Candles of Song 1 of 2

July 9, 2012 by

Candles of Song: Yiddish Poems about Mothers Mani Leyb

Yiddish poems about mothers, in memory of my mother, Miriam Pearlman Zucker, 1914-2012.

Photo of Mani Leyb

Mani Leyb (1883-1953) was the pseudonym of Mani Leyb Brahinsky. He was born in Niezhyn, (Chernigov district, Ukraine). At the age of 11 he left school to be apprenticed to a bootmaker and was twice arrest for “revolutionary activities” while still in his teens.

He emigrated to New York in 1906 where he began publishing poems in the Forverts and Fraye arbeter shtime. He worked as a shoe and boot-maker until he contracted tuberculosis and lived in a sanatorium for two years (1932-1934).

He was a leading figure in Di Yunge (the Young Ones), a poetry group which, in rebellion against the earlier worker poets, placed individual mood and sensation at the heart of poetry. The appeal of simplicity as an aesthetic goal attracted him to folks songs and folk motifs, and to the writing of children’s verse.

In 1918 he published three volumes of poetry – Lider (poems), Yidishe un slavishe motivn (Jewish and Slavic motifs), and Baladn (Ballads). Some of these and later poems were published posthumously in 1955 in Lider un Baladn (Poems and Ballads). After an unhappy marriage and five children he began a relationship with with the Yiddish poet Rashelle Veprinski which lasted from the1920s until his death in 1953.

Here, Mayn Mame, by Mani Leyb, read by Sheva Zucker:

My Mother

My mother is pretty and pale
And as white as any dove.
Her snow-white hair, in two thin locks,
falls from her bonnet above.

In Sabbath clothes of dark black silk
She often goes around,
and on a chain upon her neck
her bride medal’s to be found.

My mother’s eyes – she has green eyes –
are like the sun at rest;
and when she looks in someone’s eyes,
that one is doubly blessed.
Tr. Barnett Zumoff
Songs to a Moonstruck Lady: Women in Yiddish Poetry, The Dora Teitleboim Center for Yiddish Culture, 2005

Mayn Mame

Mayn mame iz a sheyne un a bleykhe
Un a vayse vi a toyb;
Di hor vi shney – tsvey dine pasmes
Faln fun ir hoyb.

Un shabesdik, in zayd in shvartsn
Geyt zi shtendik ongeton;
Af a goldn keytl af ir hartsn
Ir kale-medalyon.

Un oygn hot mayn mame, grine oygn,
Groz un zun vos rut;
Un az zi kukt a mentshn in di oygn
Vert yenem mentshn gut.
Lid un Balade, Band II, Nyu-york, 1955

מײַן מאַמע

מײַן מאַמע איז אַ שײנע און אַ בלײכע
און אַ װײַסע װי אַ טױב;
די האָר װי שנײ— צװײ דינע פּאַסמעס
פֿאַלן פֿון איר הױב.

און שבתדיק, אין זײַד אין שװאַרצן
 גײט זי שטענדיק אָנגעטאָן;
אױף אַ גאָלדן קײטל אױף איר האַרצן
איר כּלה־מעדאַליאָן.

און אױגן האָט מײַן מאַמע, גרינע אױגן,
גראָז און זון װאָס רוט;
און אַז זי קוקט אַ מענטשן אין די אױגן
װערט יענעם מענטשן גוט.
ליד און באַלאַדע, באַנד 2, ניו־יאָרק, 1955

Poems cross-posted with

Dr. Sheva Zucker is currently the Executive Director of the League for Yiddish and the editor of its magazine Afn Shvel. She has taught and lectured on Yiddish language, literature and culture on five continents.