THE MERCHANT OF PEARL
Mani Leyb
Trans. from the Yiddish by Marvin Zuckerman

The horses they fly, in the sleigh they are spanned,
The whip, it cracks in the merchant's right hand,
Happily tinkle the bells.

--Girl, go open the door wide for me,
Let me go into your courtyard to see,
I am a merchant of pearl.

Young merchant you come from so far, far away,
But you've come to some poor people who never can pay,
What you ask for your pearls.

--Girl I have journeyed expressly to you,
For your parents are certainly rich people too,
To have such a pearl of a daughter.

O clever young merchant, you come from the world,
But you will not be able to buy me with pearl,
Away from my mother and father.

--Girl, go open the door wide for me,
Let me go into your courtyard to see,
There to talk to your parents.

Good little merchant, speak so no more,
Into this court I'll not open the door,
I am the bride of another.

The horses walk, in the sleigh they are spanned,
The whip, it hangs slack in the merchant's right hand,
Mournfully tinkle the bells.

___

MANI LEYB was a leading figure in the American Yiddish poetry group known as Di Yunge (“The Young”), the first movement in Yiddish literature to cultivate “pure poetry,” explicitly rejecting political goals. Leyb immigrated to the United States in 1905 and became a shoemaker. He was influenced by Russian authors such as Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov; in London en route to America, he met the Hebrew writer Y.H. (Yosef Haim) Brenner. By concentrating on themes of solitude, abandonment, and hopelessness, Leyb became a poet of “the lost soul in the big city” (according to Zalman Reyzn), and his influence on modern Yiddish poetry was vast. He also wrote stories in verse for children. One of his best-known poems, “Shtiler, Shtiler” (1914; “Hush, Hush”) is “a credo for a poetry of nuance and understatement, a kind of allegorical reflection on the state of modern Jewish life, and a play upon the messianic expectation that runs through the whole Jewish experience” (according to the American literary and social critic Irving Howe. (From the Encyclopedia Britannica)

MARVIN ZUCKERMAN was born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., to working-class immigrants from Poland. Neither of his parents had any formal education. Both garment workers. Grew up in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Cooperative Housing development on the southern border of Van Courtlandt Park in the Bronx. Worked 15 years for the Northrop Electronics Division in Hawthorne, CA, as a Configuration Management Engineer, Proposals and Reports Coordinator, and Data Management Supervisor. Became professor of English at Los Angeles Valley College in 1976, serving as Chair of the English Department for 15 years, and Dean of Instruction for six years, retiring in 2002. Published eight books, two of them English college textbooks, five of them in the field of Yiddish, and one of them a translation from the Yiddish into English of a memoir published by Purdue University Press in 2016. Also published various articles in journals and periodicals, one of which appeared in Volume 333 of the Dictionary of Literary Biography: Writers in Yiddish (Thomson-Gale, 2007), “Yehoash,” pp. 337-343. In his retirement, Zuckerman has served as representative of the Administrators’ Association (Teamster’s Local 911) to the Los Angeles Community College District’s Board of Trustees, and as creator and administrator of various academic projects for the Los Angeles Valley College’s Job Training Program.