Eliezer Steinbarg (1880-1932) was a Yiddish Aesop in poetic form. And, as in the case of Aesop’s fables, the meaning of his allegories is as much dependent on the reader as on the writer. His contemporaries thought highly of him. One of them, the famous Hayyim Nahman Bialik, wrote: “Each fable has its own charm and magic. Steinbarg is a great artist whose writings will forever embellish our literature. He was featured in a recent issue of the Forverts. The following transliteration and translation are by Ruth Levitan.
Der Hamer un Dos Shtik Ayzn
Es hot der kop, der ayzener der shtarker hamer
Vos baym koval yoykhentse in kamer
Zikh genumen klapn dos shtik ayzn
Al pi khikire im dervayzn —
Az me darf zayn klug, geduldik
Un nisht zogn keynem — du bist shuldik —
Bist umzist nor, zogt er, oyf mir beyz
Narish iz dayn sheltn,
Lepish iz dayn shrayen
Aderabe zog — Ikh bin shuldik vos ikh shlog?
Vos bin ikh den? Mer vi a kley zayen
In dem kovals hent
Un der koval, meynstu — s’iz in im gevent?
Host a tues, benemones!
Punkt kapoyer! Oyf im iz a Gots rakhmones
Er iz nebekh mid, dershlogn
S’vilt zikh im gor ruen.
Nor a brere? Nu vos zol er nebekh tun?
Zest in droysn shteyt a kranker vogn
Oysgeboygn oyfn linkn aksl
Muz der Koval shmidn az di aksl zol zayn gezunt un shtark.
Epes dort geshen mit ir aropn barg
Ober oykhet oyf dem vogn
Zolstu zikh nit klogn
Ez muz kiseyder
Dreyen di reder
S’shlepn im di ferd vuhin zey yogn
Un di ferd — oy, zay oyf zey nit broyges
Shlepn iz zey oykh nit nikhe,
Nor vos toyg es?
S’traybt di baytsh! Di baytsh! Un zi aleyn
Oykh nit shuldik — neyn!
S’iz a mayse on an ek —
Farshtey nor gut dem rayen
Her of tsu sheltn, shrayen
Vayl farshteyn heyst fartsayen
Shrayt dos ayzn un mit fayer shit es
Naye hamers, naye shites,
Harget, shlogt — un iz a bruder
Eytses git er!
— Shvaygn, ven unter di klep ikh tsiter?
Tsvishn hamer un Kovadle?!
Moykhl, moykhl dir es
Oy, mayn veytik on a shir iz
Vel ikh sheltn, vel ikh shrayen on khikires
The Hammer and the Iron Bit
The head of the strong iron hammer
That dwelt in the room of the blacksmith
Began to beat a piece of iron
To show it, according to research,
That you have to be bright and patient
And not say to anyone, “You are guilty.”
You are angry with me for no reason
Foolish is your cursing
Crude is your screaming
Rather say: “I am guilty that I beat? I am nothing more than a weapon
In the hands of the blacksmith.”
And you think it depends on the blacksmith?
Truly, you are mistaken.
On the contrary, he is to be pitied
He is sadly tired and depressed.
He would really like to rest.
But he has no choice — what should he do?
Look, outdoors stands a decrepit wagon
Its left axle is bent
The blacksmith must forge the axle
to make it whole and strong.
Something happened to it when it went downhill
Also, don’t complain about the wagon.
It must constantly turn the wheels.
The horses pull it wherever they speed
And the horses — don’t be angry with them
They pull well — but what’s the use?
The whip drives, the whip and it alone —
Also, not guilty — No!
It’s a story without an end.
Understand the idea well:
Stop cursing, stop screaming,
Because understanding means pardoning
The iron screams and spits fire
New hammers, new systems,
Beats, maims and is ready to give advice:
To be quiet when I tremble under the lashes
Between the hammer and the blacksmith
There is no forgiveness, my pain is without end.
So I’ll curse and I’ll scream and ask no more questions.