Translating poetry from one language into another is always a daunting challenge. The translator must not only convey the essence of the original meaning but must also adhere to the rhymes and rhythms of the original. The task is doubly troublesome when the original material in English is a work of the Savoyards — as Gilbert and Sullivan are known — because the lyrics often depend on tricky rhymes within rhymes. It is a mark of the genius of Al Grand — whose translations of have appeared in this column before— that he has been able to take some of the most difficult of the Savoyards’ works and translated them into Yiddish (both culturally as well as linguistically) while maintaining all the clever twists and turns of the original.
What follows is a passage from “Iolanthe” — in the original, followed by Grand’s Yiddish version.
by Lord Chancellor
When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire — the bedclothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes, and uncovers your toes, and your sheet slips demurely from under you;
Then the blanketing tickles — you feel like mixed pickles — so terribly sharp is the pricking,
And you’re hot, and you’re cross and you tumble and toss till there’s nothing ‘twixt you and the ticking.
Then the bedclothes all creep to the ground in a heap, and you pick ‘em all up in a tangle.
Next your pillow resigns and politely declines to remain at its usual angle!
Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze, with hot eye-balls and head ever aching.
But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams that you’d very much better be waking….
You’re a regular wreck, with a crick in your neck, and no wonder you snore, for your head’s on the floor, and you’ve needles and pins from your toes to your shins, and you flesh is acreep, for your left leg’s asleep.
And you’ve cramp in your toes and a fly on your nose and some fluff in your lung,
And a feverish tongue, and a thirst that’s intense, and a general sense, that you haven’t been sleeping in clover.
Ven ikh leyg zikh in bet in der nakht zeyer shpet un es krikht mir a tsore in kop arayn
Un ikh lig shtilerheyt vayl der kop iz fardreyt un der oyskuk far mir iz nit azoy fayn.
Az ikh heyb oyf dem kop falt der kishn arop un s’iz kalt vayl dos fentsters shteyt ofn,
Un dos betgevant rayst vayl a groyse vants bayst shrayikh, “Ziser Got lomikh shoyn shlofn!”
Oy s’iz yetst zeyer shpet un ikh drey zikh in bet un ikh ken nit gefinen kayn sholem,
Un es brenen di oygn, ikh lig oysgetsoygn un s’kumt on a shreklikher kholem.
Dan kholemt zikh mir as men efnt di tir un s’kumen arayn makhetonim,
Varfn zey tsu mir gikh, zeyere farblotikte shikh zol dos trefn tsu undzere sonim.
Bald antloyf ikh fun zey (oy der kop tut mir vey) un azoy loyf ikh shneler un shneler,
Zits ikh shoyn bay dem tish, es ikh hiner mit fish un dos hindl shpringt oyf fun der teler.
Oy, der kop tut mir vey, un ikh gib a geshrey, di hent zaynen mir kalt, un der kop mayner shpalt! S’iz mir trukn dos moyl, un ikh shray “Shma Yisroyl!” ikh bin nas mit a shveys, un mayn kerper iz heys, un di oygn, oy brent, un es tsitsern di hent, bald a flig flit arum, un di kishn iz krum, un ikh zog “Oy, a klog!” vayl s’iz klor vi di tog as ikh hob nit gants ruik geshlofn.