My Paper Bridge, Transliteration

M.G. writes:

“Dear David Forman, I hope you do not mind me writing to you. I have just discovered your blog–by accident! I have also recently discovered Kadya Molodowsky and her Yiddish poem ‘My paper Bridge”. I do not know Yiddish, but I am fascinated by the spoken word and I wondered if you would be good enough to point me in the direction of where to find a transliteration — like I see you do.. I would love to be able to hear the spoken word, even if indirectly . With very best wishes,…”

I couldn’t find a transliteration, so I made this one. Apologies in advance for any mistakes.


Mayn Papirene Brik           
            (Dovid Bergelsonen)

Haynt iz ibergegangen mayn papirine brik
(ot di, vos ikh gey iber ir tsu mayn glik)
a zekhtsik-yerike froy (shoyn zekhtsik gevis)
mit derfrorene, borvese fis.

Mir hobn getrofn zikh, a vayle geblibn dort shteyn.
Ikh glat azoy, vayl ikh hob nisht gehot vu tsu geyn,
un zi hot geret, vi tsu mir un tsu zikh,
vegn broyt, vegn holts, vegn shikh.

Mayn papirene brik, ikh hob zi geboyt,
ven nisht nor der himl— mayn oyg hot gebloyt,
un di zun iz gevezn a goldene rod
un ir eyntsiker veg tsu di fis mayne grod.

Hob ikh fartrakht zikh a shtub un a bet
un goldene teg, un tseshternte nekht,
hob ikh fartrakht zikh a man un a kroyn,
un frilingen grin, un zumern broyn.

Hob ikh fartrakht zikh a veg un a briv,
un a khvalikn yam, un a likhtike shif.
Hob ikh fartrakht dos gezang fun di banen
un bloye matrosn, ver veyst zey un vanen.

Nor kh’hob nisht fartrakht di shikh far der zekhtsik-yeriker froy,–
zaynen mir haynt do geshtanen, geshmuest azoy
zi vegn shikh, az es frirt ir di beyn,
un ikh glat azoy, vayl ikh hob nisht gehat vu tsu geyn.


Here is the Yiddish, scanned from Kathryn Hellerstin’s wonderful book “Paper Bridges.” I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Get it, or get it out of your library.

My Paper Bridge Yiddish

And here’s the English. Apologies for the scan quality.

My Paper Bridge English

One thing that struck me forcefully when preparing the transliteration for someone who cannot read the Yiddish characters, is how remarkably German-like it is. I don’t think anyone reading this will have any trouble sensing how the poem is supposed to sound, even if there is a vowel shift here or there. That is, with the exception of the khvalikn yam (wavy ocean) in the second-to-last stanza, the poem is composed almost entirely of German-origin words.

I’m not going to put my extended gloss on the poem, but I will note emphatically that Yiddish is allowed to do this. This summer I attended a lecture by Chaim Grade’s translator, Curt Leviant. He handed out a passage with a Yiddish (as it might have been spoken for a particular purpose by a rabbi in a Yeshiva), composed almost entirely of Hebrew and Hebrew-origin words. “How much of this is Yiddish?” he asked. “All of it,” Sheva Zucker replied. Same goes for here.

Equally worth noting is that the core image is both quintessentially Jewish and bound up in the concerns of the Yiddish literature of day. Influenced by H. Leyvik, Molodowsky was, according to Kathryn Hellerstein, working out the relation between the personal and political in the role of the artist. “According to Jewish legend, when the Messiah comes, the Jews will cross into Paradise over a paper bridge. In this poem, Molodowsky changes the legendary paper bridge into a symbol of private, personal desires…. The presence of this old woman within the poem and upon the paper bridge changes the poet’s sense of her poetry…” Hellerstein, from her Introduction.

Molodowsky’s work bridges tradition and the modern world. It spans religion, socialism, individual yearning and clear-eyed rational thought. Thanks for the request, M.G.

Pop_Up_Rialto_Bridge_www-dot-yeesjob-dot-com:

“Pop Up Rialto Bridge”. Used without permission, from http://www.yeesjob.com

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