Lullaby (Peretz Markish)
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The earliest songs recorded here—Shtile tener (1918), Volt mayn tate raykh geven (1918), Dos gold fun dayne oygn (1922), Tsela-tseldi (1922), and Viglid (Markish; 1925)—are perhaps more conventional and less adventurous than the later ones, but they are expertly composed.
Editor's note by Neil W. Levin:
The little goat under a baby’s cradle, as found in this Viglid—which, in some cases simultaneously goes off to “trade in” the symbolic confection of raisins and almonds, presumably for the child’s benefit—is a ubiquitous motif in European Yiddish folklore, and specifically in lullabies. More than sixty variants of Yiddish lullabies with this theme have been identified, as well as a good number in Hebrew. On the surface, the goat image has been perceived either as a companion or as a symbol of protection for the baby. Among various other more probing constructions, the goat has been interpreted as representing the father, who, on one level, is necessarily away earning a livelihood, but, on another, metaphoric plane, seeks to ensure not only a sweet future for his child but also a better world in the form of national or spiritual redemption, or both—all of which, in that scenario, may be symbolized by the acquisition of raisins and almonds. The goat itself may have been derived from earlier Jewish sources (predating Yiddish folklore), in which the kid symbolizes the Jewish people and its determination for, as well as faith in, redemption and survival. In the Aramaic-Hebrew seder song ḥad gadya (A Single Kid), for example, the story of the goat has been viewed as an allegory for Divine retribution for the persecutions of the Jewish people—although some literary critics insist that it is simply children’s verse based on a popular French ballad. Its refrain about the goat has also been interpreted as a metaphor for God’s having taken the people Israel as “His own” through the Decalogue of the Sinaitic covenant. The song was appended to the Passover Haggada, or fixed narrative, by the late 16th century.
Along with a part of the tune archetype for many of the Yiddish folksong variants—among which the best known ones are probably Unter yankeles vigele (Under Little Jacob’s Cradle), Unter soreles vigele, and Unter dem kinds vigele—this motif found expression in the theatrical song Rozhenkes mit mandlen (Raisins and Almonds), which Abraham Goldfaden (1840–1908) apparently stitched together from mulitple folk sources for his famous 1904 operetta Shulamis. That song became one of the most widely known Yiddish songs in America as well. In most variants of the actual folksong, however, the mother remains at home to sing the lullaby to the child. She goes on to express the prototypical hope that he grow up to be Judaically learned—even a scholar of renown—and pious, reflecting the emphasis of traditional Jewish values of that environment. In this later original poem, Peretz Markish has provided a fresh twist to the image and to the situation, which invites further interpretive exploration. Here, the mother sings to an empty cradle.