At the funeral of Marvin Hamlisch

(Written August 15, 2012)

At the funeral of Marvin Hamlisch, there were, of course, performances of songs he wrote, and a eulogy by Bill Clinton. It was also reported that the funeral included this line of poetry:

“Oh, he had one more melody, and now that melody is lost forever, lost forever.”

This is from a poem by Hayyim Nachman Bialik, Aharei Moti “After my death,” written in 5664 according to the Jewish calendar, corresponding to 1903-4, and dedicated “to N.” The inclusion of this line in a funeral service is in fact suggested by the Rabbis’ Handbook of the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) – the professional organization of the Reform Rabbinate and appropriate of course for a service at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

The poem is well known, and was written at about the same time as several of Bialik’s most famous poems—“On the Slaughter” and “In the City of Death” responding to the deadly pogroms in Kishinev.

Translations of “After my Death” are readily available on-line, for example, in a translation by T. Carmi  http://www.eilatgordinlevitan.com/volozhin/vol_pages/volstories_bialik.html (at the very end), and by David P. Stern http://www.phy6.org/outreach/poems/bialik2.htm .

Here is the beginning of Stern’s translation:

After my death, thus shall you mourn me
“There was a man –and see: he is no more!
Before his time did this man depart
And the song of his life in its midst was stilled
And alas! One more tune did he have
And now that tune is forever lost
Forever lost!

And great is the pity! For a harp had he
A living and singing soul
And this poet, whenever he voiced it
The inner secrets of his heart it expressed
All its strings his hand would make sing out.
Yet one hidden chord now is lost with him
Round and round it his fingers would dance
One string in his heart, mute has remained
Mute has remained — to this very day!

And it is available in Hebrew http://benyehuda.org/bialik/bia064.html . Here is the line excerpted in the report of the funeral:

וְשִׁירַת חַיָּיו בְּאֶמְצַע נִפְסְקָה;

וְצַר! עוֹד מִזְמוֹר אֶחָד הָיָה-לּוֹ –

וְהִנֵּה אָבַד הַמִּזְמוֹר לָעַד,

אָבַד לָעַד!

 

Much of Bialik’s poetry has been set to music. Here is a recording of Chava Albershtein singing it, with a melody written by Tzippi Fleisher:

The musical imagery in Bialik’s poem could not be more appropriate for the late Marvin Hamlisch. I am not sure anyone knows who “N.” was, and Hamlisch’s career suggests that unlike the subject of Bialik’s poetry, Hamlisch found expression for all his “hidden chords” through his creativity and talent.

Seth Ward

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