Texts & Translation

Selections from Neger-Dikhtung in Amerike (Negro-Poetry in America)

Ani­ta Scott Cole­man , Angeli­na Weld Grimke and Claris­sa Scott Delaney

Translation by Robert Magid­off

Edited by Eli Rosenblatt


Robert Magidoff’s 1936 anthol­o­gy Neger-Dikhtung in Amer­i­ca (Negro-Poet­ry in Amer­i­ca), pub­lished in Moscow under the gen­er­al edi­tor­ship of the Yid­dish mod­ernist poet Shmuel Halkin, pre­sent­ed Yid­dish trans­la­tions of the work of twen­ty-nine African Amer­i­can poets. From among them, I have select­ed to present here for the In geveb audi­ence three poems by African Amer­i­can women poets in Yid­dish trans­la­tion — Ani­ta Scott Cole­man, Angeli­na Weld Grimke, and Claris­sa Scott Delaney — all trans­lat­ed by the jour­nal­ist and schol­ar Robert Magid­off, who edit­ed the anthol­o­gy, with the assis­tance of the Yid­dish writ­ers Sheyn­dl Fen­ster, Henekh Hoykhgel­ern­ter, and Itshe Goldberg. 1 1 Eli Rosen­blatt, A Sphinx Upon the Dnieper: Black Mod­ernism and the Yid­dish Trans­la­tion of Race, 1926 – 1936, ” Slav­ic Review no. 81 (2021).

If any­thing unites these three poets and their poems, it is their respec­tive focus on the hap­tic, the sense of touch – both phys­i­cal and imag­ined. Ani­ta Scott Cole­man, born in 1890 in Sono­ra, Mex­i­co and raised in New Mex­i­co, was a pro­lif­ic writer whose work, accord­ing to the schol­ar Emi­ly Luten­s­ki, was a West­ern response to the aes­thet­ic con­ven­tions and urban con­cerns of the Harlem Renais­sance, and who was an ear­ly Afro-Lat­inx writer sen­si­tive to the dis­tinct expe­ri­ence of Black peo­ple set­tled in the Mex­i­co-Unit­ed States bor­der­lands. Angeli­na Weld Grimke, a play­wright and poet, was born in Boston to a fam­i­ly of mixed racial back­ground. An ear­ly activist against lynch­ing and mob vio­lence, she exem­pli­fied in her writ­ing the ris­ing polit­i­cal con­scious­ness of Black activists of wealth and edu­ca­tion. Claris­sa Scott Delaney was a Harlem Renais­sance poet and social work­er known for her schol­ar­ly stud­ies of juve­nile delin­quen­cy and social mar­gin­al­iza­tion. She also trav­eled to and lived in France and Ger­many, and died in Wash­ing­ton, DC of kid­ney dis­ease at the age of 27.

Their poems, among the oth­ers select­ed for the anthol­o­gy, demon­strate the extent to which African-Amer­i­can mod­ernism, and the folk­lore from which it drew, was mean­ing­ful to Sovi­et Yid­dishists, not out of a sense of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with Black oth­er­ness or essen­tial expe­ri­ence, but based on the firm belief that Black cul­ture pos­sessed uni­ver­sal appeal and aes­thet­ic dis­tinc­tive­ness for minor­i­ty nations in the Sovi­et sphere. The pri­ma­ry audi­ence for the anthol­o­gy was Sovi­et Yid­dish folk­lorists, writ­ers and intel­lec­tu­als who con­struct­ed uni­ver­sal cat­e­gories of oral cul­ture and per­for­mance through which mod­ernist lit­er­a­ture devel­oped read­ers’ class con­scious­ness. Their inter­est in the poems like­ly stemmed from their work in the cat­e­go­riza­tion of folk mate­r­i­al: as the Sovi­et Yid­dish folk­lorist Ayzik Rozentsvayg remarked, one way that all forms of folk­lore delin­eate the bound­aries between social groups –mer­chants, arti­sans, and women – is by using dis­tinc­tive forms of song and poem in social protest. 2 2 Ayzik Rozentsvayg, Sot­syale difer­entsy­atse inem yidishn folk­lor-lid (Social dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in Yid­dish folk­lore poet­ry), (Kiev: Alukrain­ish­er vishn­shaftlekher akade­mye, 1934); Mikhail Kru­tikov, Yid­dish Folk­lore and Sovi­et Ide­ol­o­gy dur­ing the 1930s, ” in Going to the Peo­ple: Jews and the Ethno­graph­ic Impulse, ed. Jef­frey Vei­dlinge (Indi­anapo­lis: Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016), 100 – 18. Accessed June 15, 2021. http://​www​.jstor​.org/​s​t​a​b​l​e​/​j​.​c​t​t​19​q​g​hd3.9. Sovi­et Yid­dish writ­ers like­ly read this poet­ry by African Amer­i­can women as evi­dence for social cat­e­go­riza­tion with­in folk­loric material.

The pub­li­ca­tion of mod­ernist prose and poet­ry writ­ten by African-Amer­i­can and Afro-Caribbean writ­ers in Yid­dish trans­la­tion com­menced ten years before the appear­ance of the Sovi­et anthol­o­gy, in 1926, when a small insert appeared in the pages of Der Ham­mer, the month­ly mag­a­zine of the New York Com­mu­nist dai­ly Morgn Fray­hayt. Der Hammer’s small insert, titled Neger-Lit­er­atur (Negro-Lit­er­a­ture), reflect­ed New York society’s broad fas­ci­na­tion with local Black aes­thet­ics and the inte­gral role that lit­er­ary cul­ture played in specif­i­cal­ly Yid­dish forms of White patronage. 3 3 Amelia Glaser, Songs in Dark Times (Har­vard UP 2020). 

In the after­math of World War One, White Amer­i­can mod­ernist poets and intel­lec­tu­als, such as William Ellery Leonard, known for his pas­sion­ate anti-lynch­ing poet­ry infused with grotesque racial imagery, and Vachel Lind­say, pop­u­lar­ized a prim­i­tivist Black poet­ics fur­ther devel­oped by dandy-intel­lec­tu­als such as Carl Van Vecht­en and Clement Wood. Joined by a group of phil­an­thropists and oth­er cul­tur­al activists, some of them Jew­ish, in finan­cial­ly sup­port­ing Black writ­ers, artists, schol­ars, and politi­cians, the Harlem Renais­sance poets, as George Hutchin­son writes, were deci­sive­ly shaped by the prob­lem­at­ics of a sus­tained and vital inter­ra­cial dimen­sion in their cul­tur­al movement. 4 4 George Hutchin­son, The Harlem Renais­sance in Black and White, (Har­vard UP, 1996). As WEB Du Bois wrote of Vachel Lindsay’s 1914 poem Con­go, “[He] knows two things, and two things only, about Negroes: The beau­ti­ful rhythm of their music and the ugly side of their drunk­ards and out­casts. From this pover­ty of mate­r­i­al he tries now and then to make a con­tri­bu­tion to Negro literature.” 5 5 W. E. B. DuBois, The Cri­sis, August 1916.

With this in mind, the appear­ance of the Harlem Renais­sance in the Yid­dish lan­guage is notable because it pre­sent­ed its read­ers with a view of Black cul­ture in direct trans­la­tion, a phe­nom­e­non that was rare in its own time. Where­as Yid­dish writ­ers like Joseph Opatoshu, Berish Wein­stein, and Mal­ka Lee all addressed Black peo­ple or invent­ed them as speak­ers and char­ac­ters, the Yid­dish trans­la­tors of the Harlem Renais­sance, liv­ing in both the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union, pre­sent­ed Black mod­ernist poet­ry as expres­sive of folklore’s uni­ver­sal forms, as the­o­rized amongst Sovi­et Yid­dish folk­lorists, rather than expres­sions of a racial spir­it – a con­cept well known to Yid­dish writ­ers from the Ger­man Volks­geist . Resist­ing racial­ist inter­pre­ta­tions thus allowed the Yid­dish trans­la­tors to present Black cul­ture in its rad­i­cal het­ero­gene­ity, rel­a­tive­ly unmoored from dom­i­nant stereo­types that shaped much of the Yid­dish recep­tion of Black Amer­i­can cul­ture and social life.

— Eli Rosenblatt

Note from the edi­tors: We have repro­duced the Yid­dish text accord­ing to the orthog­ra­phy of the orig­i­nal volume.

דאָס שװאַרצע קינד

דאָס קינד, װאָס איכ האלט אפ מײַנ שױס, איז א שװאַרצ קינד.
איכ האָב אימ אװעקגעזעצט אפ דר זונ,
אונ שטראלנ האָבנ זיכ צעטאנצט איבער זײַנ קעפּל.
דאָס קינד, װאָס איכ האלט אפ מײַנ שױס, איז א שװארצ קינד.
איכ ארבעט אונ קאָנ אימ ניט צערטלענ, װענ איכ װיל.
כ׳זעצ אים אַװעק בא מײַנע פיס.
ער גראבלט די ערד מיט זײַנע הענטלעכ,
אונ זיפּט דאָס זאמד דורכ פּוכקע פאינגערלעכ.
איכ זוכ: װוּ זײַנענ זײַנע הענטלעכ,
אונ װוּ - דאָס זאמד?
זעט נאָר: שװארצערד לױכט, װוּ זײַנע הענטלעכ.
דאָס קינד אפ מײַנ שױס איז א שװאצ קינד.
מע האָט מיר הײַנט קױלנ געבראכט.
קאָסטבארע קױלנ... מע זאָגט:
מיטנ לעצטנ טראָפּנ שװײַס גראָבט מענ זײ אַרױס פֿון דער ערד.
קאָסטבארע קױלנ... מע זאָגט:
װענ זײ ליגנ טיפ גענוג אונ פֿארבאָרגנ לאנג גענוג,
װערנ זײ אױס קױלנ - זײ ערנ דימענטנ...
מײַנ שװאַרצ קינד קוקט אפ מיר.
זײַנע אױגנ װי קױל.
זײ שײַנענ װי דימענטנ.

- אניטא סקאָט קאלמאָנ

Black Baby

The baby I hold in my arms is a black baby.
Today I set him in the sun and
Sunbeams danced on his head.
The baby I hold in my arms is a black baby.
I toil, and I cannot always cuddle him.
I place him on the ground at my feet.
He presses the warm earth with his hands,
He lifts the sand and laughs to see
It flow through his chubby fingers.
I watch to discern which are his hands,
Which is the sand. . . .
Lo . . . the rich loam is black like his hands.
The baby I hold in my arms is a black baby.
Today the coal-man brought me coal.
sixteen dollars a ton is the price I pay for coal.--
Costly fuel . . . though they say:
-- If it is buried deep enough and lies hidden long enough
’Twill be no longer coal but diamonds. . . .
My black baby looks at me.
His eyes are like coals,
They shine like diamonds.

- Anita Scott Coleman

דײַנע הענט

איכ האָב ליב דײַנע הענט.
דײַנע גרױסע פעסטע הענט.
האָריקע הענט.
דײַנע נעגל
זײַנענ אָפּגעבראָכנ אונ פארברודיקט פונ שװערער ארבעט.
אונ דאָכ, װענ דו רירסט זיכ צו צו מיר,
װער איכ קלײנ אונ שטיל
אונ גליקלעכ.
װענ איכ זאָל נאָר קאָנענ װערנ קלײנן גענוג
זיכ פארטײַענ אינ דײַנ דלאָניע,
אינ דײַנ לינקערדלאָניע,
זיכ פארטײַענ אונ װיסנ,
אז איכ בינ שטענדיק דאָרט,
.....אפֿילע װענ דו זאָלסט אָנ דעמ פארגעסנ.

- אנדזשעלינא גרימקע

Your Hands

I love your hands:
They are big hands, firm hands, gentle hands;
Hair grows on the back near the wrist
I have seen the nails broken and stained
From hard work.
And yet, when you touch me,
I grow small . . . . . . and quiet . . . . . .
. . . . . . . And happy . . . . . .
If I might only grow small enough
To curl up into the hollow of your palm,
Your left palm,
Curl up, lie close and cling,
So that I might know myself always there,
. . . . . . Even if you forgot.

- Angelina Weld Grimke


איכ ציטער פאר פרײד, װי א זעגל אינ װינט,
אינ שפּילעװדיקנ װינט,
װאָס לאכט צװיסנ שלאנקע סאָסנעס.
פרײד פאַרשיקערט מיכ,
װי זון פארשיקערט בײמער,
דערפרישטע פאונעמ רעגנ,
לױכטנדע מיט זילבער אונ מיט גרינס.

איכ גיב זיכ אָפּ דער פרײד -
איכ לאכ - איכ זינג -
צו לאנג געשלעפּט זיכ איבער װיסטע װעגנ!
צו לאנג געבלאָנדשעט,
צו לאנג!

- קלאריסא סקאָט דילײני


Joy shakes me like the wind that lifts a sail,
Like the roistering wind
That laughs through stalwart pines.
It floods me like the sun
On rain-drenched trees
That flash with silver and green.

I abandon myself to joy—
I laugh—I sing.
Too long have I walked a desolate way,
Too long stumbled down a maze

- Clarissa Scott Delaney

Ani­ta Scott Cole­man, Angeli­na Weld Grimke , and Claris­sa Scott Delaney . “Selections from Neger-Dikhtung in Amerike (Negro-Poetry in America).” In geveb, June 2021: Trans. Robert Magid­off . https://ingeveb.org/texts-and-translations/selections-from-neger-dikhtung-in-america-negro-poetry-in-america.
Ani­ta Scott Cole­man, Angeli­na Weld Grimke , and Claris­sa Scott Delaney . “Selections from Neger-Dikhtung in Amerike (Negro-Poetry in America).” Translated by Robert Magid­off . In geveb (June 2021): Accessed May 26, 2024.


Ani­ta Scott Cole­man
Angeli­na Weld Grimke
Claris­sa Scott Delaney


Robert Magid­off


Eli Rosenblatt

Eli Rosenblatt earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. In 2019-2020, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.