Mayko Mashmelon?

What is the Meaning?
?מאַי־קאָ משמע־לן

Poem about a Talmudlc student. Words by Yiddish poet Avrom Reyzen (1875-1953). The melody is based on a Talmudic chant notated and arranged by N. L. Saslavsky, published in sheet music by the Hebrew Publishing Co., N.Y., 1915.

Illustration of musical notes from the books


What is the meaning of the rain?
What is it saying to me [lit. does it let me hear]?
Its drops on the windowpanes
roll down like dreary tears.
And my boot is torn,
and there is mud in the street;
Soon, winter will come –
I don’t have a warm coat.

What is the meaning of the candle?
What is it saying to me?
Its tallow drips and drops
soon there will be nothing left of it.
Just so, I flicker here in the House of Study,
like a candle, faint and dark,
until I go out
in the silence, at the Eastern wall.

What is the meaning of the clock?
What is it saying to me?
With its yellow numbered face
with its ringing, with its weights?
It’s a mechanical vessel,
it has no life, no feelings,
when the hour arrives, it must strike,
without desire and without will.

What is the meaning of my life?
What is it saying to me?
Rotting, withering in my youth,
old before my time.
Eating at others’ tables and swallowing my tears,
sleeping on this hard bench.
Death here in this world –
waiting for the World to Come.

May ko mashmel-on der regn?
Vos zhe lozt er mir tsu hern?
Zayne tropns oyf di shoybn
Kayklen zikh vi tribe trern.
Un di shtivl iz tserisn,
Un es vert in gas a blote;
Bald vet oykh der vinter kumen —
Kh’hob keyn vareme kapote…

May ko mashme-lon dos likhtl?
Vos zhe lozt es mir tsu hern?
S’kapet un es trift ir kheylev
Un s’vet bald fun ir nit vern.
Azoy tsank ikh do in klayzl,
Vi a likhtl, shvakh un tinkl,*
Biz ikh vel azoy mir oysgeyn
In der shtil, in mizrekh-vinkl…

May ko mashme-lon der zeyger?
Vos zhe lozt er mir tsu hern?
Mit zayn gelbn tsifer-bletl,
Mit zayn klingen, mit zayn shvern?
S’iz an ongeshtelte keyle,
S’hot keyn lebn, keyn gefiln,
Kumt di sho, dan muz er shlogn,
On zayn rotsn, on zayn viln…

May ko mashme-lon mayn lebn?
Vos zhe lozt es mikh tsu hern?
Foyln, velkn in der yugnt,
Far der tsayt fareltert vern.
Esn teg un shlingen trern,
Shlofn oyf dem bank, dem hartn,
Teytn do di oylem haze —
Un oyf oylem habe vartn…


מאַי־קאָ משמע־לן דער רענן?
װאָס זשע לאָזט ער מיר צו הערן? —
זײַנע טראָפּנס אױף די שױבן
קײַקלען זיך װי טריבע טרערן.
און די שטיװל איז צעריסן
און עס װערט אין גאַס אַ בלאָטע;
באַלד װעט אױך דער װינטער קומען —
כ’האָב קײן װאַרעמע קאַפּאָטע…

מאַי־קאָ משמע־לן דאָס ליכטל?
װאָס זשע לאָזט עס מיר צו הערן?
ס’קאַפּעט און עס טריפֿט איר חלבֿ,
און ס’װעט באַלד פֿון איר ניט װערן.
אַזױ צאַנק איך דאָ אין קלײַזל,
װי אַ ליכטל, שװאַך און טינקל,
ביז איך װעל אַזױ מיר אױסגײן
אין דער שטיל, אין מיזרח־װינקל…

מאַי־קאָ משטע־לן דער זײגער?
װאָס זשע לאָזט ער מיר צו הערן?
מיט זײַן געלבן ציפֿער־בלעטל,
מיט זײַן קלינגען, מיט זײַן שװערן?
ס’איז אַן אָנגעשטעלטע כּלי,
האָט קײן לעבן, קײן געפֿילן,
קומט די שעה, דאַן מוז ער שלאָגן,
אָן זײַן רצון, אָן זײַן װילן…

מאַי־קאָ משמע־לן מײַן לעבן?
װאָס זשע לאָזט עס מיר צו הערן?
פֿױלן, װעלקן אין דער יוגנט,
פֿאַר דער צײַט פֿאַרעלטערט װערן,
עסן „טעג‟ און שלינגען טרערן,
שלאָפֿן אױפֿן פֿױסט דעם האַרטן.
טײטן דאָ די עולם־הזה
און אױף עולם־הבא װאַרטן…

Song Title: May-ko Mashme-lon?

Composer: N. L. Saslavsky
Composer’s Yiddish Name: נ. ל. סאַסלאַװסקי
Lyricist: Avrom Reisen
Lyricist’s Yiddish Name: אַבֿרהם רײזען
Time Period: Unspecified

This Song is Part of a Collection

Pearls of Yiddish Song Cover with Illustration of musicians playing instruments

Pearls of Yiddish Song

First published in 1988 as Pearls of Yiddish Song: Favorite Folk, Art and Theatre Songs, this anthology contains 115 songs. Some material had never been published, while others, included in rare song collections or sheet music, were largely inaccessible. The songs presented reflect Jewish life in Eastern Europe and the United States and depict childhood, love, family celebrations, poverty, work and struggle. There are also songs from the Hasidic and Maskilic movements, songs of Zion and of America, as well as songs from the Yiddish theater.

The title of this anthology derives from the weekly two-page feature column “Pearls of Yiddish Poetry,” which the compilers Yosl and Chana Mlotek initiated in 1970 in the Yiddish newspaper Der Forvertz (the Yiddish Daily Forward). Hundreds of readers from around the world — including authors, composers, singers, actors — became co-participants in this collective folk project and recalled melodies, lines, fragments, stanzas and their variants of songs, poems, and plays which they had heard in their youth. At first, readers sent in only written material. Later, they also taped songs on cassettes, many of whose melodies had, until then, never been recorded. They also identified and supplied missing information regarding lyricists, poets, and composers and described the circumstances surrounding the songs’ origins, their dissemination, diffusion and impact.

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