4: Poem, Kadia Molodowsky's “Women Songs – 1” ("Froyen lider - 1"), translation by Adrienne Rich, 1969.
In the 1960s, Rich was one of many prominent Jewish American writers to participate in preparing the anthology A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry, for which she translated poems by Anna Margolin, Celia Dropkin, Dvoyre Fogel, and Kadia Molodowsky. In this activity, students will look at one of the Yiddish poems Rich translated and consider how it speaks to Rich’s relationship to Judaism, history, feminism, and Yiddish.
Kadia Molodowsky, the author of the Yiddish poem included in this activity, was a poet, novelist, and educator. Born in contemporary Belarus in 1894, she began her literary career in Kiev and Warsaw before immigrating to the United States in 1935. Her best-known works, including the poem “El khanun” (“God of Mercy”), respond to the Holocaust; many also examine the lives of women in Jewish communities. In Israel, she is primarily known today as the author of children’s verse.
Suggested Activity: Distribute an unattributed copy of “Women’s Songs – 1” and ask students to read it aloud in pairs. Ask them to discuss the relationships the poem’s speaker describes: to the past, to family, to Jewish history and identity, and to being a woman.
Next, describe the work to students as “an Adrienne Rich poem.” How does this information affect their understanding of the subjects they just discussed? Specifically, what kind of relationship to the past, to Jewishness, and to a feminist heritage do they see? (If you have previously discussed the other resources in this kit, suggest that students may wish to reflect on those documents.)
Remind students that this poem, like many of Rich’s works, is about exploring history, both public and private. The same is true of “Diving into the Wreck.” How does each poem explore or excavate the past? What is the difference between encountering ghosts (“Women’s Songs”) and examining a shipwreck (“Diving into the Wreck”)?
Now inform students that while Adrienne Rich did write these English words, they are a translation from the Yiddish poet Kadia Molodowsky. How does this affect their opinions about the meaning(s) of the poem? Beyond “translator” and “translation,” how might students describe the relationship between Rich’s poetry and Molodowsky’s?
Source: Kadia Molodowsky, “Women Songs,” trans. Adrienne Rich, in A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry, eds. Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1969).