Oyfn veg shteyt a boym – A Yiddish lullaby

Itzik Manger was one of the most important Yiddish poets of the twentieth century CE; he was avidly interested in story-telling traditions of different cultures and discovered ballads as a way of sharing his beautiful, occasionally melancholic stories. Israeli jazz musicians Aviv and Arik Livnat teamed up with British Yiddish lecturer and folkore researcher Helen Beer to put music to Manger’s words.

I’d like to share one of those ballads in a lovingly animated version with you. For all those who don’t understand Yiddish, I provide a translation of the lyrics below (I’ve tried to stick to the original as closely as possible, which will show in the syntax…).

 


on the path, there stands a tree

it stands there bowed

all birds from that tree

have flown away.

three to the west, three to the east

and the rest to the south

and the tree have left alone

stray for the storm.

I say to mum: “listen,

you should simply not disturb me,

I want to, mum, one and two,

soon be a bird.

I want to sit on a tree

and want to lull to sleep

over the winter with comfort,

with a beautiful melody.”

mum says: “don’t, child,”

and she cries with tears.

“[you] you godforbid on the tree

freeze to death [to] me.”

I say: “mum, it’s a pity

your beautiful eyes,

and more than what and more than who,

am I a bird.”

mum cries: “Itsik crown,

take, for god’s sake,

take at least a scarf with you,

so you should not catch a cold.

the galoshes take with you,

a strong winter’s going around,

and put on the fur cap,

pain and woe is me .

and take your winter vest,

put it on, you pod,

for you will not want to be a guest

among all the dead ones.”

I lift the wings, it’s tough for me,

too many, too many things,

has mum put on

on the bird, the weak one.

I look sadly

into mum’s eyes,

has her love not let

me become a bird.

on the path, there stands a tree,

it stands there bowed,

all birds from that tree

have flown away.

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19 Comments

  1. zulubaby

    12/3/2007 at 5:38 pm

    I love Yiddish so much, this is great!

  2. urban gypsy

    12/5/2007 at 7:40 am

    This was absolutely lovely, thanks for sharing!

  3. steve

    12/5/2007 at 11:00 am

    i enjoyed this very much and put it on my blog at Jewish Literary Review.

    thanks, froylein

  4. froylein

    12/5/2007 at 1:49 pm

    A dank. :)

  5. steve

    12/5/2007 at 2:05 pm

    froylein,

    i had someone on my blog ask if this was actually a lullaby.

    is that what Manger called it?

    just curious.

  6. froylein

    12/5/2007 at 2:46 pm

    As far as I know its “editors” called it a lullaby, and Manger himself didn’t actually pick a title, so the first verse was used for that matter.

  7. froylein

    12/5/2007 at 3:06 pm

    Oh, BTW, just checked the comment on your blog; lullabies are not just baby-language lulling melodies. The original German text of the most famous lullaby by Brahms even translates as, “Good evening and good night. Roofed with roses, spiked with nails. Tomorrow morning, so God wants, you’ll be woken up again.” British nursery rhymes and lullabies often have a somewhat wicked, cruel twist to them, e.g. ‘Three Blind Mice’ (singingbabies....).

  8. Steve

    12/5/2007 at 3:24 pm

    thanks, froylein.

    the words to “rock a bye baby” are also pretty sad once you stop to think about what it is you’re actually singing.

  9. Ilana

    12/5/2007 at 3:32 pm

    I was just wondering about the lullaby thing because really, this is a song about a mother not letting her child grow up. And it was creatd much later in history then some of those morbid nursery rhymes (ring around the rosie is pretty awful) and later than Brahms.
    The reason I’m commenting about this is not becuase I’m trying to be sticky about semantics but because I teach this song to my grade 6 class (I’m a Yiddish teacher) and I would never teach it to any children younger than that.
    Would I sing it to my little ones? Probaby.

  10. froylein

    12/5/2007 at 3:44 pm

    “Maikäfer flieg” (the original to “Shluf, shefele, shluf”) originated in WW2; to sum it up, it says that the father’s on war duty and that the mother’s in Pomerania, and that Pomerania’s burnt to the ground. Grimms’ fairy tales are now widely told to children, yet they were written for an adult readership; many of those stories are really cruel. Psychology suggests that children develop an understanding of the meaning of death at age five to six, yet most people in Western societies don’t get to see a dead person before their mid-thirties, but till the 1960s, it didn’t use to that way and people were used to facing death more or less regularly. I don’t think this ballad is about a mother not letting her child grow up, but about a mother which shows enough care and foresight to prevent her child from inevitable harm.

  11. Paul Gybels

    2/24/2009 at 5:30 am

    A sheynem dank dir, freylin!
    Meg ikh banitstn ot di rekordirung in mayne Yidishe lektsyes in Antverpener Universitet? Agev, ver zaynen di zingers? Kh’meyn az di melodye hot shoyn lang eksistirt eyder Khayele Ber iz geboyrn gevorn…
    Mit gor hartsike grusn,
    Paul Gybels

  12. froylein

    2/24/2009 at 5:43 am

    Zicher, Paul, zicher…

    Di zingers zaynen Arik Livnat, Aviv Livnat & Helen Beer.

  13. Fred from Holland

    2/25/2010 at 5:57 am

    I like this song very much and also the animation. Thank you for that!
    I’d like to sing the song myself (I play the guitar) but I can’t find the lyrics anywhere (and the chords). Could anyone help me?

  14. Ruth goldberg

    11/7/2010 at 10:37 pm

    We do a beautiful dance in my Folkdance class to this haunting melody. My frustration is that I cannot make out all the Yiddish lyrics. Does anyone know where I can get a copy of the lyrics in Yiddish or in Yiddish transliteration? THANKS!!

  15. Judy Wilkenfeld

    1/5/2011 at 6:15 pm

    Oyfn veg shteyt a boym,
    Shteyt er ayngeboygn,
    Ale feygl funem boym
    Zaynen zikh tsefloygn.

    Dray keyn mayrev, dray keyn mizrekh,
    Un der resht – keyn dorem,
    Un dem boym gelozt aleyn
    Hefker far dem shturem.

    Zog ikh tsu der mamen: -her,
    Zolst mir nor nit shtern,
    Vel ikh, mame, eyns un tsvey
    Bald a foygl vern…

    Ikh vel zitsn oyfn boym
    Un vel im farvign
    Ibern vinter mit a treyst
    Mit a sheynem nign.

    Zogt di mame: – nite, kind -
    Un zi veynt mit trern -
    Vest kholile oyfn boym
    Mir far froyrn vern.

    Zog ikh: -mame, s’iz a shod
    Dayne sheyne oygn
    Un eyder vos un eyder ven,
    Bin ikh mir a foygl.

    Veynt di mame: – ltsik, kroyn,
    Ze, um gotes viln,
    Nem zikh mit a shalikl,
    Kenst zikh nokh farkiln.

    Di kaloshn tu zikh on,
    S’geyt a sharfer vinter
    Un di kutshme nem oykh mit -
    Vey iz mir un vind mir…

    - Un dos vinter-laybl nem,
    Tu es on, du shovte,
    Oyb du vilst nit zayn keyn gast
    Tsvishn ale toyte…

    Kh’heyb di fligl, s’iz mir shver,
    Tsu fil, tsu fil zakhn,
    Hot di mame ongeton
    Ir feygele, dem shvakhn.

    Kuk ikh troyerik mir arayn
    In mayn mames oygn,
    S’hot ir libshaft nit gelozt
    Vern mir a foygl…

    Oyfn veg shteyt a boym,
    Shteyt her ayngebogen,
    Ale feygl funem boym
    Zaynen zikh tsefloygn…

  16. Chris Thomas

    12/7/2011 at 11:26 am

    Check out the Avishai Cohen version. its awesome

  17. varg

    8/14/2012 at 5:47 am

    I want to translate this lullaby to my language (Gilaki, an old language in south of the Caspian Sea and north of Iran) and mix it on this video.
    Where I can find this video with abetterquality? And who is its maker?
    Please contact me. This is my email: v6rg@v6rg.com.

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