Celia Dropkin

Celia Dropkin was born Tsilye Levine in Bobruisk on December 5, 1887. Her father, a lumber merchant, died when she was young and she was raised by her mother with the support of a local established family.

She had a traditional early education in Bobruisk and then attended the Russian gymnasium of Novozybkov in neighboring Chernigov Province. After graduating in 1906, she headed to Kiev where she continued her studies. There, she was mentored by the Hebrew writer Uri Nissan Gnessin and the two cultivated an intense friendship. Gnessin also passionately encouraged her writing — originally in Russian. Along with Gnessin, she later moved to Warsaw, where she worked briefly as a teacher.

She returned to her hometown in 1908, where she met her future husband, Shmaye Dropkin, a Bundist activist. The two married in 1909 and their first son was born the following year.

In 1912, the young family was forced to emigrate because of her husband’s illegal political activity. In New York, she continued writing and in 1917 she translated her first Russian poems into Yiddish and began publishing them and her new poetic work in American Yiddish newspapers and literary journals to great acclaim.

Dropkin died on August 17, 1956.

Listen to Dropkin recite her poem “ווייַס ווי דער שניי (White as the Snow)”

Like Snow on the Alps

Like snow on the Alps,
Sharp as mountain air,
Like heady old balms,
Your beauty calls.
Because you dazzle, like new snow,
Your thin air stifles breath.
My head spins
From a bitter, magical fragrance.
Still, you’re just a small-town boy
With a longish nose.
You will slip a ring on your bride’s finger,
And grass will grow over me.
(translated by Grace Schulman)

ווייַס ווי דער שניי

ווייַס, ווי דער שניי אויף די אַלפּן
שאַרף, ווי די באַרגיקע לופֿט
געװירצט, ווי פֿאַרצייַטיקע זאַלבן
.מיך דייַן שיינקייט רופֿט
ווייַל דו בלענדסט, ווי אומבאַרירטע שנייען
פֿאַרכאַפּסט דעם אָטעם, ווי די צו הויכע לופֿט
און עס הייבט מאָדנע דער קאָפּ מיר אָן דרייען
.ווי פֿון פּריקרען פֿאַרכּישופֿטן דופֿט
אָבער דו ביסט נאָר אַ קליינשטעטלדיק ייִנגל
מיט אַ ביסעלע צו לאַנגער נאָז
דו וועסט אָנטאָן דייַן כּלה אַ רינגל
.און אויף מיר וועט אָנוואַקסן גראָז