Jewish Mother

Translation below the fold. Do read the original, though, even if you don’t know Yiddish; the translation has a completely different rhythm. This poem plays on the iminutive form of the language, in which a noun is “reduced” twice to express intimacy and love. Kats (cat), for example, becomes ketsl (kitty or kitten), then ketsele (little kitten). The repetition of the sounds echoes the blur of “love-talk” that the author remembers from throughout her childhood. You can catch a hint of admonition in the line “not like a little animal,” and one could, if one were feeling anti-Semitic or misogynist, read the poem as an example of the type of smothering, obsessive Ashkenazi mother found in works like Portnoy’s Complaint, but the only reason it could be read as playing into the stereotype is because the stereotype already exists, waiting to distort it.

Mame Loshn (Mother Tongue)
by Sarah Traister Moskovitz

Sorele, zisele, mamele, sheyninke
Tayerinke, liubenyu, malakhl kleyninke
Zisinke Kroynenyu, bubelyu, liubelyu
Hertsele, pupele, zisele, gutele

Likhtiker peneml
Libinke eygelekh
Feyinke hentelekh
Zgrabninke fiselekh

Kluginke kepele
Glantsike herelekh
Roitinke bekelekh
Tseyndelekh perelekh
Es oif di lokshelekh
Pupikl, merelekh

Kum aher ketsele
Sphil zikh sheyn feygele
Nisht vild vi a khayele
Mayn meydele, freydele

Liu liu liu oytserl
Mayn kosher kind
Eyns in der velt mayns
Shlof ruik atsind

Little Sarah,
sweet little beautiful mamele,
dear little angel,
sweet little crown,
little doll,
little beloved,
little heart,
little sweetness,
little goodness
bright little face,
dear little eyes,
capable little hands,
shapely little feet
clever little head,
shiny little hairs,
little red cheeks,
little pearl teeth
eat up all the little noodles,
the little gizzard and little carrots.

Come here little kitten,
play nice little bird
not like a little animal,
my little joy girl.
Liu, liu liu little treasure,
my kosher child
one in the world mine,
sleep peacefully now.

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5 Responses

  1. It’s lovely in Yiddish–it has the rhythm of a lullaby, gentle, sweet.

  2. […] Jewish Mother « Modern Mitzvot Mame Loshn (Mother Tongue) by Sarah Traister Moskovitz Translation below the fold. Do read the original, though, even if you don’t know Yiddish; the translation has a completely different rhythm. This poem plays on the iminutive form of the language, in which a noun is “reduced” twice to express intimacy and love. Kats (cat), for example, becomes ketsl (kitty or kitten), then ketsele (little kitten). The repetition of the sounds echoes the blur of “love-talk” that the author remembers from throughout her childhood. (tags: yiddish poetry jewishdiaspora parents) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The McWhorter ConversionWhat’s Really Offensive in the Discussion on RaceLuv Coach Q&A: Interracial Love & Children-Is it Right? […]

  3. My Yiddish knowledge has faded, but these are the words I use most…for talking to the cats.

  4. Tlonista – Ha! Totally. My cat is my official kleyne bubale. (He’s going to get mighty jealous when I have an actual child…)

  5. yaaaay!

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