April 08

Yiddish Poems by Boris Karloff

Boris Karloff

Translations by the author


It seems clear that all is gone,
All in all and one by one,
Yet pretending it doesn't matter
Greeting with a smile all kind
Seems considerably better,
Never mind!...

The voice grows gray
Metallic sound
Recalling souls nowhere found,
Souls that vanished as if dead
And the skies are full with lead…

Still, who needs all this and why,
After all is said and done,
Unless in skies you see her glide,
The heaven's herald – smiling bride,
Unless you see her free and bright?

Hence lifting head (but not in haste
For there is plenty hope to waste)
I find and greet her smile
Up high
Thriving brightly in the sky.

Heavens, wait!
I know now better:
Not all is gone,
Not mind, nor matter
And the lead of heavy skies
Dissipates, dissolves, and dies.

Existentialism or FOUR languages in ONE body

I play,
I play my own self
while I myself
consist, oh my,
of four entirely
different sorts of I.

Each one of them, I feel,
tries crawling out of me
and I myself alone,
alone by myself,
try on all four
to follow, to crawl
after them all.

But they, oh my,
they try
to play me
from head to toe.
Each one with his own string and bow,
with his own baton,
as if I were an entire ensemble,
my juices they draw till I fumble,
but they shout: GO ON, GO ON,
it will all work out: SPOT ON!

And each one dishes out
his own partiture
with his own decorations,
sets up his furniture.
Each one
demands with anticipation
of me to dance
to all HIS tunes
evermore and better!
For more ovations than before!

Until I protest:
How long can one keep score?

Then amid all the riot
for a brief while they all shut up,
keep quiet …
and I?
I start yet again
to play my own self
by myself
assured and calm,
and all alone
as the proverbially lone



Boris Karloff is the pen name of Dov-Ber Kerler. He was born in Moscow in 1958 and has lived, studied, and taught in Jerusalem, Oxford, and Bloomington, Indiana, where he currently holds the Dr. Alice Field Cohn Chair in Yiddish Studies. He has published four collections of Yiddish poetry, including one with his father, the poet Josef Kerler. His Yiddish poetry blog can be found at www.elabrek.blogspot.com.