Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Shemen megt ir zikh (You should be ashamed) Yiddish theater song from 1908

This song is from a show called דער יךסון Der Yakhsn, which is translated on the sheet music as "The Pride" but is translated in the dictionary as "member of a prestigious family; privileged person." (Usually דער יחסן)

Herman Wohl and Arnold Perlmutter wrote the music, which has a Gilbert and Sullivan flair to it, and Solomon Smulewitz (aka Solomon Small) wrote the words and sings on this recording, though "Mr Bernstein" sang it in the show. The title is also transliterated as Schemen megt ihr sich and Shemen megt ihr sich.

There was some lively discussion on Facebook about the meaning in the second verse of this couplet:

Kh'gey a mol a zuntik fri,
zey ikh a groysn oylem
Kum ikh oykh geveynlikh tsi,
ersht Miryam'l heyngt af a tseylem

Ri Turner came up with some references to Mary on the cross including, simply, this: "In the Church of the Mother of God of Polish Martyrs in Warsaw, Poland, Mary is depicted hanging on the cross holding the child Jesus." Shalom Goldman suggests this is just the typical Sunday morning scene as our Jewish narrator passes by a church and sees the goyim making a big fuss over Mary's image/statue.

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

Shemen megt ir zikh

S'iz a velt, a modne velt, mentshn dakht zikh kluge
Un vi nor es kumt tsu gelt vern zey dul, meshuge
Far dem raykhn kniet men, falt men, meg er a khazer oykh zayn,
Un oykh fun zayn khokhme halt men vos er tut iz voyl un fayn
Un ikh shtey mit fardros, far vemen, far vos?
Mentshn, varum tut ir dos?

Tsi zayt ir blind, tsi hot ir keyn gedank?
Tsi zaynt ir atsind, kholile, geystik krank?
Zogt, far vemen neygt ir zikh? Zogt far vemen beygt ir zikh?
Zogt far vemen leygt ir zikh? Shemen megt ir zikh.

Kh'gey a mol a zuntik fri, zey ikh a groysn oylem
Kum ikh oykh geveynlikh tsi, ersht Miryam'l heyngt af a tseylem
Goyim, goyim, ayngeboygn, tsien zikh oys of der erd
Ikh batrakht gut mit oygn, zaynen dos mentshn tsi ferd?
Un ikh shtey mit fardros, far vemen, far vos?
Poyerim, varum tut ir dos?

Froyen veys ikh hobn lib shenken a fremdn man kheynlekh
Far zeyer man bay zikh in shtib haltn zey zikh vi geveynlekh
Kh'veys a narish raykhn yingl, zayn tate a gold gesheft hot,
Vayblekh shenkt er ven a ringl, kniet men far im vi far Got.
Un ikh shtey mit fardros, far vemen, far vos?
Vayber, varum tut ir dos?

It's a world, a strange world, people seem clever
And as soon as it comes to money they go crazy
They kneel and fall before a rich man, though he may also be a pig,
And they also call him wise, everything he does is good and fine
And it aggravates me. Why, people do you do this?

Are you blind, can't you think?
Are you now, God forbid, insane?
Tell me, before whom do you bow and scrape and prostrate yourself? You should be ashamed.

Walking early one Sunday I see a big crowd,
Of course I come to see Miriam hung on a cross.
Goyim, bowing down, prostrate on the earth
I think and I look: are these people or horses?
And it aggravates me. Why, peasants, do you do this?

I know women like to show their charms to others' husbands,
They don't exert themselves for their own husbands at home.
I know a foolish rich lad, his father has a gold business,
He gives women rings, they kneel before him as if he were God.
And it aggravates me. Why, women, do you do this?

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