Almost seventy years after it was written, “Der shir hashirim fun Mendl
Pumshtok” continues to generate lively interest. It was discussed in
Mendele in 1994 (3.285:6, 3.288:3; 3.290:3; 3.292:5; 3.292:6; 3.294:1;
3.294:4) and recently (10.052; 10.053; 10.056) and is frequently
mentioned in the literature. Ruth Wisse beleives that this parody
signifies a critical point at which “American Jewish letters gave
notice of its independence from Anglo American modernism” (The Modern
Jewish Canon, p. 289). However, it seems that there is no consensus on
who has written the piece. It has been attributed to Isaac Rosenfeld
and Saul Bellow, either separately or in various combinations.
According to different sources, the author is…
“he [Rosenfeld] did a translation of Eliot’s -Prufrock-” (Saul Bellow,
Foreword to “Isaac Rosenfeld, An Age of Enormity”, The World Publishing
Company, 1962; also reprinted in “Preserving the Hunger: An Isaac
Rosenfeld Reader”, Wayne State University Press, 1988)
“Visiting Isaac, I would beg him to do his Yiddish version of Prufrock”
(Irving Howe, A Margin of Hope, HBJ, 1982).
…Isaac Rosenfeld with the help of Saul Bellow
“Isaac Rosenfeld, with the help of Saul Bellow, composed a Yiddish
parody of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (Ruth Wisse, The Modern
Jewish Canon, The Free Press, 2000)
…Isaac Rosenfeld and Saul Bellow
“Isaac and Saul produced Yiddish-language spoofs of masterpieces of
English literature, including, most famously, their playful, sardonic
translation of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
(Steven Zipperstein, The First Loves of Isaac Rosenfeld, Jewish Social
Studies, v.5, no.1/2, 1999)
…Saul Bellow with the help of Isaac Rosenfeld
“a spoof of Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, written in
Yiddish by Bellow and his Chicago sidekick Isaac Rosenfeld” (Al
Ellenberg, Bulletins of His Own Condition, The Jerusalem Report, April
“As a youth, Bellow composed and performed a standup spoof of “The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in Yiddish” (Christopher Hitchens, The
Great American Augie, Wilson Quarterly, v.25, Winter 2001)
“Bellow’s translation into Yiddish of T.S.Eliot’s “The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock” (Debbie Forman, Literary Community Toasts Noted Author
Saul Bellow, Cape Cod Times, July 25, 1998)
It may be difficult to allot the credits precisely in cases like this,
but some clarification would be very helpful.
The current thread in Mendele was started by Ezra Mendelsohn (10.052)
who inquired about the text of the parody. Al Madansky posted text
(10.053) that was published in a volume, edited by Mendelsohn, so I
assume that he knew that one and was looking for something different.
A slightly different version was reprinted in Mendele by Shleyme
Axelrod, z”l in response to Neyekh Zide question:
Mendele Volume 3.288
Date: Tue Mar 15 13:30:12 1994
Subject: Rosenfeld’s Prufrock
Neakh Zide asks about Isaac Rosenfeld’s parody of Eliot’s “The Love
Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. The following is the version given by
Gene Bluestein in an article entitled “Prufrock-Shmufrock” in the
journal *Yiddish*, published by Queens University Press, 1987, Volume
7, No. 1. I have made a few minor changes to conform to the YIVO
Nu-zhe, kum-zhe, ikh un du
Ven der ovnt shteyt unter dem himl
Vi a leymener goylem af tishebov.
Lomir geyn gikh, durkh geselekh vos dreyen zikh
Vi di bord bay dem rov.
Oyf der vant
Fun dem koshern restoran
Hengt a shmutsiker betgevant
Un vantsn tantsn karahod. Es geyt a geroykh
fun gefilte fish un nase zokn.
Oy, Bashe, freg nit keyn kashe, a dayge dir!
Lomir oyfefenen di tir.
In tsimer vu di vayber zenen
Redt men fun Karl Marx un Lenin.
Ikh ver alt, ikh ver alt
Un der pupik vert mir kalt.
Zol ikh oyskemen di hor,
Meg ikh oyfesn a flom?
Ikh vel onton vayse hoyzn
Un shpatsirn bay dem yom.
Ikh vel hern di yam-meydn zingen Khad Gadyo.
Ikh vel zey entfern, Borekh-abo.
It’s forced in places of course, but the renditions of the “In the
room…” and the “I grow old …” sentences alone make the piece