gates of Sodom, but my heart trembles at the same time, fearing that you might erect on its ruins new ones—more chilling and darker ones.

There will be no houses without windows; but fog will envelop the souls….

There will be no empty stomachs, but souls will starve. No ear will hear cries of woe, but the eagle—the human intellect—will stand at the trough with clipped wings together with the cow and the ox.

And justice, which has accompanied you on the thorny and bloody path to victory, will forsake you, and you will not be aware of it, for conquerors and tyrants are always blind. You will conquer and dominate. And you will plunge into injustice, and you will not feel the quagmire under your feet…. Every tyrant thinks he stands on firm ground so long as he has not been vanquished.

And you will build prisons for those who dare to stretch out their hands, pointing to the abyss into which you sink; you will tear out the tongues of the mouths that warn you against those who come after you, to destroy you and your injustice . . .

Cruelly will you defend the equality of rights of the herd to use the grass under its feet and the salt in the ground, — and your enemies will be the free individuals, the overmen, the ingenious inventors, the prophets, the saviors, the poets and artists.

* * *

Everything that comes to pass occurs in space and time . . . The present is the existing: the stable, the firm, and therefore the rigid and frozen — the to-day, which will and must perish ….

Time is change — it varies and develops; it is the eternally sprouting, the blossoming, the eternal morning ….

And as your ‘“morning,” to which you aspire, will become the “to-day,” you will become the upholders of the ‘“yesterday,” of that which is lifeless — dead. You will trample the sproutings of to-morrow and destroy its blossoms, and pour streams of cold water upon the heads that nestle your prophecies, your dreams, and your new hopes.

The to-day is unwilling to die, bloody is every sunset …

I yearn and hope for your victory, but I fear and tremble for your victory.

You are my hope, and you are my fear.


* This sketch the writer had addressed to Jewish Social Democrats.


L. I. Peretz and Voltairine de Cleyre, “Hope and Fear,” Mother Earth 1, no. 2 (April, 1906): 14-16.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.