Itzik Manger was one of the most important Yiddish poets of the twentieth century CE; he was avidly interested in story-telling traditions of different cultures and discovered ballads as a way of sharing his beautiful, occasionally melancholic stories. Israeli jazz musicians Aviv and Arik Livnat teamed up with British Yiddish lecturer and folkore researcher Helen Beer to put music to Manger’s words.

I’d like to share one of those ballads in a lovingly animated version with you. For all those who don’t understand Yiddish, I provide a translation of the lyrics below (I’ve tried to stick to the original as closely as possible, which will show in the syntax…).


on the path, there stands a tree

it stands there bowed

all birds from that tree

have flown away.

three to the west, three to the east

and the rest to the south

and the tree have left alone

stray for the storm.

I say to mum: “listen,

you should simply not disturb me,

I want to, mum, one and two,

soon be a bird.

I want to sit on a tree

and want to lull to sleep

over the winter with comfort,

with a beautiful melody.”

mum says: “don’t, child,”

and she cries with tears.

“[you] you godforbid on the tree

freeze to death [to] me.”

I say: “mum, it’s a pity

your beautiful eyes,

and more than what and more than who,

am I a bird.”

mum cries: “Itsik crown,

take, for god’s sake,

take at least a scarf with you,

so you should not catch a cold.

the galoshes take with you,

a strong winter’s going around,

and put on the fur cap,

pain and woe is me .

and take your winter vest,

put it on, you pod,

for you will not want to be a guest

among all the dead ones.”

I lift the wings, it’s tough for me,

too many, too many things,

has mum put on

on the bird, the weak one.

I look sadly

into mum’s eyes,

has her love not let

me become a bird.

on the path, there stands a tree,

it stands there bowed,

all birds from that tree

have flown away.

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