Bare but for its seven leaves!
It appears to be amazed:
‘Who has set me in this place?’
What a garden, what a garden –
It takes a magnifying glass
Just to see a little grass.
Can this be our garden, then,
Just as is, in the light of dawn?
Sure, it’s our garden. What else?
The author finds himself in a somewhat depressing garden, but still claims some ownership over the dilapidated trees and grass. The trees are bare, the grass is nil, and though it’s a rather pitiful sight, the author still calls it “our” garden.
In “Our Garden” Moshe Leyb Halpern depicts his ambivalence toward New York through his description of a garden. He both criticizes and praises the garden, which relates to both his admiration and love of New York and his desire for the lusciousness of his home country. Here, in the first stanza, Halpern addresses the bareness of the tree in the garden. First it seems as though he is praising the garden, “What a garden,” however, as the sentence continues, the reader realizes that this was said with some irony or satire, and sarcasm, “… the tree is bare but for seven leaves!” This seems to be a statement filled with awe, but both positive and negative awe. It is positive in that he is amazed with the bareness of the tree, and one could take that as he is admiring the trees beauty even as it’s withering. However, it could also be taken as a negative awe in that he is amazed at how bare the tree is, how the beauty has withered away. He continues with his criticism in the next verse, referring to needing a magnifying glass in order to see the little grass. However, he does so in a way that is almost cute and sweet. It is like he is picking on it, but he does so in a clever way that makes it less offensive. It is kind of like when an older sibling picks on a younger sibling; these criticisms are not meant in a negative way, rather it ties him to the land. He feels both at home here and disconnected at the same time; he seems to long for the greenery of his homeland. I think he feels at home here because he’s able to pick on the land, he’s able to pick apart the blemishes of the garden, and to do something like that in the fashion he does it, he must feel somewhat at home here. However, it can also be seen as him finding the bad in the whole scheme of things; he compares this nature to the nature found in his countryside, and the two are not comparable. However, he ends the stanza with the rhetorical question, “Can this be our garden…? … Sure, it’s our garden. What else?” He takes ownership over this garden. It may not be what he is used to or loves like back home in his own countryside, however, he realizes it is a part of the larger scheme of the grandness of the city. The allusion of the Promised Land, the Golden Medina, is accompanied with his disappointment. The city promotes this idea of the Promised Land with all of the possibilities and opportunities it can afford the author, but this garden also him brings him back to reality that not everything in this Golden Medina is perfect.
I think it is just interesting to note that the poem ends with an exclamation mark, while all other stanzas end with question marks. I think that just symbolizes his final acceptance of the garden. I think each question is the author getting closer and closer to complete acceptance, and the exclamation mark is kind of like his final step in tying himself to the garden and city.
This experience of translating poetry into prose was a really interesting and insightful way of learning more deeply about the meaning of the poem. I think this was really helpful for getting in the author’s mindset and understanding the poem from his point of view. Rather than just reading it in my own mindset, translating it made me read it in a different way. I think this will definitely be helpful in the future when reading other types of poetry. If I just read it as is without translating it into prose I would not have completely understood the author’s ambivalence toward this garden, and the city as a whole.