Published April 01, 2005, issue of April 01, 2005.
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On his 50th yahrzeit, Yosef Rolnick was featured in the Forverts on the pages of Pearls of Yiddish Poetry. He was known in his time (1879-1955) as one of the Di Junge poets. But in one major respect he was different from most of the others who focused on social, economic and political subjects. Rolnick focused on nature and on his old hometown. His most famous poem was “Zun in Mayrev” (“Sun in the West”).

What follows are two of his poems, transliterated by Goldie Gold and translated by Gus Tyler.

Zun in Mayrev

Zun in mayrev zetst zikh gikh

Vos darf nokh a mentsh vi ikh?

Lider, kleyne lider.

Groyse shtet un naye lender —

Bin a durkhgeyer, a fremder

Noent zaynen lider.

Nisht faranen oyf der erd

Nokh a freyd, vi di, vos vert

Oyfgevekt fun lider.

Nor eyn vuntsh iz mir geblibn;

Volt a gantse nakht geshribn

Nisht-gekligte lider…

Ver veyst morgndikn tog?

Lider — alts vos ikh farmog,

Zoln blaybn lider.

Got, mayn shitsung un mayn vant

Leyz mikh oys fun shniters hant

Leyz mikh oys mit lider.

The Sun in the West

The sun sets quickly in the West

For one like me, that is the best

Poems, little poems.

Giant cities and new nations

I pass them by like railroad stations

What are real to me are poems, poems!

There’s no joy upon this earth

That is equal in its worth

To that evoked by poems!

Just one wish remains with me

To write and write, yes, endlessly

Simple joyful poetry

Who knows what tomorrow brings?

I only know what rhymes and sings

I do mean ringing poetry.

Oh, God, I have but one demand

Please save me from the reaper’s hand

And let it be with poetry.

* * *

In about 1907, Rolnick wrote a poem that was set to music. It enjoyed great popularity and led some to believe that it was a folk song. Its title is…

Leyg Ikh Mir in Bet Arayn

Leyg ikh mir in bet arayn

Lesh mir oys dem fayer

Kh’vart — bald kumen vet tsu mir

Der vos iz mir tayer.

Banen kumen tsvey a tog

Eyner kumt in ovnt,

M’hert a glekle glin-glon,

Ot iz er shoyn noent.

Emets zukht di tir un tapt

Ruft mikh bay dem nomen

Kh’shpring a borvese fun bet

“Er” iz dos gekumen.

Shtunden hot di nakht gor fil

Eyne di tsveyte triber

Eyne iz a frayer nor

Ven es kumt mayn libe.

I Lay Myself Into My Bed

I lay myself into my bed

As I put out the fire

I wait for one to come to me

The one whom I desire.

Trains do come but twice a day

One does come at evening

You hear a bell go kling and klong

It means my love is nearing.

Someone’s at the door and taps

He calls me by my name

Barefoot I do leap from bed

It is my love — the same.

The night is filled with many hours

One more precious than the other

The only time I’m truly free

Is when I’m with my lover.

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