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Mameloshn: “In the Catskill Mountains,” by Moris Rozenfeld

February 17, 2013

This is the second 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. “In the Catskill Mountains” is translated by Dr. Zumoff from the Yiddish as it appears in Emanuel Goldsmith’s Yiddish Literature in America, 1870-2000, Volume 2.

Moris Rozenfeld (1862-1923) was probably the finest as well as the most popular of the "proletarian poets." His poems were dominated by a tone of pity and lamentation for toiling workers who were prisoners of their machines and never got to see their children during waking hours. In contrast, he was very hopeful about the Zionist dream. Many of his poems were put to music, often composed by the poet himself, and are still sung frequently.


O you ancient, unconquerable witnesses of immortality,
elevators of the spirit, crowned with eternity and strength,
on whose back eagles,
flying through the air and soaring to the skies,
rest from their cloud-journeys;
O you worthy, holiness-breathing tribunes where God dwells,
and from whose horrifyingly gigantic heights
the creation-fresh balsamic winds of life blow;
O you angels'-ladders, as big as souls
and rising to anonymous height —mountains!
A little grain of dust,
meaningless as a dream
from your own exalted time
and fearsome almighty-ness;
a piece of dust,
just a destructively cutting piece,
I gape at your thought-provoking,
age-old, secret-hiding,
border-mocking incomprehensibility.
In your titan's-breast roots,
the centuries, and your ignoring, freezing stony coldness
towards mankind's momentary tumults
make the unsteady, billowing spider-webs
of our philosophies tremble —
and yet, you mountains,
you are, in the end,
just overgrown heaps of earth;
and though you outlive worlds,
you must remain chained and immobile,
with no choice and no alternative,
a clumsy, helpless mass
strictly bounded by your deep valleys,
determined by fate;
and you cannot prevent my eternally active hand
from digging into your treasure-filled hearts,
dark as tombs,
and you must quietly and patiently
let my insect's feet
walk on your eternally covered heads,
gray with the years.

• • •

My parents walked on you,
and my children and my children's children
will also climb your heights,
till eternity.
And as you are eternal, O mountains,
so too is immortal and everlasting
that which is eternally human:
brilliant, striving, unconquered Man.



O ir uralte, umzigbare eydes
fun uimshterblekhkeyt! Gayst-derhoyberer,
gekroynt mit umendlekhkeyt un koyekh,
oyf vemes rukn di tsum-hil-shvebnde,
shtern-vinknde, un luft-durkhfliende odler
ruen fun zeyere volkn-rayzes; ir verde-fule,
got-haltnde, heylikeyt-otemende tribunes,
fun vemen shoyderndernste rizn-hoykhkeyt
es veyt der yetsire-frisher balsam-duft
fun lebn; ir neshome-groye, tsum-nister-
shtaygnde malokhim-leyters: berg!
A kholem-umbadaytnder kerndl shtoyb
fun ayer eygene derhoybene tsayt un
forkht-bildnde almekhtikeyt — a shtoyb,
a farnikhtnd-shaynender kernel nor, glots
ikh oyf ayer gedanken derveknde,
doyres-trognder, soydes-bahaltnder
un shetekh-farlakhnder umbagrayflekhkeyt.
In ayere titanen-brustn vortslen
di yorhundertn,
un ayer ignorirnd,
glivernde feldzn-kaltkeyt tsum mentshns
rege-kurtsn, minut-doyerndn fligl-tuml,
makht tsitern di umzikhere shpinveb-shveln
fun undzer khakires, un dokh, ir berg,
ir zayt nokh alem dem nor oyfgeblozene
hoyfns erd, un iberlebndik di veltn
muzt ir dokh farblaybn tsugeshmidt,
unrirevdik, fun pkhire — ler, fun breyre —
pust, a bakhmatne mase umbaholfnkeyt
oyf ayere fun-shikzal-shtreng-bagrenetste
tomen, un nit farvern kont ir mir
mayn hant, di eybik-tetike, arayngegrobn
in ayere oytsres-fule, kvorim-fintstere
hertser, un tretn muzt ir shtil, geduldik
lozn mayne milbn-fis oyf ayere
mit eybikeyt-badekte, doyres-groe,
shtendik yunge kep.

• • •

Es hobn mayne eltern oyf aykh a mol
getrotn. Es veln mayne kinder oykh
un mayne kinds-kinder ayer hoykh bashtaygn;
biz in di yingste eybikeyt. Un punkt
vi ir, o berg, zayt umshterblekh,
iz umshterblekh un shtendik doyernd
dos eybik mentshlekhe; der genyus;
der shtrebnder, nit-bazigter mentsh!