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  • Writer's pictureCorbin Allardice

Commonplace Book 2: Marcus Aurelius

Translation 2: Marcus Aurelius


(Note: This entry consists of Varshe's translations from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. In this instance, I have opted to offer back- or re-translations of Varshe's Yiddish as it diverges significantly from the English translations I have seen. In many instance, his work seems more like a gloss than a direct translation. As I am not, alas, terribly familiar with the Meditations, I have not yet been able to locate all of the source texts.)


If you will it, you can live your life today as you would live on the brink of death. Others will not let you? You have a choice. If there is a fire in the house--I exit it, and the matter is done. Exit! But, as is God’s will, do not worsen your own life. (Meditations 5, 23)


Zolst nor veln, kenstu shoyn lebn haynt, vi du volst gelebt afn shvel fun toyt. Mentshn lozn dikh nit? Host a breyre. Iz a roykh in shtub--gey ikh aroys, un a sof. Gey! Nor, um gots viln, farumer nit dos lebn.


There are people who are always busy, and yet they do nothing; there are dead tired from exertion, and yet everything they do is without end or purpose.


Faran mentshn vos zenen shtendik shtark farnumen, un tuen dokh gornisht; zey zenen toyt-mid fun onshtrengung, un dokh iz alts vos zey tuen on tsil un tsvek.


It is good when a person leaves this world without a mark upon their shield, nor a shadow of lie upon their character. However, if a person is immersed in sin, then he should leave [this earth]!


Gut iz ven a mentsh farlozt di velt on a flek af zayn shild, on a shotn fun lign af zayn kharakter. Iz a mentsh ober ayngetunkt in zind, zol er geyn!


Do not be alarmed and do not abandon your courage, if you do not live entirely according to the law. You were tempted--what of it? Try again, and be contented that only some of your deeds have been less than what is worthy to man. (Meditations, 5,9)


Zay nit tsetumlt un farlir nit dem mut, ven du lebst nit ingantsn loytn gebot. Bist geshtroykhlt gevorn--iz vos? Pruv nokhamol un zay tsufridn, vos a teyl fun dayne meysim zenen nit unter der mentshn-verde.


A single glance--and you days are already gone. But you do not listen to yourself, and look only for favor and redemption in the eyes of others.


Eyn kuk geton--un shoyn fargangen zenen dayne teg. Du ober herst zikh nit tsu tsu zikh, un zukhst nor laytzelikayt un erleyzung in yenems oygn.


So quickly you become ash and dust. And perhaps you will leave your name after you are gone, and perhaps not. And what is a name--empty sound! And everything which is held dear is rotten and meaningless. So why not be patient, and wait until your life is extinguished, or you are taken?

And what will happen in the meantime? Serve the Gods and revere them; be good to others. Forgive them or avoid them, and remember, that everything which is not your own flesh and blood is not in your jurisdiction, and not in your control. (Meditations, 5,29)


Nor gikh verstu ash un shtoyb. Un efsher vestu iberlozn a nomen nokh zikh, un efsher nit. Un vos iz a nomen--a puster klang! Un alts vos iz tayer dem mentshn, iz foyl un umbadaytend. Farvos zhe zolstu nit hobn keyn geduld, un vartn biz du vest farloshn, oder tsugenumen vern?

Un biz demolt--vos vet zayn? Din di geter un hob erfurkht far zey; zay gut tsu mentshn. Zay zey moykhl, oder mayd zey oys, un gedenk, az ales, oyser dayn fleysh un blut, iz nit in dayn reshus, un nit in dayn makht.


A misanthropic, feminine, stubborn disposition, a wild, brutal, childish, immoral, tyrannical person. (Meditations, 4, 23)


A mizantropisher, vayberisher, ayngeakshnter kharakter, a vilder, brutaler, kindisher umonshtendiker, tiranisher mentsh.


That which is good is good in and of itself. In true, nothing is bettered nor worsened, even a mote, by another’s praise. (Meditations, 4, 16)


Vos gut iz--iz gut in zikh un fun zikh. Vorhaftik, af a hor vert es nit beser un nit erger fun emetsns loyb.


Everything has already been decided and formed since the beginning of your days. (Meditations, 4, 21, probably)

Alts iz shoyn lang bashtimt un fun onheyb teg in dayn lebn farvebt gevorn.


Believing an impossibility is a madness, and it is impossible--that bad people might not do bad. (Meditations, 5,16)


Farlozn zikh af an ummeglekhkayt iz a meshugas, an ummeglekhkayt iz--az shlekhte mentshn zoln nit ton shlekhts.


Do not convince yourself that it is beneficial to you to break your word, to bear hatred towards another, to suspect another person, to curse someone, or to do something which you cannot face in the light of day and which prevents you from looking clearly at the world. He, who holds his soul dear and wants to serve got, does not complain about his life as if it were a misfortune, nor does he play some tragic role. He seeks neither isolation nor community; he neither runs from life, nor runs after it. And when death comes, he is ready to die, as humble and honorable as in all his deeds. (Meditations, 3, 8)


Red zikh nit ayn, az far dir iz gut tsu brekhn dayn vort, trogn a sine af emetsn, khoyshed tsu zayn a mentshn, sheltn vemen, oder ton epes, vos shrekt zikh farn shayn fun der zun un ken nit kukn der velt glaykh in ponim arayn. Der mentsh, vos halt tayer zayn neshome un vil dinen got, baklogt zikh nit af zayn lebn in an umglik, un shpilt nit keyn tragishe role in der velt. Nit er zukht aynzamkayt un nit keyn gezelshaft; nit er antloyft fun lebn, un nit er loyft im nokh. Un kumt der toyt, iz er greyt tsu shtarbn, basheydn un erenhaft, vi alts, vos er hot geton.


Labor not to be original or clever, and do not speak or meddle more than is necessary. (potentially, Meditations, 4, 20)


Mi zikh nit tsu zayn originel, oder vitsik, un nit red un nit mish zikh mer vi men darf.


Run to help your soul if you have something dear to you. It is not yet too late.


Loyf tsu hilf dayn neshome, oyb du host epes libe tsu zikh. Nokh iz nit tsu shpet.


By Marcus Aurelius (מאַרק אַװרעלי)

Yiddish Translation by Moyshe Varshe

Back-translation by Corbin Allardice


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