A Tale

By Soreh Ayzn, translated by Hinde Ena Burstin

Soreh Ayzn was born in 1910 in Ponevezh, in the Kovne (Kaunas) province of Lithuania. Little is known of her home or family life. She completed a Hebrew gimnazye (the European equivalent of secondary school and junior college) in Ponevezh before studying at the Kovne Hebrew Teacher’s Seminary and at a Lithuanian university. Her first book, Meydl lider (Girlhood Poems), was published in Kovne in 1937.

Ayzn arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1938. There she taught at the Talmud Toyre, an elementary school established and run by the Jewish community to provide a free education for financially disadvantaged children. Ayzn later settled in Cape Town, where her second book of Yiddish poems, Geklibene lider un poemes (Selected Poems and Odes), was published in 1965 by the South African Yiddish Cultural Federation. Ayzn had little money and no relatives, so her later years, residing in a boardinghouse, were both difficult and lonely. She died in March 1982.

Ayzn’s poems cover many themes, ranging from love and longing, women’s life cycles, elegies, and odes to her birthplace, Kovne, and to the African landscape. Her voice was considered mellifluous—softly spoken, with beautiful enunciation. Ayzn’s lyrical tone and attention to aesthetics earned her an important place in South African Yiddish literature. She was a sensuous writer who crafted sounds skillfully, utilizing clever wordplay and internal rhymes to great effect.

                                        A Tale (אַ מעשהלע)

Let us play together like this,
I will be a moon-child,
You—a Northern wind so wild.

You’ll embrace me
And we’ll race free
On your white-winged horse, we’ll fly.
See—white blossoms floating, falling
Just like snowflakes from the sky.

Let us play together like this,
I’ll be a sun ray, young and small,
You—a foaming waterfall.
I will spark and flash and sway
I will spray you as I please.
—Let me stay and dream a while
Tinkling with my piano keys.

לאָמיר שפּילן זיך אַזוי,
איך וועל זײַן אַ לבֿנה-קינד,
דו — אַ ווילדער צפֿון ווינט.

וועסט מיך טראָגן
און זיך יאָגן
אויף דײַן ווײַס געפֿליגלט פֿערד.
— זעסט, עס פֿאַלן ווײַסע בליטן
ווי די שנייעלעך אויף דר'ערד...

לאָמיר שפּילן זיך אַזוי,
איך וועל זײַן אַ יונגער שטראַל,
דו — אַ שוימיק וואַסערפֿאַל.
כ'וועל צעהוידען און צעבליצן
און צעשפּריצן זיך אין דיר —
לאָז מיר זיצן דאָ און טרוימען
בײַם צעעפֿנטן קלאַוויר.

HINDE ENA BURSTIN is a native Yiddish speaker who is passionate about her mame-loshn. She is a Yiddish writer, translator, researcher, educator, and activist. Her Yiddish writing and translations have been published and performed in the United States, Canada, France, Israel, and Australia. She is dedicated to uncovering forgotten voices of Yiddish women poets and is currently completing her PhD on Yiddish women poets of the 1920s. She is the coordinator of the Jacob Kronhill Program in Yiddish Language and Culture at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, where she is also a lecturer of Yiddish language, literature, and culture.