Texts & Translation


Leyzer Volf

Translation by Jordan Finkin


Leyz­er Volf (né Mek­ler; 1910 – 1943) was a flam­boy­ant and pro­lif­ic poet, known not only for his ener­getic per­for­mances but also for his par­o­dies, com­ic spoofs, and satir­ic edge. A mem­ber of Yung Vilne, an impor­tant group of Yid­dish mod­ernists, Volf was deeply devot­ed to Jew­ish cul­tur­al engage­ment with both world cul­ture and the nat­ur­al world around his beloved city, Vilna. 

Though he began pub­lish­ing his work in 1926, his first book, Evigin­go, appeared in 1936; very few copies of the orig­i­nal are extant. Writ­ten over three days in Novem­ber of 1934, this long poem, of some 400 lines, is com­posed entire­ly — but for one line — in trocha­ic tetram­e­ter, and print­ed in a Roman­ized orthog­ra­phy appar­ent­ly of his own devis­ing. (A key to the Roman­iza­tion appears on the title page ver­so.) An exoti­cized grotesque of moder­ni­ty, this Yid­dish Hiawatha of sorts presents the tale of the aged Gut­a­min­go, who trav­els from his for­est primeval through a tele­scop­ic view Euro­pean his­to­ry in search of a son, the epony­mous Evigin­go, to care for his lega­cy. Gut­a­min­go of course nev­er finds the son he has been assured is out there. But this pes­simistic vision of Volf’s is occlud­ed by a kind of goth­ic humor — who can­not but laugh at Baron Pantofl’s (“Sir Slip­per”) reduc­tion of all new expe­ri­ences to their pre­sumed Ger­man­ic roots — and enig­mat­ic frus­tra­tion of straight­for­ward inter­pre­ta­tion. That frus­tra­tion may well be the key to under­stand­ing a poem about a man look­ing for a son he nev­er had. 

Volf is a com­pelling char­ac­ter for the strange unique­ness of his poet­ic vision, the quirky con­tra­dic­tions of his per­son­al­i­ty (the ner­vous intro­vert with the fierce pen name), and his remark­able cre­ative ener­gy and inven­tive­ness. He once famous­ly attempt­ed to set a lit­er­ary record by writ­ing more than a thou­sand poems in a sin­gle month. Evigin­go itself was writ­ten over three days. The mes­mer­iz­ing­ly reg­u­lar rhythm of its trochees is well suit­ed for the poem’s nar­ra­tive scope, in the tra­di­tion of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry epics like the Kale­vala and The Song of Hiawatha. In order to cap­ture the imme­di­a­cy and ener­gy of the poem I set myself a wolfish chal­lenge of trans­lat­ing it in the same amount of time it took Volf to write. At times Volf’s imp­ish­ness or his com­pressed lan­guage (owing to the poet­ic meter) pre­sent­ed trans­la­tion­al chal­lenges. With any luck the impro­vi­sa­tion­al tone of some of my solu­tions to those chal­lenges, designed to emu­late the impromp­tu char­ac­ter of much of Volf’s poem, will echo with some felicity. 

Click here to down­load a PDF of this text and its translation.

All images by kind permission of the Klau Library, Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

,In di fajchte tife dzchungles
,af di zumpn zshabazchuko
,baj dem shvarcn vaser tshungo
— vos in vejchn tol amiko
,lebt der alter gutamingo
,vojnt der alter gutamingo
,esn est er alte shlangen
,fejgl-ejer, blinde verim
,zshabes, fish mit grine ojgn
,veverkes, vos kenen flien
,majzlech, vos dercejln majses
.malpes, vos farshtiln zkejnim
— nit gehat hot er kejn jugnt
.cajt der alter gutumingo
zumpn hobn im geborn
,alterhejt mit krume bejner
,zshabes zajnen zajne oign
,bushlen — zajne fis fun fleker
,zajne hent — vi alte shlangen
.zajne hor — vi groje derner
,shtejendik in vaser shloft er
:ven er gejt, di malpes lachn
,Oto Gejt er, gutamingo —
!der cedrejter alter flokn
un di vevriklech di shtifers
;varfn nislech im in ponim
nor der grojer lejb der eltster
hot noch farn altn opshaj
un der alter gutamingo
:klogt far im in tifn ovnt
!vej cu majne alte jorn —
shver iz mir shojn umcushprajzn
,in di dzshunglen, af di zumpn
,zuchn szpajz far majne cejner
.vos cebreklen zich fun altkajt
a butshan in dem frimorgn
.un a jungn ber in ovnt
,ch'darf shojn brenen afn fajer
far majn zun in rojtn fajer
— darf ich zajn a shtik gebrotns
!vej cu mir, ich hob kajn zun nit
,ver vet majne bejner lekn
,zej cevarfn in di zumpn
shtorchn zoln nemen shprocn
?hojch fun majne alte bejner
ver vet majne ojgn lejgn
,in di toln arum felzn
lajchtn zoln zej far groje
?blinde velf af nacht-gejegn
ver vet majne hor farflancn
— cvishn derner, harte grozn
,tomer vet a fojgl faln
?zol er nit ceshtochn vern
ver vet majne cejn farzecn
af di berglech, vaksn zoln
— vajse shlanke zise bejmlech
?junge kales far di vintn
!vej cu mir, ich hob kajn zun nit
!vej cu mir, ich hob kajn zun nit
un der grojer lejb der eltster
,iz gezesn lang, geshvign
mitn ek geklapt, gezshmuret
mit di gele kalte ojgn
un zich pluclung opgerufn
:mit a kol, fartojbt fun altkajt
drajsik necht af dorem-mizrech —
,gej on opru un on vaser
,vestu trefn zibn berglech
;ejner hecher fun dem cvejtn
af a felz fun hechstn bergl
,zict di sove onakumis
,zibn ojgn in ir shtern
.drajcn finger af ir horn
,zog cu ir ejn vort pamelech
— ! gor pamelech: evigingo
.un du vest geholfn vern
.gej mit glik un zorg nit, alter

In the deep and dampest jungles
In the swamps of Zhabazkhuko
By the blackest river Chungo
In the gentle vale Amiko
Lives the aging Gutamingo
Dwells the aged Gutamingo,
Dining on the run-down serpents,
Eggs of birds and sightless vermin,
Frogs and fish with eyes green-tinted,
Squirrels that fly about the treetops,
Mice who tell each other stories,
Apes who sit and curse their elders.
Never any hint of childhood
Had the aging Gutamingo.
Born of bogs and marshy swampland
Right into his bent-boned dotage,
Looking out through bulging frog’s eyes,
Standing on two stilt-like stork’s legs,
Hands like old decrepit serpents
Hair like thorns gone stiff and grizzled.
In the water he sleeps standing;
When he walks the apes yell, laughing:
“There he goes, that Gutamingo,
Aging, clumsy, awkward lunkhead!”
Casting nuts right at his head are
All the squirrels, those playful pranksters.
Only elder greying lion
Looks at him with admiration,
Aging Gutamingo keens to
Him in deepest dimming twilight:
“Woe is me, my years declining!
Harder now it is for me to
Stride through jungles, sweep through swamplands
Seeking food to pass through teeth that
Old age now has caused to crumble.
Harder still to down a stork one
Morning and a bear that evening.
Got to cook it on the fire,
Roasted meat I ought to render
For my son upon the brazier —
Woe is me, for sons I have none!
Who will take my bones and cast them
Far into the swamp to let them
Soon be made into a nest for
Tall and leggy storks to grow from?
Through the boulders in the valleys
Who will set these eyes to seeing
Where the big grey wolves are hidden
As they start their nighttime hunting?
Who will plant this hair unruly
With the thorns and spiky grasses,
Lest a bird should fall by mishap
Risking an abrupt impalement?
Who will sow my teeth upon the
Hills so they might grow, becoming
Lissome, graceful, sweet young saplings—
Brides for all the gentle breezes?
Woe is me, for sons I have none!
Woe is me, for sons I have none!
And the elder graying lion
Sat for quite some time in silence,
Thumping his great tail and squinting
Those two eyes so gold and icy.
Suddenly came his rejoinder
In a voice subdued by oldness:
“Walk for thirty nights southeastward
Without rest and without water
Then you’ll find the seven hillocks,
One is higher than the others.
On that hill, upon a boulder,
Sits the owl Onakumis,
Seven eyes set in her forehead,
Topped her horn with thirteen fingers.
Speak one word to her but slowly,
Very slowly: Evigingo!
There you’ll find the cure you’re seeking.
Luck be yours, old friend, and courage.”

hot der alter gutamingo lang
,geglet dem lejb dem grojen
,im gedankt un zich gezegnt
zich gelozt af dorem-mizrech
.gejn on opru un on vaser
.drajsik necht zajnen avek shojn
un nito di zibn berglech
.un di sove onakumis
,berglech zajnen do, nor achcik
,shpicike, vi sharfe cejner
,un af zej gejt um levone
:tochter fun der nacht, levone
— tochter fun der nacht, levone —
—zogt der alter gutamingo
,efsher vejstu, libe tochter
vu di zibn berglech zajnen
?fun der sove onakumis
:ch'darf zi hobn, ch'muz zi fregn
!evigingo! evigingo
,ruik entfert di levone
:gejendik af gele fislech
vu di vintn zajnen drajcn —
,af di hojle cejn fun corn
,vu di libe vejnt gelasn
,af a fajgn-bojm bajm vaser
,vu di shtern tancn shiker
,glajch un glajch, durch zump un zorgn
ejernechtn af a flokn
,zict di sove onakumis
!zog ir zicher: evigingo
dankt der alter un er lozt zich
.vajter gejn di sove zuchn
shtejndldik der veg, di fajln
.zshumen giftik in der luftn
rojte vintn, bloje felzn
,melkt der tajvl in a kerbl
s'efnt zich di erd mit fajer
.un farmacht zich mit a duner
mid iz gutamingo, s'vign
,zich di kni vi shvere shiflech
s'nejgt zich cu der erd zajn shtern
...un er flistert: evigingo
pluclung: a farbrenter dzshungl
af di gliendike cvajgn
fun a grobn bojm in faln
flit a ku mit dine herner
.in di federn fun zilber
,libe ku, du gute getin —
.vos du gist gor milch dajn sojne
zog mir, efsher vejstu vu di
?sove onakumis nechtikt
:ch'muz zi hobn, ch'muz ir fregn
...evigingo... evngingo
s'hot di ku gehat rachmones
,afn hartn blindn zokn
un zi hot im milch gegebn
,fun ir fuln vajsn ajter
,un zi hot gezogt gelasn
:kajendik di shvere verter
zibn vegn fun albaster
,krejcn iber acht fun gingold
jogn zich cum palac bonum
.fun der getin atenada
,un der palac iz fun marmor
;vajs vi shojm fun vaserfaln
in ir sod di shvere epl
;lajchtn vi levones fule
,ire brist—vi zilber-kojln
,ven di zun gejt uf in mizrech
,ire hor fun heln honik
,ire ojgn—nacht un samet
ire hent vi carte shlangen
;arum libesgot farflochtn
,vestu faln afn shtern
nont cu ire klejne fislech
:un arojsklogn gelasn
...evigingo... evigingo

Aging Gutamingo lingered,
Stroked the fleece of that grey lion,
Thanked him well and then departed,
Setting forth on foot southeastward
Without rest and without water.
Thirty days have passed already
Yet no seven hills are sighted
Nor the owl Onakumis.
Hills there are, but more than eighty
Crags like teeth some hand had sharpened.
Over all those rocks there wanders
Moon, the daughter of the nighttime.
“Moon, oh daughter of the nighttime,”
Aging Gutamingo asks her,
“Dearest daughter, can you tell me
Where to find the seven hillocks
Of the owl Onakumis?
I must find her, I must ask her:
Evigingo! Evigingo!
Moon responds serenely, walking
On her little feet so golden,
“Where the winds all number thirteen
O’er the barren teeth of fury,
Where love goes to weep unhurried,
Near a fig tree by the water
Where the drunken stars all caper,
Just that way, through swamp and sorrows,
Yesterday upon a picket
Sat the owl Onakumis.
Tell her surely: Evigingo!
Thanking her the old man parted
Seeking once again the owl.
Stones bestrew his path aplenty,
Poisoned arrows buzz about him;
Crimson winds and azure boulders
Milked by fiends into a basket;
Fire splits the ground asunder,
Closing up again with thunder.
Gutamingo starts to tire, his
Knees like laden ships are lurching.
Forehead to the ground he bows and
Then he whispers: Evigingo . . .
Suddenly a burning jungle.
Through the falling silver feathers
Of the squat tree’s glowing branches
Flies in haste a thin-horned heifer.
“Dearest heifer, goodly goddess,
Granting milk to those who hate you,
Tell me where to find the aerie
Of the owl Onakumis?
I must find her, I must ask her:
Evigingo . . . Evigingo . . .
Taking pity on the blind man
And his sorry plight the heifer
Gave him milk to drink aplenty
From her full and creamy udder.
Then she spoke to him serenely,
Making cud of words most grievous:
“Seven paths of alabaster
Crisscross eight of gold resplendent,
Leading to the palace Bonum
Of the goddess Atenada.
Waterfalls make foam as white as
All the marble of that palace.
Apples grow within her orchard
Shining like the moon at harvest.
Breasts she has like globes of silver;
When the sun ascends from eastward
Brightly shines her hair like honey.
Eyes—they are the night and velvet;
Hands—they are two graceful serpents
Twining round the form of Eros.
Fall then with your forehead downward
By her slender feet, and calmly
Let your plaint come forth unfettered:
Evigingo . . . Evigingo . . .

dankt der alter un er lozt zich
.af di vegn fun albaster
,mide shlafn af di vegn
.ajngeshpant in purpur-vogns
,ejzlen, blut un shwejs un cirung
,shtet un templen; zajln, geter
,blut, gelechter, gold un shande
,jogn zich noch rum un koved
jogn zich cum palac bonum
;fun der getin atenada
,un der palac iz fun marmor
,nor in blut un flamen shtejt er
un di palac af di kishns
,ligt di shejne getin shiker
,fun a krankajt ufgefresn
.vi a shlang fun ferd cetrotn

Thanking her the old man parted
On the paths of alabaster.
On those paths were sleeping, weary,
Asses hitched to purple wagons,
Blood and sweat and full regalia,
Cities, temples, columns, idols,
Gold and shame and blood and laughter
Jostling in displays disgraceful
Rushing to the palace Bonum
Of the goddess Atenada.
Though a palace made of marble,
There it stands midst blood and fire.
On the cushions in her palace
Lies the comely drunken goddess,
Harrowed by some ill affliction
Like a snake some horse has trampled.

arum ir di shvarce mejdlech
.citern in shrek un trern
falt der alter cu di fislech
fun der durchgefojlter getin
:un er flistert un er bet zich
... evigingo... evigingo
—,vi a hemshech fun ir cholem
,hejln tunkele un lange
,derner un neshome — lajdn
,bloje libe on a grenec
,on a guf un on a zinen
,clomim shwarce, vundn rojte
,mantlen - nacht un hercer-fajer
,hajzer shpicike vi shpizn
— tirn, fencter — shmol vi finger
,un in kalter vant farmojert
,mitn march cum shtejn geshlosn
af di fis — a kejt fun ajzn
— un dos harc in tash fun tajvl
...evigingo... evigingo
dankt der alter un er lozt zich
.vajter zuchn evigingon
.vegn cien zich geflastert
,vegn —vald un vegn —vaser
un er gejt durch koridorn
,ful mit bicher un monachn
durch di harte gratn kukt er
.af di hojche kloster-shpicn
,gleker klingen, betler klogn
,shajterhojfns af di plecer
betndike hent in fajer
un der ojlem in hislaves
.af di kni aropgebojgn

Swarthy maidens all surround her,
Trembling in tears and terror.
Then the aging man falls prostrate
At her feet, that crumbling goddess,
All aquiver he implores her:
Evigingo . . . Evigingo . . .
“Evigingo,” says the goddess,
Like her dream had found an echo,
“Caverns vast and deep and gloomy,
Thorns and suffering of the spirit,
Love in pall of blue unbounded,
Having neither mind nor body,
Crimson wounds and sable crosses,
Cloak of night and hearts afire,
Peaks of houses jut like spearpoints,
Doors and windows, slim as fingers,
Walled inside the frigid stonework,
Shut within the rocky marrow,
On his feet a chain of iron,
Devil’s pouch his heart containing
—Evigingo . . . Evigingo . . .
Thanking her the old man parted
Once more seeking Evigingo.
Roads, now paved, continue onward.
Paths through forest, paths through water,
Walking corridors and hallways
Full of books and prayerful friars;
Through the sturdy grates he glimpses
Pointed spires of towering churches.
Ringing bells and moaning beggars,
In the square the bonfires burning,
From the flames come hands imploring
All the thronging crowds of people
Fallen to their knees with passion.

gejt der alter un er vejs nit
;vemen fregn, vemen betn
ale hobn epes mojre
.verter afn lip cu brengen
,rajter af di ferd, bapancert
,shtechn zich mit lange shpizn
,tomer redstu, tomer fregstu
.tomer vilstu epes visn
diner, ferd un knecht, baronen
.filn ojs di shtet un derfer
,in di shenken — vajn un vajber
.af di felder — blut un bajtshn
zict der alter gutamingo
;ejnmol in a klejnem shejnkl
mid iz er fun weg. di torbe
lejgt er unter zich arunter
un er bet a glezl rojtvajn
.oncuvaremen di glider
pluclung zect zich a parszojn cu
cu zajn tishl mit a glezl
?ful mit vajn ci gor mit fajer
,epes a fardechtik-hojcher
in a rojtn hut mit zibn
pave-federn vi bloje
;lange dine flater-flamen
af di finger trogt er ringen
ful mit grojse ejdlshtejner
;regnbojgndik ceblicte
,shmole hojzn trogt er, grine
durchgevebt mit zilber-fedim
,un in hant — a bajtsh fun leder
.ajngeshmidt in bronz un kuper
;shiker iz er kentik zejer
af di grobe freche lipn
,shpringt arum a fajchter shmejchl
.vi a zshabe af a bretl
— !her baron fon pan pantofl —
,shtelt er for zich farn altn
klapndik zajn gloz on glezl
,fun dershtojntn gutamingon
:trinkt er hilchik, nacher zogt er
! vos iz dajn bager — un ch'gib dir —
ch'bin ict in a zojer, zojer
ufgelejgter guter shtimung
un dajn jetvider farlang vet
... momental farvirklecht vern

As he walked the old man knew not
Whom to ask nor whom to plead with;
Far too frightened were the people
Even to express their terror.
Men on horseback, clad in armor,
Thrust their long and sharpened lances,
Just in case you speak or question,
Should you wish to gain some knowledge.
Servants, horses, slaves, and barons
Fill up cities, towns, and hamlets.
In the taverns—wine and women,
On the farmlands—blood and scourges.
Aging Gutamingo sitting
Once within a little tavern,
Weary from the road he puts his
Bindle underneath his chair and
Begs a little glass of wine to
Warm his stiff and chilly body.
Suddenly a man sits down and
In his hand he holds a goblet
Full of wine, or is it fire?
This suspicious looking giant
Wears a crimson hat with seven
Long and slender peacock feathers,
Twinkling like a bright blue fire.
Rings he wears upon his fingers,
Studded full with giant gemstones
Glinting all the rainbow’s colors;
Sporting narrow grass-green breeches
Woven through with threads of silver.
In his hand—a leather horsewhip,
Bossed with studs both bronze and copper.
That he’s drunk is most apparent;
On his lips, both coarse and shameless,
Flits about a clammy smile,
Like a frog upon a tree trunk.
“Herr Baron von Pan Pantofl!”
So he makes his introduction,
Clinks his glass against the tumbler
Of astonished Gutamingo.
After noisy draughts he opens,
“Tell me what you want—I’ll give it!
Such a splendid mood as I’m in,
Unbelievably first-rate, that
Each one of your heart’s desires
I will grant this very minute . . .”

shtamlt gutamingo shojn vi
:durch a nepl fun fargesung
...evigingo... evigingo
eviginko? — fregt er iber —
— der parshojn baron pantofl
?vos iz dos?.. aza min chaje
...?prehistorje? ... mitlelter
...evi ...gingo... evig... evig
...a germanish vort... ich vejs shojn
!germanistik!.. gut! bakumst es
ch'vel dir onshrajbn a brivl
,cu majn frajnt gehejmrat gete
.homunkulus un her faust
noch a shtempl vestu gejn cum
,msje napoleon fun frankrajch
kinig iber prajsn, shpanje
;un katara blindekishke
di cetejlung fun ejrope
,vet dich fertlen in shvejcarje
fu! es drejt zich mir in kop shojn)
(!vi di erd arum der zun shojn
,noch der lecter ekspedicje
,in a fleshl fun shampanjer
fest farkorkevet in pojln
fun a vildn vicekenig
,iber afrikaner lite
,baj napoleon in vestl
— afn indzl krankechjene
ligt er un er drimlt ruik
— in di vikelech fun a chemje
— af a shlitn fun a genec
...evigingo... evigingo

Through a haze of stupefaction
Aging Gutamingo stammered,
Evigingo . . . Evigingo . . .
“Eviginko?” asks the baron,
Lord Pantofl looking doubtful.
“What is that? Some kind of creature?
Prehistoric? Or medieval?
Evi . . . gingo . . . evig . . . evig . . .
A Germanic word, that’s certain . . .
Germanistics! Good! You’ve got it!
Let me just write down a message
To my friend Adviser Goethe,
To homunculus and Faust.
For official stamps you’ll have to
Go and see M’sieur Napoleon,
King of Spain and King of Prussia,
Of Katarrha Blindekishke.
This dividing up of Europe
Leaves you carved in fourths Helvetic.
(Phew! My head has started spinning
Like the earth in solar orbit!)
After that last expedition,
In a bottle of Champagne that
Got put down and corked in Poland
By some wild, untamed viceroy
Over Afric Lithuania,
Kept by Boney in his waistcoat,
On the isle of Illhhyena . . .”
There he lies and dozes calmly,
Wrapped in chemistry’s rich swaddling,
As a yawn he lets out smoothly:
Evigingo . . . Evigingo . . .

gutamingo hot genumen
s'brivl cum gehejmrat gete
un gelozt zich af di vegn
,kajn germanje un kajn vajmar
nor der veg iz lang un glitshik
.un er firt arop in toln
,gete iz shojn lang geshtorbn
,karl marks iz shojn gekumen
arbeter in rojte bluzes
.flatern in kamf af gasn
,felker grejtn cu milchome
.pancer-shifn, tojt, shigoen
gutamingo iz farmatert
,shojn fun langn gang, er vil shojn
,ojscien di kalte bejner
.shlafn, shlofn tojb un ejbik
,nor di erd — zi lozt nit shlofn
.ful iz zi mit grojl un fajer
,mejsimberg af ale felder
.shtet in mentshnflejsh farzunken
s'klogt di erd geshendt, der himl
.vejnt mit bombes un mit shifn
— ejn sekund nor vert es heler
,moskve flit — a frajer fojgl
fliglen — brejte finf-jor-plener
,un der ek — a shvere fone
.ajngenect in blut fun heldn

mitn shtojb fun tojznt vegn
.kumt kajn moskve gutamingo
afn rojtn plac in ovnt
shtejt er farn tojtn lenin
:un er shmejchlt un er flistert
...evigingo ...evigingo

Gutamingo took in hand the
Letter that was meant for Goethe,
Setting out upon the paths to
Germany and on to Weimar.
But the path is long and slippery
As it leads down into valleys.
Long have Goethe’s bones been buried;
Karl Marx has now arisen.
As their crimson blouses flutter
In the streets the workers struggle.
Peoples steel themselves for war, and
Armored ships, and blood, and madness.
Gutamingo is exhausted
From his journey, wanting only
Respite for his weary bones and
Sleep—a sleep both deaf and ceaseless.
Earth cannot permit such slumber
When so full of flame and terror.
All the fields bear mounds of corpses,
Human flesh engulfing cities.
Earth, defiled, mourns while heaven
Weeps through all the bombs and warships.
For a moment things grow brighter:
Moscow soars—a free bird flying;
Sweeping five-year plans her pinions,
And her tail a massive banner
Moistened with the blood of heroes.

Dredged in dust from roads and trailways
Gutamingo comes to Moscow.
Standing in Red Square one evening,
Right before the corpse of Lenin,
Gutamingo smiles and whispers:
Evigingo . . . Evigingo . . .

— vos-zshe redstu? vos-szhe sheltstu —
— zogt der vach-soldat cum altn
?voser mingo? velcher shmingo
do iz nor der chaver lenin
.un ich hot im! trog zich vajter
,gej cum chaver mirograjev
...er vet dir shojn alc derklern
...evigingo... shmevigingo
dankt der alter un er lozt zich
.cum profesor mirograjev
:ale vejsn un me vajzt im
dortn afn hojchn bergl
;shtejt a zajl, a riz, a turem
arum rojtn kop fun turem
.drejen zich arum di volkns
inevejnik in dem turem
gejen tishn, mentshn, kinder
.fun metak, fun pelc un vate
der profesor in a pelcl
,est a flojm fun der levone
redt zich mitn mars un viclt
.zich mit der planet venere
af a shpulik baj zajn ojer
,drejt zich undzer erd arumet
,shtern kukn in di fencter
.shitn zich un lachn lichtik

“Are you kidding? Are you cursing?”
Says the sentry to the old man.
“What’s this mingo? What’s a shmingo?
This is only Comrade Lenin.
I’m his guard! So get a move on.
Go see Comrade Mirograyev,
He’ll explain the whole caboodle . . .
Evigingo . . . Shmevigingo . . .”
Thanking him the old man leaves to
See Professor Mirograyev.
Known to all so all direct him:
There upon that jutting hillock
Stands a great columnar tower.
Clouds and billows swirl and spiral
All around its crimson summit.
Found within that lofty tower
There are tables, people, children
Made of metal, fur, or wadding.
In his fur coat stands Professor
Mirograyev eating moon-plums,
Chatting with the planet Mars and
Cracking friendly jokes with Venus.
By his ear our earth goes spinning
Round and round around a bobbin.
Stars are peeking through the window,
Laughing through their bright refraction.

? a vos machstu, gutamingo —
?alt-getrajer frajnd, vos machstu
un vos macht dajn zun der liber
?mitn nomen evigingo
.gut, ich vel dich machn jinger
— zec zich, ru zich op a rege
un er efnt uf a kastn
:ful mit lebedike hercer
,klajb zich ojs a harc, majn liber
;klajb zich ojs a harc, nu gicher
,fartik! icter verstu jinger
,kreftiker, gezinter, frisher
,shtel zich cu der arbet, flinker
!bist an arbeter gevorn
!icter vilstu fliglen? — bite
?nor vos darfstu, chaver, fligen
zec zich in harmat, ich gib a
! shos — du flist cu al di heln
,ot bistu af der levone
,smetene iz do der bodn
,un ot bistu af der zun shojn
.zis iz zi un gel vi honik
— ch'tunk dich op in vundervaser
,un a kind bistu a nakets
— klejne fligelech vi bletlech
un du flaterst cvishn shtern
.biz du verst alejn a shtern
icter kum curik arunter
.af der proster erd a bisl
,ch'flanc dir ajn di frishe drizn
ufgehodevet in vinum
gumileklirum kadachas
,un du verst a riz, a giber
du cerajbst di erd af arbes
,un du kochst an arbet-kashe
un du gist a bloz — farleshn
;zich di shtern, di levone
.mit der zun vi mit a zeneft
.rajbstu ajn dajn kranke plejce
,fincter vert in ale rojmen
.gornisht, nor dajn kranke plejce
,un du bist mir shojn deresn
nem ich un ich gib dir shmekn
— shmekmir um etumarumet
un es vert fun dir a grajpl
un fun grajpl vert a pulver
un fun vintl vert a vintl
un fun vintl vert an otem
un fun otem vert a blezl
.un fun blezl vert a burbl
, un fun burbl blajbt a shojml
;gornisht verstu in dem gornisht
nem ich gornisht uf mit gornisht
,un ich mach a najem gornisht
,erd un vaser, zun un fajer
a levone fun a blechl
.un a jingl fun a bebl
,vert mir umetik — cemach ich
vert mir trojerik — bashaf ich
,erd un himl

november 1934

“How are you, dear Gutamingo?
Dear old friend, how are you doing?
How’s your son—if I remember
Right his name is Evigingo?
Good, then I will make you younger.
Sit, and take a rest a moment.”
Then he opens up a cupboard—
Human hearts it holds, still living.
“Choose yourself a heart, my dearest,
Choose yourself a heart, choose quickly;
Done! And now you will be younger,
Fresher, with more vim and vigor,
Get you back to work, go quickly,
You have just become a worker!
Now you want some wings?—Come off it!
What do you need wings for, Comrade?
Have a seat inside this cannon,
Light the fuse, you’ll see the heavens!
Here’s the moon, you’re standing on the
Sour cream that forms her surface.
Now you’re on the sun that flows with
Sticky, sweet, and golden honey.
Dunked down in the wonder-water
You’ll become a naked child,
Sprouting little leaf-like winglets.
There amongst the stars you’ll flutter,
Then yourself a star becoming.
Now just come back down a little
To this simple earth of ours.
I will graft new glands inside you,
Steeped within the vintage Vinum
Gummilapumup the febrile.
You’ll become a titan hero.
You will cull the earth of peas of
Which you’ll make a green-pea porridge.
Just one puff from you will snuff out
All the stars and moon together.
Rub your aching shoulder with the
Sun just like a mustard plaster.
Darkness will conceal the world,
Nothing but your aching shoulder.
Sick of me by now you must be.
Let me give you just a sniff of
Smellmeallaroundum talcum—
Lo, you will become a granule,
From a granule to a powder,
From a powder to a zephyr,
From a zephyr to a breath, and
From a breath into a sud, and
From a sud into a bubble.
All that will be left is lather.
In the nothing you’ll be nothing;
I will gather up the nothing
And I’ll make a brand-new nothing,
Earth and water, air and fire,
From a bit of tin the moon, and
From a bean a little child.
When I’m gloomy I demolish.
When I’m sad I go creating
World and welkin,
Girl and gamin,

(Vilne, November 2-4, 1934)

Volf, Leyzer. “Evigingo.” In geveb, October 2016: Trans. Jordan Finkin. https://ingeveb.org/texts-and-translations/evigingo.
Volf, Leyzer. “Evigingo.” Translated by Jordan Finkin. In geveb (October 2016): Accessed Jun 12, 2024.


Leyzer Volf


Jordan Finkin

Jordan Finkin is Rare Book and Manuscript Librarian at the Klau Library of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.