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[Col. 243]

17. Folk Songs from the Suwalk Region[1*]

Yiddish folksongs in Eastern Europe knew no boundaries. The melodies went from country to country, wherever Jews lived and wherever Yiddish was their language. Nevertheless, there were some Yiddish folk songs which were characteristic of one country or even of one region and were sung there more than elsewhere.

Suwalk Jews were no exception. We show here some of the songs which were especially popular over 100 years ago.[1]

[Col. 244]

Horses and bride and groom

Hey, hey little hammer,
Come to my little chamber,
I want to show you something,
Little pans with roses
Little pots with fine gold
I like you very much
Two horses are running fast
Bride and groom are quarrelling
Two horses are neighing
Bride and groom are kissing


[Col. 245]

Little string little gold coin of bride and groom

The attic is upside down on the ground
All of the houses are topsy-turvy
All the Jews have shampooed their hair
All of the beds are made.
The mother-in-law comes in with the golden hallah
Golden hallah is glazed
Bride and groom are escorted
The daughter-in-law comes in
And drives out the rooster.
The bride has gone to the bathhouse
The bridegroom has gone to town
The bride has found a little string
The bridegroom has found a gold coin.

 

I work for everyone

I am pretty, I am nice
My name is pretty
I work, I work
Among the shops
I work well
The rich buy.
I work crooked
The pious buy.
I work the flax[2-3]
The poor buy

 

Weeping and wailing of a man alone

Once upon a time, so and so, so and so
A man threw over his young wife
He went from forest to forest
Until he came into the forest
He heard bird's large and small sing
So he began to weep and wail
And he continued walking (?)
And he heard bird's small and large sing
So he cried many tears flowing over his lap.
So he began to go from forest to forest
Until he came out of the forest.
Then he met the Jewish king
And he became very merry
So he began to write little notes
So that his wife should not be an agunah[2*]

[Col. 246]

The queen seeks the king

The king went off to war
And the queen became lonely
To be without her husband for seven years
So the queen went to town
Dear little bird, my little bird
Do you not know where my husband can be?
Write me a little letter
Tie a little wing on to me
And I shall fly from forest to forest
And I shall search for my husband (At the end, the little bird tells her that her husband is dead).

 

About an old man[4]

My husband has been driven to the water
My money has remained in my purse
Dollars in the pockets
Mead in the flasks
Beer in the pitchers
Children in the cradles
A hat with feathers
A dress with folds
An old man
To split one's little head
To hide haroset[3*]

 

So I am lonely

Once there was a woman name Tamar
And so I begin to wail
To wail and to weep
For I am left all alone
I am so lonely so lonely
So lonely am I
God be blessed have mercy on me, mercy
Wherever I go
A ship without a rudder
No sisters or brothers
No father or mother
No garden or flowers
No uncles or aunts.

[Col. 247]

Leya'shi appears in a dream

Where have you been, Leya'shi?
At a father-in-law's, who grumbles like a bear
At a mother-in-law's, who grumbles like a tiger
Dear dear mother mine
Where have you been taken, Leya'shi?
Lying sick on a bench

Dear mother mine
Where have you been taken, Leya'shi?
Under a green tree
Where everyone dies
Dear dear mother mine

A bird without a nest
How bitter it is, my dear mother
For a bird without a nest
So is it bitter, my dear mother
To be dependent upon in-laws
How bitter it is, my dear mother
For a bird on the sand
So is it bitter, my dear mother
In a strange land
How bitter it is, my dear mother
For a fish in a pan
So is it bitter, my dear mother
To be with a bad man
How bitter it is, my dear mother
To be a fish without water
So is it bitter, my dear mother
To be at a stranger's table

A story about a Jewish king
I shall tell you a story
A very merry tale
The story begins with a Jewish king
The king had an only daughter
So he went to find her a mate
So they came to all the nations
And they responded like wicked people
So they went to the nobles
And they responded falsely
So they went to the Jews
And were pleased with the Torah

[Col. 248]

Mother understands

Mama, where are you going?
Daughter what do you want?
Do you want a little dress?
I'll go tell the tailor
No, Mama, no
You don't understand me
Oh, dear, lateri (?) what a bad mother she is
She does not understand me.
Mama, etc., daughter, etc.,
Do you want a kerchief?
I'll go tell the storekeeper
No, etc.
Mama, etc., daughter, etc.,
Do you want a pair of little shoes?
I'll go tell the shoemaker
No, etc.
Mama, etc., daughter, etc.,
Do you want a bridegroom?
I'll go tell the matchmaker
Yes, mama, yes
Oh, dear lateri, what a good mother she is
She understands what I want

 

1853[6]

In thousand eight hundred fifty three
Began the business[7]
Hey trickster, you poor beggar[8]
Lusty, lively, doings.[9]
So I went on the way
And I found a piece of lead
So I took three rubbles
So I went into the teahouse[10]
And had myself a feast

 

The worst decree

Mourn and week, you Jewish children
For the Jews must take off their Jewish clothing
The son and the father
Take off their long coats
The sacred hat
The bright shtrayml[4*]
Call an assembly of extraordinary rabbis.

[Col. 249]

Oh woe, an opinion
Beard and sidecurl
The adornment of the Jewish face
A jacket with a split
Is a cry aloud
The nice clothes are not a great sin
But how will it be to bow down at “Modim”[12]
And someone will look from behind
This is the worst decree.

[Col. 250]

Under Yidele's Cradle

In the province of Suwalk, the last verse of this famous folksong was sung somewhat differently than in other places.

You will study Torah
Torah, Torah in your little head
Porridge, porridge, in the little pot
Spread butter on bread
Father and mother should live
To lead you to the marriage canopy
They take him from the canopy
And seat you at the head
Dressed in gold and silver
They serve a piece of meat
The bridegroom says the meat is too hot
They serve a piece of poultry

[Col. 251]

He says: The poultry is too dry[13]
Sleep, sleep and rest
Close your kosher little eyes
Close and open them
Father comes and wakes you up
Let him wake me as he will
I'll just close my eyes
And remain silent.[14]


Footnotes

    1. The songs were taken from Shimon Aynhorn's articles: “what songs were sung in the province of Suwalk 100 years ago”? in “Reshumot” v.6. Tel-Aviv, 423 (1930). He heard almost all of these songs from his grandmother, a member of the Abramson family of Shaki, Suwalk province. We have modernized the orthography.
    2-3. A kind of weaving of flax.
    4. Aynhorn's grandmother told him that in Suwalk the word 'Man' (man, husband) was pronounced Man but in singing it was pronounced Mon. [translator's note: the latter pronunciation is the way the word is pronounced in South-eastern Yiddish].
    5-6. During the Crimean War much commerce went through the western provinces of Russia including Suwalk and brought much profit.
    7. The Crimean War.
    8. Beggar.
    9. Valley in Kovno.
    10. Tea House.
    11. Much eating.
    12. The song was taken over from a Warsaw badhan [merrymaker, jester]; therefore the words are pronounced as in Warsaw, bikn, kikn.
    13. Dry, meagre. During the Lent season before Eastern, religious Catholics did not eat meat.
    14. According to the version in the Jewish Encyclopaedia, v.4. p. 331.


Translator's Footnotes

    1*. I shall attempt to translate the folk songs literally and not try to rhyme Return
    2*. A woman abandoned by her husband who cannot Remarry because she does not have a divorce Return
    3*. Mixture of nuts and wine used on Passover Return
    4*. Hassidic headgear with fur Return

 

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