Marc Chagall is an artist of world renown. His paintings of Jewish life, especially those depicting life in the shtetl, are masterpieces that grace the walls of institutions in many lands. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his death, the Forverts devoted its page of Pearls of Yiddish Poetry to Chagall’s work. What follows is a transliteration of selected untitled pieces of his. The Yiddish is by our colleague Goldie Gold, and it is followed by an English version by Gus Tyler.
Of a dream about his homeland, Chagall wrote:
Es klingt in mir di shtot di vayte
Di kloysters vayse, di kloysters vayte.
Un di shuln; di tir is ofn.
Der himl blit, dos lebn flit nokh vayter.
Es benken in mir di gasn krume
Matseyves groe — oyf a barg
Es lign tif di yidn frume
In farb un flakn, in likht un shotn,
Shteyt mayn bild fun vaytn
Ikh vil mit dem mayn harts fardekn.
* * *
Within me rings the town so distant
The cloisters white so far away
It seems to me at this rare instant
My shul with me will always stay
I long for all those streets so crooked
And all those tombstones cold and gray
Here lie the pious in their way
I have the feeling I am one
With all of those whose days are done
This is the way my life does run.
In a more positive tone, he writes:
Ikh hob gemolt di vent di hele
Di klezmer, tentser oyf der bine
Mit farbn bloye, royte, gele
Hob ikh geshonken aykh a shkhine
Ikh vil mit aykh, farshtumpte brider
Tsuamen loyfn tsu di shtern
Di nakhtdi finstere vet likhtik vern
* * *
I painted walls so ever bright
The “klezmer” dancers on the stage
With colors casting magic light
My paintings did become the rage
They really truly were a sight
They ran together with the stars
From gentle Venus unto Mars.
Then once again, the ever moody Chagall writes an elegy to his fellow artists:
Vi ken ikh, vi zol ikh fargisn treren?
Men hot zey oysgeveyt shoyn lang mit zalts fun mayne oygn.
Men hot zey oysgeveykt mit shpot, kedey ikh
Zol farlirn di letste hofnung
Vi zol ikh veynen,
Az yedn tog hob ikh gehert:
Men rayst aroys fun mayn dakh di letste bret,
Ven ikh bin oysgematrt tsu firn a milkhome
Farn shtikel erd oyf velkhen ikh bin geblibn shteyn,
In velkher men vet mikh shpeter leygn shlofn
* * *
Now how can I, should I, shed a tear
They were soaked up, forgot the year
With salt that fell from my own eyes
When people said my words were lies
What use are tears when I am told
My roof has boards that will not hold?
I’m too worn out to fight a war
To hold the land I held before.
So when I die, there’ll be a strip
Where I can end my earthly trip.