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MAMELOSHN: “Chicago,” by Shloyme Shvarts

February 8, 2013

Selected and Translated by Barnett Zumoff

This is the first of a series of geographically themed Yiddish poems that will be periodically posted here. Barnett Zumoff conducts the "Mameloshn" column that appears in each issue of Jewish Currents. "Chicago" is translated from the Yiddish as it appears in Emanuel Goldsmith's Yiddish Literature in America, 1870-2000, Volume 2.

Shloyme Shvarts (1907-1988) was sometimes called "The Poet of Chicago." His poems were lyrical and emotional, and often melancholy and autumnal. His later poems make reference to the Holocaust and Jewish refugees, and also to legends about Biblical subjects.


Bright city, my city,
all dressed up.
My city,
sly and vandalistic.
I bring to you
from among the stones
a flower that has blossomed massively.

I know that every stone
is an individual emissary
of the great fire —
miraculous, cliff-like, legendary stones
rich with winds;
hewn-out citadels,
renewed and protected
near the ever-blue river.

The day bows
closer and closer to your shore,
and in the evening
says its mea culpa.
Then your stones
become secretive martyrs,
girded against the nocturnal stream
by their mute relatives.


As if I were seeing you
for the first time,
I am constantly amazed by your size.
Your giants,
your hacked-out-of-steel guards,
warn and protect.

The city is drawn to the river,
and I am drawn,
in all your nights,
to the waves
that give birth to poems.

Through tin and stone
sprinkled with stars,
flowers bloom
in your courtyards.
So I remain your faithful singer,
made happy
by both sorrow and song
amid your sated granite.



Likhtike shtot, mayn shtot,
du oysgeputste.
Mayn shtot, du khitre
un vandalishe.
Kh’trog dir antkegn
a tseblite blum fun tsvishn dayne shteyner
vos hot rizikalish

s’iz yeder shteyn a sheliekh-yokhid
fun dayn groysn fayer.
Nisimdike, feldzike, legendare
mit vintn raykh.
Oysgetesete tsitadeln
bay dayn shtendik tsebloytn taykh.

Der tog neygt zikh
alts nideriker tsu der breg,
shlogt zikh
Vern dayne shteyner
soydesfule kdoyshim—
fargartlte shtume kroyvim
kegn nakhtikn shtrom.

Vi ikh volt s’ershte mol
dikh derzen,
bavunder ikh tomid dayn rakhves.
Dayne rizn,
ayzn-oysgehakte shomrim

Di shtot tsit zikh tsum taykh,
un ikh
tsi zikh tsu ale dayne nekht,
tsu di khvalyes
vos geboyrn lider.
Durkh blekh un shteyn,
bashprinklt mit shtern,
blien blumen
in dayne hoyfn.

Blayb ikh dayn getrayer meshoyrer—
i mit troyer, i mit lid
in dayn zatn granit.