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"Far vos?" ('Why?' or, literally 'For what?') is a Yiddish song with lyrics by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Copyright information: The works of Rabindranath Tagore passed into the public domain when the copyright, previously held by Visva Bharati University, expired at the end of 2001 and the government of India declined to extend it. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/1740556.stm.


Far vos?

Far vos iz dos likhtele farloshn?
Far vos iz dos likhtele farloshn?
Ikh hob es gehitn fun vint un fun shturem,
Gevolt est zol brenen—
Derfar iz dos likhtele farloshn,
Derfar iz dos likhtele farloshn.

Far vos iz dos blimele farvyanet?
Far vos iz dos blimele farvyanet?
Ikh hob es gehitn, tsum hartsn getulyet,
Gevolt es zol blien—
Derfar iz dos blimele farvaynet,
Derfar iz dos blimele farvaynet.

Far vos iz di strune tserisn?
Far vos iz di strune tserisn?
Ikh hob zi getsoygn alts hekher un shtarker,
Gevolt zi zol shpiln—
Derfar iz di strune tserisn,
Derfar iz di strune tserisn.


my fairly literal and stilted translation

Why did the little light go out?
Why did the little light go out?
I shielded it from wind and from storm,
Wanted that it should burn—
Therefore did the little light go out,
Therefore did the little light go out.

Why did the little flower fade?
Why did the little flower fade?
I protected it, held it to my heart
Wanted that it should bloom—
Therefore did the little flower fade,
Therefore did the little flower fade.

Why did the string break?
Why did the string break?
I pulled it higher and stronger,
Wanted that it should play—
Therefore did the string break,
Therefore did the string break.


The "little light" and "little flower" in my translation are rather clumsier than the Yiddish diminutive suffix -ele. The closest English equivalents, I guess, would be "lightlet" and "flowerlet," except that English -let is not as productive as its Yiddish cognate. Also, of course, the "lightlet" is a candle or some other small flame (as opposed to, say, the power light on a waffle iron), and the string is the string of a musical instrument, which produces a higher pitch when its tension is increased.

I've seen another English translation of this song that reads a bit more smoothly, but which unaccountably (and, to my mind, inexcusably) fails to render the "therefore" part, thereby missing the whole point of the song. I mean, it's sad if you want the flower to bloom and it withers; but if it withers because you want it to bloom, that's tragedy. And the difference between sad and tragic is aesthetic value.

The tune is shown below in ABC notation, with chords indicated in quotes. (If your abc interpreter doesn't display chords, just delete everything in quotes, plus the quotation marks themselves.) It is in 4/4 time, except for one bar in 5/4, which corresponds to the fifth line of each stanza.

X: 1
T: Far vos?
C: Rabindranath Tagore
D:
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
Q: 1/4=112
K: C
E|"C"G2 GG "Dm"F>E "G"FD|"C"E2 G4 z E|\
G2 GG "Dm"F>E "G"FD|"C"(E>D) C4 z E|
G2 GE "Am"A2 AG|"G"B2 BG "C"c2 cc||\
M: 5/4
"Dm"d2 dc "C"(ec) G3 E||
M: 4/4
"Em"G2 GG "Dm"F>E FD|"C"E2 G4 z E|\
"Em"G2 GG "Dm"F>E "G"FD|"C"(E>D) C4 z|]

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