Friday, April 11, 2008

Robert Frost in Yiddish

Okay, so I've been all over Robert Frost lately. However, today I have a special reason: Leo Rosten, the author of Joys of Yiddish. I have loved that book for years. It's so much more than a dictionary. It's a cultural reference book filled with jokes, wry observations and love of language. I couldn't resist — and neither should you. Go ahead, pick up a copy and enjoy!

Anyway, today is Leo Rosten's birthday. The New York Times wrote a great story about him in 1997, and I learned a lot about his life.

Now, this all comes together in an incongruous Google. I searched for "poems about Yiddish" and discovered that someone had transliterated "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" into Yiddish.

So here, with great affection and debt to Mr. Rosten, I give you "A vald-bazukh in a shney-nakht."

A vald-bazukh in a shney-nakht
(A forest-visit on/in a snow-evening)

kh' veys vemens vald es iz, mir dakht,
I know whose wood it is, to me it seems
khotsh hoyz zayns shteyt oyf shtetl shliakh;
Though house his stands on village path;
er vet nisht zen, vi kh' blayb do shteyn
He will not see how I stay here stand
un zayn farshnaytn vald bavakh.
And his snowed-in wood watch over.

mayn kleyner ferd muz zayn dershtoynt
My little horse must be astounded
tsu blaybn, vu s'iz nisht bavoynt
To stay where it is not inhabited
lem vald un taykh-mit ayz fartsamt,
Near wood and pond, with ice framed
in shvartster nakht fun yor-aleyn.
In the blackest night of year-alone.

er fregt mit klung fun zayn geshpan,
He asks with ring of his harness,
tsi iz a toes do faran?
Question particle-is a mistake here existing?
altz shvaygt-bloys shtiler vint un roym
Everything is still, only quiet wind and space,
un fal fun shney-pukh nokhanand.
And fall of snow-down in succession.

der vald iz fintster, tif, un sheyn
The wood is dark, deep and beautiful
nor ikh-ze flikhten far mir shteyn
But I see duties before me standing
un maylen veg biz shlof tsu geyn,
And miles road till sleep to go,
un maylen veg biz shlof tsu geyn.
And miles road till sleep to go.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

by Robert Frost

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