“Red Dew” and “Red Dew, Again”

Pessie Pomerantz-Honigbaum, translated by Jessica Kirzane, published on October 23, 2020.

Pessie Pomerantz-Honigbaum (also known as Pessie Hershfeld-Pomerantz) (1900–1978) was a prominent figure in the Chicago Yiddish scene and a member of the group of modernist poets known as Yung Shikage (Young Chicago). Born in Kamenobrod, Volhynia, she immigrated to the United States in 1913 and settled in Chicago, where she initially worked in a sweatshop. She began publishing poetry in 1918 in a variety of Yiddish journals based in New York, as well as in local Chicago publications and anthologies of Chicago Yiddish poetry. She was a key figure in the Chicago Yiddish cultural activist community. She published several books of poems including Royter toy (Red Dew) (Chicago, 1939), in which this poem appeared. The poems in Red Dew exhibit the deep melancholy she felt as violence encroached upon the Europe she had left behind. They often integrate her relationship with nature together with her somber feeling about the world around her.  

I discovered her poetry due to my growing interest in Chicago Yiddish writers (I myself live in the Chicago area). I had just finished translating "Red Dew" the night before I wrote the companion poem that appears alongside it here. I wrote it in the middle of a jog—I stopped and dictated the poem into my phone while panting and staring at an autumn tree in my Oak Park, Illinois, neighborhood. My poem articulates how the work I read and translate seeps into my daily life and refuses to stay safely tucked away in my computer files where I left it. More importantly, it is a reflection on the same disconcerting sense of doom that Pomerantz-Honigbaum expressed, updated for our time. 

—Jessica Kirzane

Red Dew

My children, green leaves in the wind, 

Satin-smooth, vernally green, 

Knifelike wind cuts through the day –  

Red dew drips from the world’s dawn. 

Do not quiver or dry up in the cold 

My children, illumined gold, 

Do not tear yourself from your own stem 

Nor cry in dusty byways, flown adrift. 

My children, in the slaughter-knife wind 

Red dew drips from the world’s dawn. 

Don’t be uprooted by the slashing wind 

Grow stronger, green brighter! 

The lacerating day will not last long, 

Not long will there be bloodthirsty hate.  

Cling tighter to your ancient roots 

Tomorrow’s sun will glow with new flame 

Tomorrow’s sun will glow with new flame 

Thick trunks with sturdy branches will grow tall 

The blazing sun will shine over the world 

My children, do not doubt, nor freeze in the cold. 

רױטער טױ

קינדער מײַנע, בלעטער גרינע אינם װינט, 

סאַמעט־צאַרט און פֿרילינגדיק צעגרינט, 

עס שנײדט דער הײנט מיט מעסערדיקן װינט – 

רױטער טױ פֿון װעלטס פֿרימאָרגן רינט. 

נאָר ניט ציטערן און טריקענען פֿון קעלט, 

קינדער מײַנע ליכטיק אױפֿגעהעלט, 

זיך ניט אָפּרײַסן פֿון שטאַמען אײגענע, 

און ניט װײנען אַף פֿאַרשטױבטע װעגן, װי פֿאַרפֿלױגענע.   

קינדער מײַנע, אינם חלפֿדיקן װינט, 

רױטער טױ פֿון װעלטס פֿרימאָרגן רינט, 

זיך ניט לאָזן אױסװאָרצלען פֿון מעסערדיקן װינט 

שטאַרקער װאַקסן ליכטיקער צעגרינט! 

ניט אַף לאַנג װעט דױערן מעסערדיקער הײַנט, 

ניט אַף לאַנג װעט לױערן בלוטדורשטיקער פֿײַנט. 

שטאַרקער קלאַמערט זיך אין דורותדיקן שטאַם, 

מאָרגן װעט אַ גלי טאָן זון מיט נײַעם פֿלאַם. 

מאָרגן װעט אַ גלי טאָן זון מיט נײַעם פֿלאַם, 

װעט פֿאַנאַנדערבליען ברײט פֿאַרצװײַגטער שטאַם. 

זון װעט פֿלאַמענדיק אַ לױכט טאָן איבער װעלט, 

קינדער מײַבע, ניט פֿאַרצװײפֿלען, און ניט גליװערן פֿון קעלט. 

Red Dew, Again 

Jessica Kirzane 

Red leaves fall, 
Leave red ground. 
Jogging under pale blue sky 
I admire decorated earth. 
 
Last night by eerie laptop glow 
I read a poem of red dew –  
The royter toy of far-off slaughter 
Seemed to haunt the poet's ground. 
 
October, and I'm jogging past 
Friendly ghouls, quiet streets, 
Red leaves golden in the setting sun 
In the city where she wrote. 
 
I toy with the idea of red dew – 
What am I to make of scattered leaves? 
The ripening of things and their decay? 
The setting of the sun this autumn day? 
 
She wrote of Hitler's rise, her brothers' falling 
Far away across a deep dark sea, 
And eerily I'm here with happy ghouls, 
Decaying country, skies of blue. 

Leaves, illumined gold, are falling. 
I cling to memories of words I read. 
A sharp breeze whisks my panting breath 
Adrift across mowed lawns and plastic ghosts. 
 
In the city where she wrote, 
Far from slaughter she held close,   
Red leaves fall, leave red ground. 
October evening of red dew, again. 

Jessica Kirzane is an assistant instructional professor of Yiddish at the University of Chicago. She holds a PhD in Yiddish Studies from Columbia University. Jessica is the editor-in-chief for In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies. Her translation of Miriam Karpilove’s novel Diary of a Lonely Girl, or the Battle Against Free Love (Syracuse, 2020) was supported by a Yiddish Book Center Translation Fellowship. 

Read the other poems in the collection "Royter toy" in the Yiddish Book Center's Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library.

Artwork by Andrew Stevovich