Translated from the Yiddish by Hershl Hartman
D’you hear those who pour out complaint and tears?
It’s the sound of aloneness that reaches your ears.
In rags, in wounds and in constant pain,
Bloodied and muddied, dirtied and stained,
In fear, in pity, they draw their last breath,
Their troubles, their poverty drives them to death…
Silent victims, they fall like flies…
Years of suffering, silence and lies,
Falling strengthless, broken, ground-up,
Swollen by hunger, drinking death’s cup.
Orphans sigh, and widows despair —
Are their tears even seen, does anyone care?
The rich ones, the sated, with carefree minds —
What care they for tears? To blood they’re blind.
What care they for brothers who drown in blood
While they live calmly, for their lives are good!
No use the sighing, the tears will not alter
The stony hearts that will not grow softer!
My poem is woven of tears and pain,
I write it with blood from my heart’s stain.
I would not sing but sit still, calmly,
If I could but conquer my melancholy…
Herst, ver s’tsegist zikh fun klog un geveyn?
In trantes, mit vundn ingantsn badekt,
Mit blut un mit blote farshmutst un farflekt,
Mit shrek, mit rakhmones kukt er aroys,
Fun tsores, fun dakhkes — er shtarbt, er geyt oys…
Shtile karbones — zey faln vi flign…
Yorn gelitn un yorn geshvign,
Gefaln on koykhes, tsebrokhn, tsemoln,
Fun hunger fargangen, fun hunger geshvoln.
Es ziftsn yesoymim, es klogn almones —
Tsi zet ver di trern? Tsi hot ver rakhmones?
Di raykhe, di zate, di ruike moykhes —
Vos art zey di trern, di blutike leykhes?
Vos art zey der bruder, vos trinkt zikh in blut,
Az zey lebt zikh ruik, az zey lebt zikh gut!
Farlorene ziftsn, farlorene trern —
Shteynerne hertser viln veykher nit vern!
Mayn lid iz gevebt fun trern un shmarts,
Ikh shrayb es mit blut, vos tribt fun mayn harts.
Ikh volt es nit zingn un ruik geshvign,
Ven ikh volt konen mayn umet bazign!
Translator’s notes: My translation of this poem — which I consider a prescient “Hymn of the 99%” — was composed in tribute to Theo Bikel on his 90th birthday since he, too, strives to translate Yiddish in rhyme and meter. The original reproduced here has archaic, unneeded vowel-markings — nikudes — under the Yiddish vowels themselves, and utilizes German-influenced spelling. The transcription in the YIVO Standard reflects Modern Yiddish and an arrangement that separates the text into more appropriate verses.
Sh. An-Ski (Shloyme Zaynvl Rapoport, 1863-1920) was a Jewish folklorist, scholar and playwright, best known as the author of der dibek (The Dybbuk) and the lyrics of the Bundist hymn.
Hershl Hartman is long-time education director at the Sholem Community in Los Angeles and a certified Secular Jewish vegvayzer who often officiates at weddings and other lifecycle events. He holds degrees in Secular Jewish education and in Yiddish journalism, which he practiced as the first native-born Yiddish newspaper reporter in the U.S.
MAMELOSHN is supported at the Jewish Currents website and in print by the Atran Foundation.