Translations of Songs & Poetry

The idea for this page came to me as I was working on yet more translations of song texts for several concert programs. Frequently, accurate translations in understandable English of rare poetry and song texts are entirely lacking — or else, extremely difficult to find. Over the years, therefore, I have found myself translating them myself where I am able to, then checking them with native speakers of the relevant language.

It has occurred to me that I am probably not the only singer who desperately needs to know precisely what an old and/or obscure text says. I believe — passionately — that nothing less than accuracy will do if I am to interpret the poet’s and/or the composer’s intentions with anything akin to authenticity. As I have said elsewhere, beware the ‘translation’ that rhymes: rhyme is offered all too often at the expense of meaning. If both are achieved, great!; but it’s a rare occurrence. I always try to get a good idea of a song’s literal meaning before considering putting a rhyming one in my program notes. Even if the audience does not end up reading the exact meaning of the texts, I feel that — at the very least — I should know what the song really says.

To save other singers time, I am posting here some of the translations that I have undertaken over the years from various languages into English. Once the texts are posted, please feel free to use them for non-commercial purposes (e.g., in concert program notes, for language or music classes, or for quotation purposes): I trust that you will acknowledge my work, and that anyone who wishes to use them for any commercial purpose will contact me first.

I should like here to acknowledge and thank Professor G Ascher, F Coriat, M Koén-Sarano, A S Kline and T O Rogoff for their generous, patient and skilful help and input. I am deeply grateful for their insights and knowledge.

For starters, I have listed the title of each song (in both the original language and English) under the name of each language. Underneath each list of titles, I have added the names of the composer and poet, when they are known.

French:

About Himself
Above All Regrets
And If This Be Not Love
As Long As I Shall Live
Aymer Est Ma Vie
C’est un Amant
Ce Fu En Mai
De Soi-Même
The Dew of the Lovely Month of May
D’où Vient Cela
Douce Dame Jolie
Eau Vive, Source d’amour
Est-ce Mars? (Ballet Pour Madame)
Fresh Water, Source of Love
From Where Comes This
Is That Mars?
It Was In May
It’s the Season of the Year Now
It’s Your Lover
Loving Is My Life
Ma Bergere Non Légere
My Shepherdess With No Fickleness
O Fair Sweet Lady
La Plus Mignonne
Quant le Gril Chante
Qui Pourra Dire la Douleur
La Rousee du Joly Mois de Mai
Si Ce N’est Amour
Sur Tous Regretz
The Sweetest Love of My Heart
Tant Que Vivray
Voici le Temps Bergere
When the Cricket Sings
Who Could Ever Express the Grief

Arcadelt, Jacob
d’Arras, Moniot
Baïf, Jean-Antoine de
Bataille, Gabriel
Clemens Non Papa, Jacob
Dufay, Guillaume
Grotte, Nicholas de la
Guédron, Pierre
Machaut, Guillaume de
Marot, Clément
Mauduit, Jacques
Pipelare, Matthaus
Planson, Jean
Rogoff, Jill
Ronsard, Pierre (de)
Sermisy, Claudin de

Gaelic (Erse/Irish/Irish Gaelic):

Fionn úa Baíscni (Fionn mac Cumhaill)
Gol na dTrí Muire
Scél lem dúib
Tale for You
The Weeping of the Three Maries

German:

Wiegala
Ilse Weber

Hebrew (Ivrit):

All That is Created Above and Below
HaKhnisini Tahat Knafekh
Kol Beru’ei
Pray, Let Me In Under Your Wing

Bialik, Haim Nahman
Ibn-Gvirol, Solomon

Italian:

Country Maid Who Comes to the Well
Reveal, O Tongue
Scopri Lingua
Villanella Qu’all Acqua Vai
Tromboncino, Bartolomeo

Ladino (Judeo-Espagnol):

Agua Pura
Amistad
A Bouquet of Violets
Un Buketo de Violetas
Clouds
Come, Shabbat
The Days of the Coffee-Grinder
Dí Ke No Es Tadre
Dry Branches
For You
Friendship
Green the Grass
High Mountains
Ke Keres Tú?
Leaf Fallen from the Tree
Los Días del Mulino
Mi Orasión
Modern Times
Muntanyas Altas
My Prayer
Nuves
Oja del Arvol Kayida
Para Tí
Porké No?
Pure Water
Ramas Sekas
Say It’s Not Too Late
Tiempos Modernos
Vedre la Yerva
Ven, Shabat
What Do You Want?
Why Not?

Koén-Sarano, Matilda
Reuveni, Avraham

Spanish:

Long live the great King
Viva el Gran Rey

Verardi, Carlo

French

French title: Aymer est ma vie
Music: Jacob Clemens Non Papa (ca. 1510-1555)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2006

Loving is my life
In spite of envy
Speak of it who will
I’ve chosen a love
That suits my pleasure
May it but please God
Loving is my life

It’s your lover
French title of the air de cour: C’est un amant
Music: collected by Gabriel Bataille (ca. 1575-1630)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2003

It’s your lover, open the door,
He is full of love and faith.
What are you doing? Are you dead?
Do not then be so to me alone.

Do you want me to die here,
Half-dead, trembling and jealous?
If indeed you want me to then,
At least it will be in front of you.

And you open, beautiful wild doe:
I hear the key and your voice.
O lovely hands! O lovely lips!
I would kiss you a thousand times o’er!

It was in May
French title of the reverdie: Ce fut en mai
Moniot d’Arras (fl. ca. 1213-1239)
translation from the Old French: Jill Rogoff ©2004

It was in May
The sweet bright days
When the season is lovely;
At dawn I rose
To go and play
Beside a little fountain.
Inside a garden
Hedged with wild rose,
I heard a fiddle playing,
saw dancing there
a chevalier
and with him was a maiden.

Of aspect fine
And well-pleasing,
They danced right gracefully.
With embracing
And with kissing,
They pleased each other truly.
Straying there
Far down the path
The two then walked away;
Among the flowers
The game of love
To their great pleasure played.

So on I went
All full of dread
Lest either one should see me;
Brooding and sad,
Full of desire
To have such joy in loving.
Then up arose
One of the pair
And spoke from far away,
He called and asked
Who I might be
And what I came there seeking.

I moved their way,
And sadly told
How I did love a lady
Obeying whom,
And not untrue,
My whole life through I’d be;
For whom I felt
More grief and pain
Than I could e’er reveal.
Alas! I’d die,
Full well knew I,
Unless she would restore me.

Full courteously
And thoughtfully
Each one did reassure me,
And said they hoped
That swiftly God
Such happiness might send me
For which I’ll wait
With sorrow great!
And so I rendered to them
My thanks in full
And crying still
to God them I commended.

About himself
French title of the air de cour: De soi-même
Music: Jill Rogoff ©2003
Text: Clément Marot (1495-1544)
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2003

I’m no longer what I was
Nor shall I ever be so again
My lovely spring and my summer
Have gone and leaped out of the window.
O Love, Thou hast been my master;
Thee I’ve served above all others.
Oh, could I but have been born twice,
How much better would I serve Thee!

From whence comes this
French title of the air de cour: D’où vient cela
Music: Claudin de Sermisy (ca. 1490-1562)
Text: Clément Marot (1495-1544)
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2004

From where comes this,
Beauty, I beg of you,
That you no longer do relate to me?
Ever shall I be filled up with sadness
Until you should send me but a sign.
I believe you no longer want a friend,
Or someone has spoken ill of me to you,
Or your heart has now taken up a new love.

If you do quit the pretty train of love,
You do but make your beauty a prisoner.
If you’ve forgotten due to someone else,
May God then grant to you your dearest wish;
But if you think badly of me at all
I want only that you be as sweet to me,
Or even more, as you are being stubborn.

O fair sweet lady
French title of the virelai: Douce dame jolie
Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377)
translation from the Old French: Jill Rogoff ©2004

O fair sweet lady
For God’s sake do not believe
Any woman has mastery
Over me but thou alone.

For always without falsity
I have cherished
Thee and right humbly
All the days of my life
Have I served thee,
Never deceiving thee.
Alas! I am left to plead
For some hope and relief;
For my joy is ending
If thou’ll not some pity show.

Yet thy sweet enchantment
Does beguile
My heart so deeply,
That it does torture it
And bind it,
With love so utterly
That it does ask for nothing
But to be in thy power:
And still thy cruel heart
Will grant my heart no relief,

And since my malady
Will never be healed
Except by thee, sweet enemy,
Who enjoy
My torment,
With joined hands it beseeches
Thy heart, which does forget me,
To kill me swiftly,
For too long have I languished.

Fresh water, source of love
French title of the air de cour: Eau vive, source d’amour
Music: Jacques Mauduit (1557-1627)
Text: Jean-Antoine de Baïf (1532-89)
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff and Françoise Coriat ©2003

Fresh water, source of love,
Of my ardour
Nymph, my strong heat.
Nymph, I am burning with love.

The fresh fountain springs
and always remains clear,
and the sight pierces
and discovers the bottom;
Nothing hidden will you ever see [in it].
Fresh water, I don’t see
the bottom of your heart.

The fresh liquid flows
beautiful and clear
Helpful, it heals
and relieves the thirst
for the toiling pilgrim.
Fresh water, but you refuse
to quench my thirst.

When rain from the sky
comes upon the grass
that is dried by the sun
And makes it happily green again,
Fresh water gives back its strength
to the languishing heart.

Under the running water
there is a surge
From its source that flows
and never dries up,
leading the eternal course.
Fresh water, let our love
be thus eternal.

Is that Mars
French title of the air de cour: Est-ce Mars (Ballet pour madame)
Music: collected by Gabriel Bataille (ca. 1575-1630)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2004

Is that Mars, the great god of battles,
That I see?
If one were to judge by his weapons,
I’d agree.
Yet all the time, from his looks, I prove,
Rather than Mars, that it is Love.

And it seems to me that if it’s Cupid
He’s neither
Such beauty nor grace together,
Nor charm.
He’s more like a dazzling sun to me
Than Cupid who has no eyes to see.

The sun has not such light as that,
And cannot
Snatch the soul from a captive body
When he will,
Yet these eyes, Love’s true conquerors,
Capture at once both hearts and souls.

A fool I am! Now I realise
That those eyes
Are the eyes of the beautiful Marphise,
God-beloved:
Mars’ sister, child of a noble Sun
That shines down here equalled by none.

Great Sun that illuminates our France
And ensures,
With his fair and sweet assurance,
That of peace,
The lilies will flourish in your name
And never grow pale with fear again,

Great Queen whose virtue is
So adored,
Virtue that beauty ornaments,
Evermore,
May you, the favourite of Heaven still,
See every wish of yours fulfilled.

My shepherdess with no fickleness
French title of the air de cour: Ma bergere non légere
Music: collected by Gabriel Bataille (ca. 1575-1630)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2004

My shepherdess
With no fickleness
In loving
Causes me to find good things every day.
And I lead her,
The flock’s mistress,
Through the fields
Where sweetly we two pass the time away.

Over the plain
Without pain
Then we take
Our little sheep in the self-same flock.
Then all freely
I do kiss her
Nipple fair,
Her crimson mouth, and her lovely breast.

But if I dare
Try elsewhere
To wander
She doesn’t even want me to come near her.
But at once
She runs off,
I behind her,
Yet I know how to stay full close and chase her.

And if I just
Raise her hem
Above her knees
With her shift so high you can see beneath.
Then in fury
She rails at me
And bites me
And then again in no time you’ll see we agree.

I cut for her
And cut again
Hosts of flowers
So that she might have all the colours there are.
So sweetly she
Fashions for me
Her bouquets
Which cause a lot of gossip around our way.

Still, any day
Come what may
I’ll love her
And despite all the chatter, I’ll prize her.
Inconstancy
Has no power
To move me,
I’d fain be just as faithful as she is to me.

Thus all our days
With few desires
We would spend
Easing all our troubles with carefree song.
Fie on the towns
Where the young girls
Do not prize
Lovers who, for their sake, would gladly die.

The sweetest love of my heart
French title: La plus mignonne
Music: Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2007

The sweetest love of my heart
I’m stunned by what has happened to me
Which ever is reminding me
Of your beauty and gentleness

Of good ladies you are the best
For to say that is most fitting

When I am displeased or doleful
At any time that may be
I only know it comes to me
Thinking of your great value

When the cricket sings
French title of the air de cour: Quant le gril chante
Music: Nicolas de la Grotte (flourished mid-to-late 16th century)
Text: Pierre (de) Ronsard (1522-1585)
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2004

When the cricket sings with chirping sound
My lady tells them to call for Martin
O kind Martin, O sweet Martin,
Jump, Martin; dance, Martin
Oh if it were me instead of Martin!

At the hour when the canary sings
My lady tells them to call for Martin?

When the cock cries at break of dawn
My lady tells them to call for Martin?

And when she knocks at the neighbours’ house
My lady tells them to call for Martin?

When Augustin the clerk knocks at the chamber door
My lady tells them to call for Martin
Either Augustin or surely Martin
Then Augustin after Martin
Oh if it were me instead of Martin!

One day Martin was dancing with Catin
My lady’s written to Martin
Hey Martin, come on Martin,
Up here, Martin, climb up Martin?

Then Martin says, growling between his teeth
Am I not a dog that they harry
Night and day, it’s always Martin,
Martin, Martin; come on, Martin
Any man would want an end to this!

Who could ever express the grief
French title: Qui pourra dire la douleur
Music: Jacob Arcadelt (ca. 1505-1568)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2007

Who could ever express the grief
Of one who wishes to conceal
The ill growing inside her heart
By keeping too silent and discreet.
Alas, she dare not be revealed
Who is consumed with desire,
Who could then console her
In her martyrdom and displeasure.

Love, the blame for this is all yours
That, in having no compassion
For a heart imprisoned under your law,
You have no affection for him.
The spritely lover by a sign
Reckons his ills piteously,
But whoever loves perfectly
Would not know how to express his torment.

At least, Love, if your fine gifts
Be gone, or if you must at the
Cost of great hurts you cause,
Speak of me as a happy lover.
In honour I would be the first
Just as I am in affection,
And I’d feel as much happiness
As I would feel of great passion.

Henceforth then may we witness
the blindfold being torn from your eyes,
And to those who have deserved it,
Be you generous and gracious:
Otherwise your temple will
Not be frequented by them. And
Their cry will speed skyward no more,
Appealing to your divinity.

The dew of the lovely month of May
French title of the air de cour: La rousée du joly mois de mai
Music: Jean Planson (1559-after 1612)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2004

The dew of the lovely month of May
Has all wet my love and me.

It was at the very hour,
When the day began to break
With the lady I adore
I went to the woods to play.

And upon the pearly grass,
Without fear of the dew,
In the loveliest place of all,
So we sat us down, we two.

To the scent of flowering blossom
With a thousand birds singing
To sweet sounds of water flowing,
I tell of my suffering.

I tell her of the agonies
I suffer for loving her true;
Sighing soft, she listens to me,
Then tells of her torment too.

Just like her I start to sigh
Then fall to weeping her and I;
Silent, there’s nothing we can say
But kiss me or I shall die.

Then I clasp her and embrace her,
She kisses and holds me tight,
As closely as does the ivy
That holds the stone wall upright.

I give her a million kisses
Rewards for her misery,
She, in turn, surrenders to me
For to ease my agony.

So I steal a thousand kisses
She, in turn, undresses me;
I give her a hundred thousand,
She returns them, contentedly.

Now we frolic, I kiss her madly,
Her lovely silvery breast;
And now I suck so fondly
At her nipple strawberry-red.

Oh, my darling, she says to me,
You’ve wronged me enough today
All the while my ear she pulls,
And then she tweaks away.

Oh if you hurt me my darling,
I tell her, then I’ll pay you;
I am sure I’m stopping you from
Doing what you’d like to do.

Then I tell her another thing:
What it is, I’ll not say, though;
I’d never dare let you hear it,
Even if you’d love to know.

O such a wondrous day!
I’d not wish a king to be,
And such a pleasant dew
That wet us, my love and me!

I wouldn’t wish for an empire
In exchange for my amour.
I’m happier that I can say,
Now, now and for evermore?

And if this be not love
French title: Si ce n’est amour
Music: Jacob Arcadelt (ca. 1505-1568)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2007

And if this be not love, what
Is it, then, that I feel,
Alas!, that quickens my heart
And delights all my senses?

I would not express it,
But if it’s well or glad
From whence come such martyrdom,
Punishment and sorrow?

And if this be evil,
alas!, my God, just how
can such gracious torment
be born in my poor heart?

And if my poor soul do burn,
If my will and my wish,
Then can I grieve at its flame
Right justifiably.

And my sorrow is compelled
That constrains me to weep
Nor for ill do I complain
That this I must endure.

O most delicious sorrow,
O desirable ills,
O death that is full of life,
O gracious torment!

Thus well and so easily
Can you render my life
To yourself in all service
Without my agreement.

Above all regrets
French title: Sur tous regretz
Music: Matthäus Pipelare (ca. 1450-ca. 1515)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2007

Above all regrets, mine weep the most piteously,
Heaving sighs that pierce my weary heart through,
For I have lost a friend and a sister,
So that I sigh and will moan tearfully.

My soul has melted.
Daughters of Jerusalem, send my beloved
For whom I languish with love.

As long as I shall live
French title of the air de cour: Tant que vivray
Music: Claudin de Sermisy (ca. 1490-1562)
Text: Clément Marot (1495-1544)
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff and Françoise Coriat ©2003

As long as I shall live in a flourishing age
I shall serve the powerful god of love
In deed, in words, in songs and chords.
For a long time it held me languishing
But after that woe it made me happy
For I have the love of the beauty with the fine body.
Her alliance
Is my love,
Her heart is mine,
Mine is hers.
Fie on sadness.
Long live happiness
For in love there is so much good.

When I want to serve and honour her
When I want to illustrate her name by writing
When I see and visit her often
The envious only mutter;
But our love should last no less.
It* has more or less gone with the wind.
Despite envy,
All of my life,
I will love her
And sing.
It’s the first,
It’s the last
That I’ve served and will serve.

* the muttering

It’s the season of the year now
French title of the air de cour: Voici le temps bergere
Music: Pierre Guédron (1565-1621)
Text: unknown author
translation from the French: Jill Rogoff ©2004

It’s the season of the year now
That makes for true loving
When too the agile spirit
Feels an alteration.

Your thoughts so very fickle
Will be vowed each morning
To all the fresh new faces
Of the fresh new loves.

And settling yourself neither
On evil or on goodness,
You’ll grasp at everything and
Keep a hold of nothing.

And whenever you’re in
The act of altering
You’ll get what you deserve if
You only catch the wind.

Your manner appears now
Completely different,
Equalling the moon itself
In its frequent changes.

It’s then I warn myself
Not to wish to only
See you resting lightly
Ending all your changes.

For your moods that vary
So often make each form
Of you seem so much nicer
Than you really are.

 Gaelic (Erse/Irish/Irish Gaelic)

Tale for You
Gaelic title: Scél lem dúib
Music: Jill Rogoff ©2011
Text: anonymous 9th-century poem, attributed to Fionn úa Baíscni, i.e. the legendary Fionn mac Cumhaill
translation from the Gaelic: Jill Rogoff ©2016

Tale for you:
stag bellows
winter snows
summer’s gone

High, cold wind
sun sits low,
brief her turn
sea runs strong

Bracken red,
masked its form
goose takes up
time-long cry

Cold has seized
feathered wings
time of ice –
this, my tale

The Weeping of the Three Maries
Gaelic title: Gol na dTrí Muire
Music & lyrics: Anon. trad.
translation from the Gaelic: Jill Rogoff ©2002

Alas! And woe is me!
And alas my Calvary!

Two hours before day the three Maries wept
At the stone tomb where their Love lay stretched out
Till an angel came with much reassurance
With news for Mary from the King of Grace.

If you commit a sin, you should know the cure
You must repent or pay the price
Go to Mass daily as the priests ordain
And you’ll be received in Heaven and escape the pain of Hell.

You will see Peter  and you will see Paul,
You will see Conall and you will see John,
You will find Heaven and angels all around
And the Virgin Mary seated in her glory.

German

Wiegala
Music & lyrics: Ilse Weber (1903-1944)
translation from the German: Jill Rogoff ©2012

Wiegala, wiegala, weier
the wind plays on the lyre,
it plays so sweetly in green reeds,
the nightingale, it sings its song,
Wiegala, wiegala, weier
the wind plays on the lyre.

Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
the moon, it is a lantern
it stands in the dark firmament
and gazes down upon the world.
Wiegala, wiegala, werne,
the moon, it is a lantern.

Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
how quiet the world is!
no lute sound disturbs the sweet peace,
sleep, my wee child, you sleep, too
Wiegala, wiegala, wille,
how silent the world is!

Hebrew (Ivrit)

Pray, let me in under your wing
Hebrew title: Hakhnisini tahat knafekh
Tune: traditional
Text: Haim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934)
translation from the Hebrew: Jill Rogoff ©2004
Please note: this poem has eleven verses; I have translated only what I sing in concert.

Pray, let me in under your wing,
Be mother and sister to me;
Let your lap be my head’s haven,
A nest for my neglected prayers.

And in a time of mercy ‘twixt the suns
Speak: I’ll reveal my sorrow’s secret:
They say that there is youth in the world
But where is my youth?

And one more hint I’ll confess to you :
My soul is consumed within the flame;
They say that in the world there’s love
What is that — love?

The stars have surely cheated me,
I had a dream, but it’s gone too;
And now, I have nothing at all
Not a thing.

Pray, let me in under your wing,
Be mother and sister to me;
Let your lap be my head’s haven,
A nest for my neglected prayers.

All that is created above and below
Hebrew title: Kol beru’ei
Music: traditional, from the Italkim community of Padua, Italy
Text: Solomon Ibn-Gvirol (‘Rashbag’, 1021/22-1053/58)
translation from the Hebrew: Jill Rogoff ©2010

All that is created above and below
Witness and declare, all as one:
“The Lord is One and His name is One”

Thirty-two paths are Your way
And all who know their secrets tell of Your greatness
And they recognise that all is Yours
And that You alone are God, the King

Their hearts contemplate the world created
They find that all, excepting You, is change
In number and weight is all measured
All is given by One Shepherd

From beginning to end Your sign is there
North and West and East and South
Heaven and Earth bear You faithful witness
From this side one and from that side one

All is a gift bestowed by You
You remain, others have perished
Therefore every creature will honour You.

 Italian

Reveal, O tongue
Italian title of the frottolaScopri, lingua
Music: Bartolomeo Tromboncino (ca. 1470-1535)
Text: unknown author
translation from the Italian: Jill Rogoff ©2004

Reveal, O tongue, my blind ardor,
Speak now: be silent no longer.
For the flame has grown so greatly
That now my heart is nearly ash.

The serene and gentle glance
That looked from a lovely face
Makes me freeze and burn in fire,
And divides my heart from myself.
And so, with hardly any warning,
I’m consumed and dare not tell of
The bitter passion I carry, hidden
Night and day, in my sad heart.

I see clearly she’s avoiding
Gazing at my lowliness
Because she knows that my state
Can never reach up to her height.
So, in my usual way,
I live in hope, and in desire,
And while I lose my time,
I nourish my heart on thought.

It’s true that she shows a love for me
But I know well she’s forever feigning,
Yet I’m glad to be mistaken,
And the flame forever grows.
If it pleases her that I should die
Dying itself does not displease me,
For death will grant its peace
And its refuge to my sad heart.

Since I was born to serve her
I’ll never leave off serving,
So that, through the fire and torment,
My faith can never fail.
Then I’ll wait, expecting mercy,
If the gates should ever open.
Perhaps some day of death or pity,
My sad heart will be glad.

Country maid who comes to the well
Italian title of the Neapolitan villanescaVillanella ch’all acqua vai
Music: unknown composer
Text: unknown author
translation from the Italian: Jill Rogoff ©2004

Country maid who comes to the well
For you I die and you know it not.
Alas, alas, I die just to look upon you.

When you walk along with your pail
You seem like a queen, not a country maid.

Compared to all the other beauties
You are like the moon among all the stars.

It matters little if you were born
In the woods, being so full of grace.

Ladino (Judeo-Espagnol)

The following texts are poems by poet/storyteller/folklorist Matilda Koén-Sarano, some of which were recorded on the album Dí Ke No Es Tadre.

Say it’s not too late
Ladino title: Dí ke no es tadre
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

No longer are you here with me
You have abandoned me.

Alone, I weep,
Alone, I hope
To see you return.

Tell me why
I am now forsaken.

Nothing remains
Of your great love,
Except sorrow.

Say it’s not true,
Say it’s not too late,

Say that I have been mistaken,
Because without you
I can’t go on living.

Green is the grass
Ladino title: Vedre la yerva
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

Tell me, sweetheart,
Where you’ll be waiting,
Wherever you want
There I’ll be waiting.

Green is the grass,
Long is the path.
Is it my destiny
To find you?

Sweetheart, take
My hand,
Let us walk the path
Together.

Green is the grass,
Long is the path.
Fate decreed
That you be with me.

What do you want?
Ladino title: Ke keres tú?
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

What you want I don’t know
And I never will.

You appeared at my door one day
And said to me: ‘Come with me.’

With eyes shut I followed after you,
To the ends of the earth you took me with you.

One day you arose and left me here.
You took off and left me here alone.

Modern times
Ladino title: Tiempos modernos
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

When you pass by my house,
Look up at the balcony.
There you’ll see me stretched out,
Soaking up the sun.

I already know that you love me,
But cannot agree.
Would you like to know my response?
You may already ask for it.

How many years did you think
I would wait for you?
Don’t waste any more of your time;
If not, I have had enough of waiting for you.

Come over soon, I tell you,
Don’t be so old-fashioned.
My father’s in his office
And my mother has already gone out.

Whether you love me or not,
One day you’re going to see me.
Better late than never.
Please, don’t go!

A bouquet of violets
Ladino title: Un buketo de violetas
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

The other day I sent you
A bouquet of violets
And I received them back again,
Without a single word.

I already know that you don’t love me
And that you love my partner.
I already know that you are dying
Unless he take you for his wife.

You are playing with fire.
This is the advice I give you.
You can’t find happiness
While destroying that of others.

Come with me, all being forgotten,
Give me a little of your love.
I promise, my dear,
That I will make you happy.

Dry branches
Ladino title: Ramas sekas
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

Dry branches of my soul
When will you bring forth your blooms?
When you who are far away are at my side.

Black eyes of my very life,
Can I forget you?
And if a thousand years passed,
You would remain in my eyes.

Skies so clear and calm,
Will I ever find you?
Only when you, sweetheart,
Are in my arms.

My prayer
Ladino title: Mi orasión
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

O Lord,
Give me bread each day
And let me not see want
Grant peace in the land
And grant that there be no more war.

O Lord,
Give me the rain and the sun
And open up my heart.
Let me always sleep peacefully
And let me not weep any more.

O Lord,
Let me live without sorrow
And always know love.
Let me enjoy my life
And maintain good health.

O Lord,
Grant me sufficient sense
To suffer patiently.
Give me the strength to live
And die honourably.

May I always praise You
And thank You.
O Lord!

For you
Ladino title: Para ti
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

For you I would go through the forest,
For you I would throw myself into the sea.
Nothing would stop me
From gaining your love.

Like a rose in the garden that pricks,
Like an island in the middle of the sea,
Open the door to no-one,
Love no-one else.

Say that you’ll accept my plea.
Say that you’ll give me your love.
For if not, my whole life
Will lose its youth and colour.

Don’t let me suffer hopelessly,
Don’t let me die of sorrow.
If your soul does not approach mine,
I shall never again see the sun’s glory.

Pure water
Ladino title: Agua pura
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

Fresh water, pure water,
You cure all.
I would give thanks to God
For creating you clear.

Without water there are no flowers,
Neither grass nor colours.
I would give thanks to God
For giving you to the world.

You are the mother of life,
Without whom there is no sustenance.
I would give thanks to God
That He gave you to Man.

Sweet water of mine
That revives me each day.
I would give thanks to God
For without you, I would die.

High mountains
Ladino title: Muntanyas altas
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

High mountains,
I wish to pass over you.
My chevalier,
Tell me where you are.

I wish to know whether
You love me only,
So that I may fly
In your footsteps.

The sun is in the sky
And I am thirsty;
I wish to tell you of
My grief

If you banish me
From your path,
I shall turn back
Toward my destiny.

Hold me once,
Take my soul.
Take my whole life
In the palm of your hand.

Offer me your mouth,
Let me drink.
Without your love,
I prefer to die.

Clouds
Ladino title: Nuves
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

Clouds in the sky,
I am here alone.
All my life
Shall I tread in your path.

Without your saying
A word to me,
I see in your eyes
That it’s over.

Seeking you,
My soul flies up;
Between the clouds
It will go mad.

Come, Sabbath
Ladino title: Ven, Shabat
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

Come, Sabbath, king of my home,
You make me forget all else:
My pain and troubles
In your holy light.

Come, Sabbath, king of my home.

Enfolding me in your mantle
Of quiet and warmth,
Take me to other realms
Where sorrow is not known.

You raise up my soul
To your unparalleled kingdom.
You give repose and give me the strength
To go on living.

Friendship
Ladino title: L’amistad
Music: Avraham Reuveni©
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2003

Do you know what life is?
A bed and something to eat,
A few hours of happiness,
All the rest is nothing.

What value do riches have?
What importance does glory
Have in a pitiless world,
Where each is alone?

But if you would like to know
How to choose a friend:
Through friendship
You will find serenity.

A friend is a treasure,
Worth more than gold,
If you can find one,
Be sure to hold on to him.

The Days of the Coffee-Grinder
Ladino title: Los Días del Mulino
Music: Jill Rogoff© 2001
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2001

My grandfather had
A little coffee grinder
Set in the corner
He would use it each day.

While grinding, he would tell us
Stories from his great imagination
And Mama would sing us
romansas from her youth.

Came the day that we had to flee
The coffee-grinder was left there,
And when we returned
We no longer used it

I was searching for other things
one day, when – in a dusty corner –
I found the coffee-grinder,
And wept from sheer emotion

I washed it and cleaned it up
And put it in my living-room
And my happiest days
Returned to my heart.

But yesterday my grandson came over
And he found the grinder;
I wondered: Where did I put it?
He threw it down on the floor.

I know that the time has come:
I must tell him
About the day of the coffee-grinder,
One night, before he goes to sleep.

Why Not?
Ladino title: Porké No?
Music: Jill Rogoff© 2000
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2014

O Sorrow, you grab me
and dig into my breast;
you break my wracked body.
I cannot flee you.

With cold am I trembling;
my breath comes but barely;
in the blankness of night
do they pursue me.

I hear all the screaming
and witness the weeping
of souls crying out, and
I feel I am there.

And I need to know why,
of millions of brothers,
need to know the reason
I remained alive!

Thus ever do I live
with this urgent question
to which, though I struggle,
No answer I find.

Sorrow, you blame me and
have sealed my destiny;
So must I with my death
pay for this one day?

Leaf Fallen from the Tree
Ladino title: Oja del Arvol Kayida
Music: Jill Rogoff© 2002
Text: Matilda Koén-Sarano©
translation from the Ladino: Jill Rogoff ©2002

Leaf fallen from a tree
Tell me where you are going,
You who no longer have life
You who no longer give life.

Do you wish to visit countries?
Do you wish to cover cities?
You step your way along,
You are on those paths.

With your golden colors
I find you in my memories.
I long for your shape, friend,
Return to my path.

I hear the sound that you make
Which always makes me joyful.
I find you in my books
Where I have placed you to dry.

Dear leaf of the tree
I long to know where you are
As my entire life
Will return to me no more.

 

 Spanish

Long live the great king
Spanish title of the frottolaViva el gran rey
Music: Carlo Verardi (1440-1500)
Text: unknown author
translation from the Spanish: Jill Rogoff ©2005

Long live the great King
Long live the great King Ferdinand
With the Queen Isabella
Long live Spain and Castile
Triumphant, filled with glory.

The Muslim city,
Most powerful Granada,
Of the pagan faith,
Is freed, released.

Armed with the power and virtue
Of Ferdinand and Isabella
Long live Spain and Castile
Triumphant, filled with glory.

 

Medieval woodcut from Mirrour of the World, published in Westminster circa 1481

Medieval woodcut from Mirrour of the World, published in Westminster circa 1481