Moyshe-Leyb Halpern

Moyshe-Leyb Halpern was born in 1886 in Galicia. He initially wrote modernist poetry in German but in 1907 started to write in Yiddish.
In 1908 he emigrated to New York City where he continued to write. As with mmany of the Yiddish poets surrounded by poverty and exploitation his class politics came through in his work: “Much as I struggle only to see what is beautiful, I see only what is repulsive, a piece of rotten carcass.” He writes in “A Rogue’s Prayer” (A tfile fun a lump): “Oh, help me God. / May disgust come from my words / As it comes from a dead cat rotting in garbage” (o, helf mir got / az eklen zol fun maye reyd, / vi fun a toyter kats in mist).
He was associated with associated a group of Yiddish poets called Di Yunge (The Young Ones) whose poetry went beyond the political focus of the Sweatshop Poets. He had a couple of books of poetry published and also wrote for a communist Yiddish newspaper: Frayhayt (Freedom), but rubbed them up the wrong way with the coarseness of his work and his refusal to toe the party line. He died in 1932.

Around A Wagon

There are people who perhaps go on bragging
it is not polite to crowd around a wagon
of onions and cucumbers and plums.
But if it is polite to trail after a death wagon,
dressed all in black, and moreover weep,
then it is a sin to go on bragging
it is not polite to crowd around a wagon
of onions and cucumbers and plums.

Perhaps we shouldn’t scramble so and fight,
we could at least shove quietly around the wagon
of onions and cucumbers and plums.
But, since even a whip could chase not one of us away
because the earth’s tyrant, the belly, nagging
wants it so – you’d be a villain to go on bragging
it is not polite to crowd around a wagon
of onions and cucumbers and plums.

That’s why I’ll never go on bragging
it is not polite to crowd around a wagon
of onions and cucumbers and plums.
However strongly such jostling may torment and trouble me
I’ll stoop my head, and suffer like a beggar.
I will weep perhaps – but I will never go on bragging
it is not polite to crowd around a wagon
of onions and cucumbers and plums.

Keynmol Shoyn Vel Ikh Nisht Zogn

Faranen layt vos kenen efsher zogn
az s’iz nit sheyn, tsu shtupen zikh arum a vogn
mit tsibeles, un ugerkes, un floymn.
Nor az s’iz sheyn in mitn gas zikh nokshlepn a toytnvogn –
onegton in shvartsn, un tsu dem nokh klogn,
iz dokh a zind tsu zogn
az s’iz nit sheyn tsu shtupen zikh arum a vogn
mit tsibeles, un ugerkes, un floymn.

Me darf efsher nisht raysen zikh azoy, un shlogn,
me ken dokh ruik shtupn zikh arum a vogn
mit tsibeles, un ugerkes, un floymn.
Nor az se ken di baytsh afile keynem nisht faryogn,
vayl der tiran fun dem bashefenish oyf dr’erd, der mogn
vil azoy – badarf men shoyn a roshe zayn, tsu zogn
az s’iz nit sheyn tsu shtupen zikh arum a vogn
mit tsibeles, un ugerkes, un floymn.

Dariber take vel ikh keynmol shayn nisht zogn
az s’iz nit sheyn, tsu shtupen zikh arum a vogn
mit tsibeles, un ugerkes, un floymn.
Fi shtark es zol a shtupemish aza, mikh mastern un plogn,
vel ikh mayn kop arunterboygn, un aribertrogn.
Veynen vel ikh efsher – ober keynmol shoyn vel ikh nit zogn
az s’iz nit sheyn tsu shtupen zikh arum a vogn
mit tsibeles, un ugerkes, un floymn.

Halpern1934

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