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DER YIDDISH-VINKL September 12, 2003

To most Yiddish readers, Moyshe Nadir, ne Yitskhok Rayz, is known as a great satirist — which he was. But he was also a man of many other moods who wrote about his lifelong homesickness for his shtetl, his loneliness, his disillusionments, his despair. For his 60th yahrzeit, the Forverts devoted its columns on “The Pearls of Yiddish Poetry” to fragments of his works that display his many-sidedness.

What follows are several instances. The transliteration is by Goldie Gold; the English version is by Gus Tyler.

Narayev, du! Kroynshtat fun mayn lebn,

Narayev, du! Mayn flamendiker dorn!

Host mikh farknipt tsu zikh mit toyznter gevebn,

Fun yunge un fun bliendike yorn.

Oh, Narayev, crown city of my life,

Oh, Narayev, my fatal flaming thorn!

You’ve pierced my very soul as with a knife,

And made me yours the day that I was born.

* * *|

Heymland, du, mayn heymland, du host mikh tsugebundn

Tsu zikh mit shtrik fun libe vos shtarbt keyn mol nit

Kh’bentsh di likht vos du host in mir getsundn

Kh’kush dem tseykhn fun dayne dribne trit.

Homeland, you, my homeland, tied me unto you

With ropes of love that never ever will decay

I bless the light you gave that told me what to do

I kiss each footprint that you left to show the way.

* * *|

In his early days in America, Nadir wrote regularly for the Frayhayt, an official publication of the Communist Party. As a dedicated Communist, he excoriated the Yiddish journalists who were critical of communism. He assailed them with a poisonous pen. For instance:

Ikh ken aykh gut, ikh ken aykh oysgebundn

Ir temne yidish-shrayber fun der shtot New York,

Ir lekt di hant vos makht undz toyte vundn,

Un nemt umshterblekhkeyt baym folk oyf borg.

Ikh ken aykh gut, ikh ken aykh prizenlakh

Ir federknekht, ir alte verter-pedler,

Ir putst zikh oys in frazndike fendlakh,

Un eydlt zayd, vi mitsve — matse redler.

I know you well, I know you really one by one

You silly, silly writers from New York,

You lick the hand that treats us like we’re scum,

You sell these beasts as super-kosher pork.

I know you well, I know you really one by one

You’re pens for hire, just petty peddlers of some words,

You write, look bright, but really when you’re done,

Your perfumed prose then turns to stinking turds.

* * *|

After the Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939, Nadir broke from the Communists. He begged forgiveness for his vitriolic attacks on those who had been critical of the Communists.

He also seems, as he aged, to fall into a true state of melancholia and self-hate.

Ikh hob nisht fil mentshn lib,

Hobn mikh nisht fil mentshn lib, un kvit

Dos vos ikh gib — nemt ir nisht.

Dos vos ir git, vil ikh nisht.

Lebn mir azoy, umfrayndkekh

Umdertreglekhe shkheynim.

Az ir kumt mikh betn a bisl gelekhter

Vil ikh mikh tseveynen.

Few are the people I do love,

And few love me. We’re quits

What I do offer aside they shove

On what you give, my temper spits.

We’re neighbors but we do not spend

Our time as friends. I don’t know why.

And when you ask a joke I send

I really want to cry — just cry.

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