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DER YIDDISH-VINKL April 23, 2004

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!

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