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Candles of Song 1 of 2

October 23, 2012 by

Candles of Song: Rokhl Korn

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

Photo of Rokhl Korn

Rokhl (Haring) Korn (1898-1982) was born near Podliski, East Galicia on a farming estate. Her love and knowledge of nature is reflected both in her poetry and prose. She was educated in Polish and started writing poetry at an early age in Polish. At the start of the First World War, she and her family fled to Vienna, then returned to Poland in 1918 and lived in Przemysl until 1941. Korn’s first publications were in Polish in 1918 but pogroms against the Jews of Poland after the war led her to write in Yiddish, though she had to be taught to speak, read and write the language by her husband Hersh Korn whom she married in 1920. Her first Yiddish poem appeared in the Lemberger Tageblatt in 1919.

In 1941 Korn fled to Uzbekistan and then to Moscow, where she remained until the end of the war. Her husband, her mother, her brothers and their families all perished in the Holocaust. She returned to Poland in 1946 and in 1948 immigrated to Montreal, Canada where she lived and remained creative until her death. She was a major figure in Yiddish literature and in 1974 she won the prestigious Manger Prize.

Korn was extremely prolific. Her works include: Dorf, lider (Village, poems). Vilna: 1928; Erd, dertseylungen (Land, stories).Warsaw: 1936; Royter mon, lider (Red Poppies, poems). Warsaw: 1937; Heym un heymlozikayt, lider (Home and Homelessness, poems). Buenos Aires: 1948; Bashertkayt, lider 1928–48 (Fate, poems 1928–48). Montreal: 1949; Nayn dertseylungen (Nine Stories). Montreal: 1957; Fun yener zayt lid (On the Other Side of the Poem). Tel Aviv: 1962; Di gnod fun vort (The Grace of the Word) Tel Aviv: 1968; Af der sharf fun a rege (The Cutting Edge of the Moment). Tel Aviv: 1972; Farbitene vor, lider (Altered Reality, poems). Tel Aviv: 1977.

Here, Doyres, by Rokhl Korn, read by Sheva Zucker:

Generations

For my daughter

Loving another, yet she married my father.
That other portrait faded with the years.
From her album paged in musty velvet
Shimmered forth his paling, yellowing smile.

To watch her embroider a towel or tablecloth:
She pricked the vivid silk with her *longing and desire.
The stitches flowed like narrow streams of blood.
The seams were silvered with her silent tears.

And my grandmother – how little I know of her life! –
Only her hands’ tremor, and the blue seams of her lips.
How can I imagine my grandfather’s love of her?
I can will myself to believe in her suffering.

No letter remains, no, not a scrap of paper
Did she will us; only pots in the attic
Crudely patched: tangible maimed witnesses
To a dead life: the young widow, the mother of five.

So she planted a luxuriant garden
That would embrace the newly barren house
And her new barrenness. So the trees grew,
Obedient to her will, in perfect rows.

Now my daughter is just sixteen
As I was on that quiet day in May
When I became pregnant of a single word
Scented with lilac, the remote song of a bird.

A few letters, and what is called “a slender volume”:
These are the relicts of my life. I lacked perspective
On happiness, so I ran even faster
To escape the happy boundaries of my fate.

Listen, my daughter, never go in pursuit!
It all lies there, in the woven strands of blood.
How the straight trees whisper in grandmother’s garden!
Only listen! these dim echoes in my poem…

But what can sixteen years conceive of sorrow?
And pensiveness? the tremor of old lives?
For her, only the eternal beginnings.

Where she goes, old shadows kiss her footprints.
Somewhere, in white lilac, the nightingale
Gasps out his fragile song.

**Which ends always with the note of eternal beginning.

Tr. Carolyn Kizer, A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry, edited by irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg, Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1969.

* Kizer translated the line as,  “She pricked the vivid silk with her nostalgia.” I changed it to longing and desire to be closer to the Yiddish benkshaft un bager.

** This line has no correlate in the Yiddish text.

Doyres

Mayn mame hot lib gehat an andern
Un iz gevorn dos vayb fun mayn tatn –
S’hot yemems bild fargelt, farblast fun lange yorn
Geshmeykhlt fun ir album sametenem, altn.

Ven zi hot oysgeneyt a hantekh, a servet,
In roytn zayd arayngeshtikt ir benkshaft, ir bager,
Flegn loyfn di shtekh, vi shmole ritshkes blut
Bazilberte, bazoymte mit ir shtiler trer.

Mayn bobe – ver ken haynt farshteyn dos lebn fun a boben –
Kh’gedenk bloyz tsiterdike hent un shmole, bloe lipn.
Ver ken es visn haynt, tsi s’hot mayn zeyde Shaye zi gelibt,
Vi shver es iz geven ir glik un vos zi hot gelitn.

S’iz fun ir nisht farblibn kin briv, kin shtik papir,
Nor tep fardrotevete afn boydem, eydes shtume fun gevezner vor –
Ven s’iz ir man geshtorbn iz zi geblibn an almone yunge
Mit finef kinder, der yingster zun a yoseml fun knape zibn yor.

Hot zi ayngeflantst a sod, a sod, gedikht un breyt,
Beymer in shures glaykhe eyns ba eyns, gereyt,
Kedey arumtsunemen s’naye, naketike hoyz
Un ir eygne, groyse eynzamkeyt.

Un ikh – mayn tokhter iz itst alt gevorn zekhtsn yor,
Genoy vi ikh in yenem tog fun yenem khoydesh may,
Ven s’hot a shtile sho arayngeflantst in mir dos vunderlekhste vort,
Un s’hot geshmekt mit vaysn bez, mit friling un mit shpil fun vaytn solovey.

A pekl briv in shank, a shmolink bendl lider
Ot dos alts iz dos ash fun mayn lebn –
Itst ze ikh genoy – kh’bin gevezn tsu noent fun mayn glik,
Bin ikh gelofn alts foroys, alts foroys – un dernebn.

Kh’volt mayn tokhter gezogt – nite, nite, nit yog,
Loz dikh firn fun der oysgeneyter, royter ritshke blut,
Horkh, vos s’royshn di beymer in der bobns sod
Un vos s’flistert fartrakht un fartroyert mayn lid.

Nor vi kenen banemen ire zekhtsn yor
Fun fargangene lebns dem tsiter un troyer?
S’heybt zikh on bay ir alts oyf s’nay, alts oyf s’nay –

Zi geyt un s’geyen di shotns ir nokh un kushn ir shpur,
Un ergets oyf a tsvayg fun vaysn bez
Fibert oys zayn lid der vayter solovey.
     Bashertkeyt: Lider 1928-1948, Montreal, 1949

דורות

מײַן מאַמע האָט ליב געהאַט אַן אַנדערן
און איז געװאָרן דאָס װײַב פֿון מײַן טאַטן—
ס‘האָט יעמעמס בילד פֿאַרגעלט, פֿאַרבלאַסט פֿון לאַנגע יאָרן
געשמײכלט פֿון איר אַלבום סאַמעטענעם, אַלטן.

װען זי האָט אױסגענײט אַ האַנטעך, אַ סערװעט,
אין רױטן זײַד אַרײַנגעשטיקט איר בענקשאַפֿט, איר באַגער,
פֿלעגן לױפֿן די שטעך, װי שמאָלע ריטשקעס בלוט
באַזילבערטע, באַזױמטע מיט איר שטילער טרער.

מײַן באָבע— װער קען הײַנט פֿאַרשטײן דאָס לעבן פֿון אַ באָבען—
כ’געדענק בלױז ציטערדיקע הענט און שמאָלע, בלאָע ליפּן.
װער קען עס װיסן הײַנט, צי ס’האָט מײַן זײדע שעיה זי געליבט,
װי שװער עס איז געװען איר גליק און װאָס זי האָט געליטן.

ס’איז פֿון איר נישט פֿאַרבליבן קיין בריװ,קיין שטיק פּאַפּיר,
נאָר טעפּ פֿאַרדראָטעװעטע אױפֿן בױדעם, עדות שטומע פֿון געװעזנער װאָר—
װען ס’איז איר מאַן געשטאָרבן איז זי געבליבן אַן אַלמנה יונגע
מיט פֿינעף קינדער, דער ייִנגסטער זון אַ יתומל פֿון קנאַפּע זיבן יאָר.

האָט זי אײַנגעפֿלאַנצט אַ סאָד, אַ סאָד, געדיכט און ברײט,
בײמער אין שורות גלײַכע אײנס בײַ אײנס, גערײט,
 כּדי אַרומצונעמען ס’נײַע, נאַקעטיקע הױז
און איר אײגנע, גרױסע אײנזאַמקײט.

און איך— מײַן טאָכטער איז איצט אַלט געװאָרן זעכצן יאָר,
גענױ װי איך אין יענעם טאָג פֿון יענעם חודש מײַ,
װען ס’האָט אַ שטילע שעה אַרײַנגעפֿלאַנצט אין מיר דאָס װוּנדערלעכסטע װאָרט,
און ס’האָט געשמעקט מיט װײַסן בעז, מיט פֿרילינג און מיט שפּיל פֿון װײַטן סאָלאָװײ.

אַ פּעקל בריװ אין שאַנק, אַ שמאָלינק בענדל לידער
אָט דאָס אַלץ איז דאָס אַש פֿון מײַן לעבן—
איצט זע איך גענױ— כ’בין געװעזן צו נאָענט פֿון מײַן גליק,
בין איך געלאָפֿן אַלץ פֿאָרױס, אַלץ פֿאָרױס— און דערנעבן.

כ’װאָלט מײַן טאָכטער געזאָגט— ניטע, ניטע, ניט יאָג,
לאָז דיך פֿירן פֿון דער אױסגענײטער, רױטער ריטשקע בלוט,
האָרך, װאָס ס’רױשן די ביימער אין דער באָבנס סאָד
און װאָס ס’פֿליסטערט פֿאַרטראַכט און פֿאַרטרױערט מײַן ליד.

נאָר װי קענען באַנעמען אירע זעכצן יאָר
פֿון פֿאַרגאַנגענע לעבנס דעם ציטער און טרױער?
ס’הײבט זיך אָן בײַ איר אַלץ אױף ס’נײַ, אַלץ אױף ס’נײַ—

זי גײט און ס’גײען די שאָטנס איר נאָך און קושן איר שפּור,
און ערגעץ אױף אַ צװײַג פֿון װײַסן בעז
פֿיבערט אױס זײַן ליד דער װײַטער סאָלאָװײ.
       באַשערטקײט: לידער 1928־1948, מאָנטרעאַל, 1949

Poems cross-posted with ShevaZucker.com.

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.

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