Toil (Shlonsky poem)

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"Toil" (Hebrew: עָמָל Amal) is a 1928 poem by Avraham Shlonsky. The poem forms part of a sequence named after Mount Gilboa. [1] and reflects the author's life six years after his arrival in Palestine, while working on paving roads with other members of the Third Aliyah. The poem begins "We have a small hand with five fingers, Wax fingers thin to breaking. The pulse beats at their beginning and at their end—fingernails." [2] The poem is celebrated [3] for its re-imagining of the religious imagery of Judaism in terms of the settlers' Zionist pioneer construction ethic. An example is found in how prayer shawls and phylacteries are used as metaphors to describe the emotions of the pioneers as they build roads: "Dress me, good mother, in a glorious robe of many colors, ..." [4] In the poem "toil" becomes a form of worship itself, or, per Chowers (2012), "an altar at which to worship". [5]



The poem has been translated into English several times:

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  1. T. Carmi The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse 1991 0141966602 "Hebrew poetry's encounter with its homeland often produced poems of an ecstatic, almost messianic tone, such as Abraham Shlonsky's 'Toil' (p. 534), which was written around 1927, and forms part of a sequence named after Mount Gilboa in Jezreel."
  2. David Biale Cultures of the Jews: A New History 0307483460 2012 p.1037 "Shlonsky begins his poem “Toil” (Amal, 1927) as follows: "We have a small hand with fivefingers, Wax fingers thin to breaking. The pulse beats at their beginning and at their end—fingernails."
  3. Neta Stahl Other and Brother 2013 -0199760004 p29 "In many of his poems from this period (most famously his 192.7 “Amal” [“Toil”]), Shlonsky uses metaphorical language associated with traditional Judaism to describe the act of pioneering. The secular actions of pioneers gain a sacred dimension."
  4. S. Almog, Jehuda Reinharz, Anita Shapira Zionism and Religion 1998 0874518822 p.256 "In one of his famous passages in the poem "Toil," Shlonsky uses the prayer shawl and phylacteries as metaphors to describe the emotions of the pioneer building the roads: Dress me, good mother, in a glorious robe of many colors, ..."
  5. Eyal Chowers The Political Philosophy of Zionism: Trading Jewish Words 2012 1107005949 p.139 "... rather, they saw it as pregnant with ancient historical import and memories that would remain unredeemed if Jews did not cultivate the land, erect houses, establish industry, and pave roads. Abraham Shlonsky's 1928 poem “Toil” (translated by Leah Goldberg) ...In this well-known poem, charged with biblical allusions in which the original meanings are reversed, toil becomes a new mode of worship or, rather, an altar at which to worship"
  6. Modern Hebrew Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology ed. Ruth Finer Mintz 0520008685 Page 178 1966