DER YIDDISH-VINKL September 24, 2004
The pages of the August 6 edition of the Forverts devoted to Pearls of Jewish Poetry featured Alef Katz on the occasion of his 35th yahrzeit. When he came to the United States in 1913, Katz devoted himself to writing poetry in Hebrew. Subsequently, he wrote poems in Yiddish and English. He believed that there was “poetry in everything,” including his own writing. He even turned the pain and suffering of the Holocaust victims into poetic words: “Di shrayb-mashin brent/un ikh bin in fayer./Ikh klap, mit di hent, un di oysyes shrayen,” “My typewriter burns, and I am on fire. I bang away with my hands, and the letters scream.”
What follows are two poems by Katz. The transcription is by Goldie A. Gold; the English version is by Gus Tyler.
Grine shtralendike bleter —
Yunge ziner fun der zun,
Tsinger makhtike fun beymer
Un fun grosn umetum.
Feygl mit un on a nomen,
Hoferdike linde vintn
Un a kishef a tsegrintn.
Flien loyfn gloyberik
Fun hotseplots keyn boyberik,
Filn on di luft mit shtimen
Brengen tsu der velt a simen
Fun a nayer freyd —
Un di velt farshteyt.
The Month of May
Leaves of green do brightly shine
They are the voices of the sun.
Mighty tongues that grow on trees
Who sing to all — yes, everyone!
Rushing waters swiftly flow
Birds whose names we do not know.
Breezes that are truly soothing
Our ruffled tempers gently smoothing.
They fly, they run, we know it’s true
From whence unknown to me and you.
Their presence simply fills the air
And they surround us everywhere.
They bring a new life to our land
And, somehow, we all understand!
* * *|
A second poem is about Avrom Moyshe Dillon, whom Katz depicts as a modern Don Quixote.
Dillon — A Don Quixote
Oyf sekond evenyu,
Bay der tsvelfter strit
Hot er geshturemt mit zayn lid —
Don Avrum Moyshe — der dikhter-kikhot,
Geritert oyf zayn rozinante-gezang
Bafrayen di dikhtung fun gefang.
Gepildert mit libshaft
Gevildert mit has
Hot Don Avrom Moyshe, der kaysn troymer
Gehit dem royal-kafe monparnas
Hot er vi a getrayer shoymer.
Zayn vafn — nit keyn spiz, keyn shverd
Vi baym altn fun la mantsho;
A vogshol far talent hot im gelernt nokh anand
On rakhmones sheltn, oder bentshn.
Gefirt mikhome farn lid
Fargesn oft in broyt afile, kh’lebn;
Geveynt vegn libe, gezungen fun toyt
Hot Don Avrom Moyshe zayn gants lebn.
Un ven der toyt hot im gekhapt in mitn veg
Hot Don Avrom Moyshe zikh gevert;
Er hot zikh tselakht fun iberrash
Un azoy hot men im arayngeleygt in dr’erd
Azoy iz Avrom Moyshe geshtorbn mit zayn lid
Geveynt hot di evenyu, getroyert di strit.
Dillon As a Don Quixote
On Second Avenue and 12th Street
He raised a storm with songs he sang.
Let’s call our Avrom Moyshe “Don”
Like Don Quixote, who’s long gone.
He sought to champion poetry
And from its chains to set it free.
Café Royale — that was his stage.
For him it was a perfect place
To vent his joy, to vent his rage
Within the café’s warm embrace.
His holy cause he did defend
Without a sword, without a gun.
Like Don Quixote he did fend
With words that burned like some hot sun.
Like “Man of La Mancha” Dillon’s strength
Were words to bless and words to curse.
He never stopped, he sang at length
His hates, his loves this Don did nurse.
He waged a war, his weapon — song
Though oft he lacked a slice of bread.
What lived he said was always wrong
And he found joy in what was dead.
When death did grab him in midlife
He brushed aside his pesky plight.
He laughed, for he with joy was rife
And grinned and then flew out of sight.
And when Avrom Moyshe did leave with his song
His avenue did weep and the street said: “So long!”