On his 35th yahrzeit, the Forverts devoted its Pearls of Yiddish Poetry section to Mark Shveyd — poet, actor, playwright and translator. One of the poems included is an imaginary song sung by his mother as he is planning to leave his home and his country of birth. The transliteration is by Goldie Gold. The English version is by Gus Tyler.
Vi hostu a harts tsu farlosn di mame?
Ikh hob dikh gebodn in milkh un in trern
Itst forstu avek in a vayter medine
Der eybershteyr veyst, vos fun dir vet dort vern
Kh’hob teg nisht gerut and nekht nisht geshlofn
Ikh fleg vi a malekh dayn vigl bevakhn
Itst forstu avek in a veyter medine,
Oy, ver vet dir, kind, dayn geleger dort makhn?
Ikh hob dikh geborn, ikh hob dikh dertsoygn
Ikh hob mit dikh durkh gemakht vaser un flamen,
Itst forstu avek in a veyter medine
Un trakhst nit a vayl fun der oremer mamen.
How have you the heart to leave your dear mother
I bathed you in milk and I bathed you in tears
And now you do leave me for some distant nation
Where you will encounter good reason for fears.
By day there’s no rest and by night there’s no sleeping
I served as an angel protecting your crib
And now as you leave, I am weeping and weeping
With pain like a person who has just lost a rib.
‘Twas I gave you birth and I who did raise you
With you we did go through both flooding and flame.
But now you do leave me for some distant nation
And leave your poor mother alone. What a shame!
* * *
Later, Shveyd, now in America, tells of the considerable exposure he has had in America to myriad symbols of wealth, which he uses as a dramatic contrast to his own state of loneliness and deprivation.
Ikh hob do ale mumes n Amerika;
Ikh fardin oyf broyt un oyf teater in Amerika
Hob shiyn gezen di Niagara vaserfaln
Un shyn gezen dos hekhste hayzl in der velt,
Vos der balebos derfun iz a sojkher
Fun finf-groshendike zakhn.
Un ikh gib in oft tsu leyzn.
Hob shoyn shpatsirt iber der grester brik in der velt,
Hob shoyn getrogn shikh un shnipslekh
Gekoyft fun Yoykhenen Vanameyker
Mensh vos hot di greste krom n der velt
Un iz, vey un vnd iz mir, nisht keyn Yid.
Ikh hob a zeygerl, vos hot barimt gemakht doler
Ikh bin shoyn geforn mit der shnelste ban in dervelt
Vos ruft zikh on: “Tsvantsikster Yorthundert Bagrenetst,”
Un bikherr krig ikh fray in dem shentsn aynband.
Un dokh — un dokh is mir do umetik,
Oy umetik… ut umetik azoy!
Now in America I have many aunts
I make a goodly living on the stage
I’ve seen the wonder called Niagara Falls
I’ve seen the tallest building of the age.
It’s owned by one who is a merchant prince
Who sells his wares for nickels and for dimes.
And often I do patronize his store.
I’ve crossed the longest bridge, yes, many times
From Wanamaker I buy shoes and more.
He owns the biggest store in all the earth.
And, woe is me, this man, he’s not a Jew.
I have a watch that for a buck is worth
A hundred solid dollars plus a few.
I rode a train, the fastest anywhere
It’s called the Twentieth Century Limited
And I get books for free with bindings rare
And yet, and yet, I feel that I’m alone
Alone, alone, oh yes, I feel alone!