Published in 1912 by Y.L. Cahan, a few stanzas were folklorized from a song by the Yiddish folk bard, the Badkhn Elyokum Zunser (1836-1913) from his play Mekhiras Yoysef.
Another popular stanza is: “Akh, du liber got, her oys mayn farlang,/ Dem oysher gistu koved mit a sheynem gang,/ Mir gib a shtibele oyf dem groz dem grinem/ Az ikh mit mayn zis-lebn zoln voynen d’rinen.” (Oh, dear God, hear my plea. You endow the rich with a fine life. Me – give a little house on a green lawn, where I and my sweet love may dwell).
A humorous parody of the song-letter goes: “Paper is white and ink is black – since you went away, I neither eat nor drink. I’m expiring. May I hope to hear the same from you very soon.”
Paper is white, of course, and ink is black,
and of course my heart longs for you, my sweetheart.
I would sit [waiting] constantly for three days in a row
just to kiss your lovely face and to hold your hand.
Last night, I was at a wedding.
I saw a lot of pretty girls there;
A lot of pretty girls, who could not compare with you,
with your lovely black eyes, with your lovely black hair!
Your figure, your face, and your elegant style,
light a fire in my heart. No one notices;
There is no one else like me who can feel how it burns–
Whether I will live or die is in God’s hands.
Papir iz dokh vays un tint iz dokh shvarts,
Tsu dir, mayn zis-lebn, tsit dokh mayn harts!
Kh’volt shtendik gezesn dray teg nokh anand,
Tsu kushn dayn sheyn ponim un tsu haltn dayn hant.
Nekhtn, bay nakht, bin ikh oyf a khasene geven,
Fil sheyne meydelekh hob ikh dort gezen;
Fil sheyne meydelekh, tsu dir kumt nit gor,
Tsu dayne shvartse eygelekh, tsu dayne shvartse hor!
Dayn talye, dayn mine, dayn eydeler fason,
In hartsn brent a fayer, me zet es nit on;
Nito aza mentsh, vos zol filn vi es brent-
Der toyt un dos lebn iz bay got in di hent.
פּאַפּיר איז דאָך װײַם און טינט איז דאָך שװארץ,
צו דיר, מײַן זיס-לעבן, ציט דאָך מײַן האַרץ!
כ’װאַלט שטענדיק געזעסן דרײַ טעג נאָך אַנאַנד,
צו קושן דײַן שײן פּנים און צו האַלטן דײַן האַנט.
נעכטן, בײַ נאַכט, בין איך אױף אַ חתונה געװען,
פֿיל שײנע מײדעלעך האָב איך דאָרט געזען;
פֿיל שײנע מײדעלעך, צו דיר קומט ניט גאָר,
צו דײַנע שווארצע אײגעלעך, צו דײַנע שװאַרצע האָר!
דײַן טאַליע, דײַן מינע, דײַן אײדעלער פֿאַסאָן,
אין האַרצן ברענט א פֿײַער, מע זעט עס ניט אָן,
ניטאָ אזא מענטש, װאָס זאָל פֿילן װױ עס ברענט —
דער טױט און דאָס לעבן איז בײַ גאָט אין די הענט.
Song Title: Papir lz Dokh Vays
First published in 1972, Mir Trogn A Gezang: Favorite Yiddish Songs was reprinted six more times (in 1977, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2000) due to popular demand. The songs in this anthology represent a sampling of beloved folk and well-known Yiddish songs, many of which are scattered in various song collections; some appear in very rare and inaccessible collections; and some were never before published. Folk songs comprise about a third of this volume and were selected mainly on the basis of popularity and sometimes for their historic significance. Needless to say, they are only representative of the vast, rich treasure of Yiddish folk material. The selection was made not only on the basis of personal preference, but in the knowledge they are favorites of many who sing these songs. Most of the songs represent the repertoire that was sung at Yiddish summer camps, May 1st demonstrations and at social gatherings. Many songs were introduced to American Jewry by Jewish immigrants who came to the United States after World War II, for whom these songs had been favorites in Poland and other East European communities destroyed by the Nazis.