From My Bookshelf: To Sing Away the Darkest Days by Norbert Hirschhorn

HirschhorngifPublished by Holland Park Press, To Sing Away the Darkest Days: Poems Re-imagined from Yiddish Folksongs “is the culmination of a five-year project which saw Norbert Hirschhorn source more than one thousand Yiddish songs from several archives and from collections on the Internet, as well as from CDs.” I learned about this book through a post that the publisher contributed to the Jewish Book Carnival Goodreads group, and when I received an offer of a review copy, I accepted.

The book’s first half is devoted to Hirschhorn’s “re-imaginings” (his term) of the old Yiddish songs. Some source material is likely to be familiar to many readers: “Mayn Yidishe Mame” and “Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen,” for instance. But plenty of Hirschhorn’s inspiration comes from material that I hadn’t encountered before.

Beginning on page 57, the book’s focus turns to “Sources, transliterations, literal translations, [and] links to music.” Starting with the book’s first poem and proceeding anew to the last, the reader finds a transliteration of each song’s original Yiddish text, a literal translation into English, historical background and notes, and, where possible, links to audio or video. I’m still trying to decide if I might have preferred having all of this information directly follow each of the poems instead; the format selected requires a lot of flipping back and forth for the reader who wants edification as she goes along, poem by poem.

In any case, Hirschhorn has done something wonderful here, and I encourage readers interested in Yiddish language and literature (as well as in poetry itself) to investigate. I’ll even recommend a place to start: Hirschhorn’s publisher has created a page with links to some of the songs behind the poems. Go over there, and enjoy.

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