Looking for Specific Translation to Tum balalaika

Tum balalaika is a Yiddish folk song. John Ringo wrote me that he was looking for help finding a version from his childhood that’s different than the one we have posted (click the link for our version). Here’s what he wrote…

I was actually looking for a set of lyrics to this I remember from my childhood. I could recall the last two verses but not the first. My recollection (from, gulp, 30+ years ago) was that the introductory verse was less about a ‘young man trying to choose the right wife’ than a minstrel trying to woo a girl smarter than he was.

If I might dare to suggest an alternate translation to the last two verses:

Maiden, maiden, this I must know.
What can grow without rain or snow?
What can blaze and never die?
And what can weep and never cry?

Tumbala tumbala tum balalaika
Tumbala tumbala tum balalaika
Tum balalaika, play balalaika
Tum balalaika laugh and be gay.

Idle lad you’re joking I know.
A stone can grow without rain or snow.
Love can blaze and never die
And a heart can weep and never cry.

Chorus.

It’s just a more singable version in English. I used to use it as a lullabye for my kids.

Now if I can just find the translation of the first verse.

Take care,

John Ringo

If anyone is familiar with a version of the first verse of Tum balalaika that’s about ‘a minstrel trying to woo a girl smarter than he was’, please let us know about it in the comments below, or you can email me.

Thanks in advance!

Lisa

This article was posted on Sunday, May 4th, 2008 at 9:00 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, Folk Songs, Ireland, Questions, Readers Questions, Russia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

54 Responses to “Looking for Specific Translation to Tum balalaika”

  1. cs Says:

    Hi!

    What a great website! Just wandered into it by chance, but I love the links to all the resources for the kind of activities I try to introduce my grandkids to.

    Also, it just took one try on Google, But I think this may be what John was looking for. (I found it at http://www.kaikracht.de.balalaika):

    Shteyt a bokher, un er trakht,
    trakht un trakht a gantse nakht,
    vemen tsu nemen un nit farshemen,
    vemen tsu nemen un nit farshemen.

    A lad is standing and longing,
    pondering and brooding the whole night long,
    whom to choose and not to offend,
    whom to choose and not to offend.

    Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum balalaika, shpil balalaika,
    tum balalaika, freylekh zol zain!

    Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum balalaika, play the balalaika,
    tum balalaika, merry we’ll be!

    “Meydl, meydl, kh’vil bai dir fregn:
    Vos ken vaksn, vaksn on regn?
    Vos ken brenen un nit oifhern?
    Vos ken benken, veynen on tren?”

    “Maiden, maiden, let me ask you:
    What can grow, grow without rain?
    What can burn and never cease?
    What can cry, cry without tears?”

    Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum balalaika, shpil balalaika,
    tum balalaika, freylekh zol zain!

    Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum balalaika, play the balalaika,
    tum balalaika, merry we’ll be!

    “Narisher bokher, vos darfs tu fregn?
    A shteyn ken vaksn, vaksn on regn!
    A libe ken brenen un nit oifhern!
    A harts ken benken, veynen on tren!”

    “Silly boy, what do you ask?
    A stone can grow, grow without rain!
    A love can burn and never cease!
    A heart can cry, cry without tears!”

    Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum balalaika, shpil balalaika,
    tum balalaika, freylekh zol zain!

    Tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum bala, tum bala, tum balalaika,
    tum balalaika, play the balalaika,
    tum balalaika, merry we’ll be!

    PS: Also, while my Yiddish is now more than a little rusty, the translation of the first verse seems a little flowery to me. I would read it a simply:

    A boy is standing and thinking,
    Thinking and thinking all thru the night –
    Whom to choose and not embarrass
    Whom to choose and not embarrass.

  2. Cait Cannon Says:

    I learned this song many years ago. I had forgotten most of the lyrics excepting the refrain and one verse where she replies to him:

    Foolish lad, I’ll answer you,
    Stones can grow without the dew.
    True love can burn for years and years,
    A heart can cry and shed no tears.

    Thank you for finding the other lyrics.

  3. anne owen Says:

    We sang a version of this in primary school in Edinburgh in the 1980s. I sing it to my wee boy and he loves it! The version I know goes
    ‘Here now my tale of a foolish young man,
    stayed up all night till he thought of a plan
    he wanted a girl who would be his delight
    a girl who was pretty witty and bright’…

  4. Jack Hawk Says:

    I think this is what John was looking for… we sang this often in 5th grade music class (1965-66)

    Waiting wondering all the night long
    A young man sang a haunting Song
    What shall I say to my love today
    Oh what shall I say to my love today

    Chorus:
    Tumbala Tumbala Tumbalalaika
    Tumbala Tumbala Tumbalalaika
    Tumbalalaika Play Balalaika
    Tumbalalaika, Laugh and be gay

    Maiden Maiden can you explain
    What can grow without snow or rain
    What can burn and never die
    What can weep, yet never cry

    Chorus:

    Idle lad you’re joking I know
    A Stone can grow without rain or snow
    Love can burn for endless years
    A heart can weep and shed no tears

    Chorus:

  5. Jim C. Says:

    Like the previous responder I sang this in music class in grade 4 or 5. That would have been the mid 60s. An unusual song — the melody is melancholy yet kind of toe-tapping catchy, and the words reflect the formality of bygone days. Apparently it has variations. I never understood the part about the stone and the dew.

    Chorus:
    Tumba, Tutumba, Tutumbalalaika,
    Tumba, Tutumba, Tutumbalalaika,
    Tumbalalaika, Tumbalalaika,
    Tumbalalaika, Tumbalalaika

    Maiden, maiden, tell me true,
    What can grow without the dew?
    What can burn for years and years?
    What can cry but shed no tears?

    (chorus)

    Silly lad, the answer true,
    A stone can grow without the dew,
    Love can burn for years and years,
    A heart can cry but shed no tears.

  6. Gail Breckle Says:

    I agree with Jim C. above. I lived in Pennsylvania during that time frame and that’s exactly what we sang. Amazing, I was sitting here thinking of the lyrics just a few minutes ago and found this website!I always loved this melody and the way it could pull on your heartstrings.

  7. Jessica Johnson Says:

    Hi Guys,

    I too learned this in music class many many moons ago.

    I don’t know if this is correct but:

    Pacing puzzling all the night long a young man sang a haunting song,
    what shall I say to my love today? Oh what shall I say to my love today?

    (Chorus)

    Maiden, maiden can you explain what can grow oh what can grow without snow, or rain? What can burn for enldless years, and what can cry and shed no tears?

    (Chorus)

    Idle lad you’re joking I know a stone can grow without rain or snow, love can burn for endless years, a heart can cry and shed no tears.

    (Chorus)
    Repeat 2X

  8. kbo Says:

    YES! I sing this song as a lullaby to my son, age 4. the rythmic words and melody are sleep inducing but I was not aware of the very first verse, thanks!

  9. NJL Says:

    I learnt this many years ago. The words that I remember are

    Maiden Maiden tell me true
    What can grow without the dew,
    What may burn for years and years,
    And what my cry but shed no tears.

    Chorus

    Silly lad the answers clear
    Hope may grow without the dew
    Love may burn for years and years
    A heart may cry but shed no tears

    Chorus

    Hope that helps

  10. Isaac Bergman Says:

    All the translations have merit. But, as with all translations you can pull out your hair trying to find the perfect one – it doesn’t exist. I also have a good one though the ending lacks something, perhaps suspense. ( By the way, whatever gives John Ringo the idea that the song is more about a minstrel trying to woo a maiden?) There is nothing in the original Yiddish version to suggest this. You can read anything into a song if you really want to!

    Tum Balalaika English lyrics by Stanley Lionel

    A young man played an old balalaika
    While he tried to make up his mind
    Oh who truly loved him, whom should he choose
    And how not to hurt the ones he’d refuse.

    TUM BALA TUM BALA TUM BALALAIKA
    TUM BALALAIKA, PLAY BALALAIKA
    TUM BALALAIKA, PLAY BALALAIKA

    So then to all the maidens he said
    Just guess my riddle and we will be wed.
    For what burns forever and never will die
    Oh what sheds no tears and yet it can cry?

    TUM BALA TUM BALA TUM BALALAIKA…

    The girl who loved him truly then said
    She knew the ridddle and so they were wed.
    For love burns forever and never will die
    A heart sheds no tears and yet it can cry.

    TUM BALA TUM BALA TUM BALALAIKA…

    Perhaps that was the end of the song
    But now I want you singing along.
    This song is for those with love in their heart
    So sing all of you, come sing out your part.

    TUM BALA TUM BALA TUM BALALAIKA…

  11. Annastasia Says:

    The one I sang in chorus back in elementary school was slightly different than the ones here. I figured I’d post it anyways.

    Maiden Maiden can you explain:
    what can grow without any rain,
    what can burn for many a year,
    what can cry and shed not a tear?

    Tumbala tumbala tumbalalike
    a tumbala tumbala tumbalalike
    a tombalalike a tombalalike
    a tombalalike a tombalatomb

    Foolish boy I can explain:
    a rock can grow without any rain,
    true love can burn for many a year,
    a sad heart and cry and shed not a tear.

    Tumbala tumbala tumbalalike
    a tumbala tumbala tumbalalike
    a tombalalike a tombalalike
    a tombalalike a tombalatomb

  12. Isaac Bergman Says:

    Annastasia’s version obviously gave her a lot of pleasure when she sang it at elementary school. but it’s missing the first verse where the boy is supposed to stand and think the whole night about what to ask the maidens without offending them. Otherwise it’s as good as most of the others!!

    ‘A sad heart can cry’ is probably good for elementary kids as it explains why the heart can cry.

    I would pefer not shed a tear – I don’t think it’s necessary to invert
    it. In this case ‘not shed’ would make more sense to kids.

  13. Diana Says:

    A member of our chorus has been trying to understand what is meant by “a stone can grow without rain” [or without dew]?
    Does it have anything to do with agriculture in the Israeli desert?

    Any guesses where that verse came from?
    What is the transliteration for Isaac Bergman’s middle verse

    So then to all the maidens he said
    Just guess my riddle and we will be wed.
    For what burns forever and never will die
    Oh what sheds no tears and yet it can cry?

    (and the one that follows it)?

    And where did these little-known verses come from? (older, from Russia-Poland?)

    A sheynem dank for the answer!

  14. Diana Says:

    Whoops — may have answered my own question by surfing the Internet:

    There’s a young man looking for a smart wife, and so he has invented a shrewd intelligence test: He asks the girl three nearly unsolvable questions. But the girl just makes fun of him and tells him all the answers promptly – and for us she has also a riddle:
    Which stone can grow, grow without rain?
    Right: The stone in a cherry, or in a plum, or in a peach – such a stone can sprout by itself and grow for quite a while, even without rain. Would you have known the answer?

  15. Isaac Bergman Says:

    Hi Diana,

    I can see you are intrigued by the song! What do you mean when you ask fo the transliteration of my middle verse? The original yiddish transliteraton is supplied at the top of all these comments by cs. (A transliteration is a way of writing the words so that it can be read without understanding the alphabet of the original language -eg ‘shteyt a bokher’ or your ‘a shaynem dank.’) You may have missed it, as cs intersperses his yiddish with the translations.

    The idea that a stone could be the stone in fruit is a very intelligent
    thought! It certainly makes more sense than any other stones growing, doesn’t it! But even that solution isn’t strictly correct for the stone of the fruit really does need rain or moisture. However, from now on I will think of your internet-researched suggestion as the most plausible one.

    Thank you.

  16. Lisa Says:

    Jen Low wrote:

    Dear Lisa,

    This is the first verse that John Ringo could not remember:

    Pancing and puzzling all the nigh long,
    a young man sang a haunting song,
    “Oh, what shall I say to my love today?
    Oh, what shall I say to my love today?”

    John’s version is the version I also sang in English as a child.

    Sincerely,

    Jenny Low

  17. Robin DJ Says:

    I learned Jim C’s version in grade school – would have been 1963, which was a singular year in my memory (think D-FW schools in November 1963 for one, imagine a terrifying hail-accompanied tornado for another…). I know it was in a book of songs that was issued by the school system. I was just now humming it (I have no idea what triggered the thought of it) and decided to google it to see if there were any verses I had forgotten. No, but the melody is a wonderful one. It will be with me until I can no longer dream. Like all good folk-songs, it has many versions. Gott sei dank, it looks like this one is in no danger of being forgotten. My children learned it from me. Cheers – Robin

  18. Margaret Says:

    This last verse is in “Timeless Jewish Songs” arranged by Joseph Dechario:

    Shteyt der bohker un er trakht,
    Trakht un trakht a gantze nakht.
    Dos is dos meydl vos ich vil nemen,
    Sie vet mir keynmol nisht farshemen.

    Stands the boy and he thinks,
    Thinks and thinks a whole night,
    This is the girl which I will take,
    She will me never not disgrace.

    I guess the last line just means “she will never disgrace me.” Is anyone familiar with that verse?

  19. Isaac Bergman Says:

    Hi Margaret,

    It’s a really interesting verse you have uncovered. Thank you for sharing it. I’ve never heard it before but it sounds like a final verse so it’s referring back to the opening verse where the boy also stood deep in thought. It does make complete sense and it has impact. I wonder if you got this verse separately or as part of the whole song???

    One small point, the English translation would have to remove the word “not” in the last line, otherwise in English it means that she will always disgrace me. It would be better as: She will me never ever disgrace. Now it means what you said it does!

    Regards – Isaac Bergman

  20. Annastasia Says:

    Or you could say, “And never I, will she disgrace.” So the syllables fit the rhythm.

  21. Isaac Bergman Says:

    Dear Annastasia,

    It’s bad English to say ” She will never disgrace I”. What you are doing is inverting it but it still can’t be “I” – it has to be “me”. So you can say “And never me will she disgrace or better still: “And she will never disgrace me.”

    I’m sure there are many ways of translating the song to make it fit the rhythm of the song. I do write songs and sing and don’t see any problem with fitting “never ever” into the last sentence.

    Regards – Isaac Bergman

  22. adre ana Says:

    my sister used to be in choir
    and keep me all night
    with the power of
    songs such as these
    i would remember the tune
    and sing such as soon
    but never twas the words
    would escape my vocal chords

    ~i adore this song
    could sing it all night long
    thanks for the lyrics and translations~

  23. Isaac Bergman Says:

    Hi adre ana,

    What a lovely poetic feel to your contribution! You certainly
    wouldn’t have trouble with your vocal chords or your general creativity these days, would you? You owe a little thanks to your sister I suppose. It is a lovely song, quite beautiful with guitar
    accompaniment.

    Thanks to you also.
    Isaac Bergman

  24. Adele C. Geraghty Says:

    I woke up thinking of this song (My husband and I share songs from our childhoods, as he is British and I am American). I couldn’t recall what grew without dew so, I looked it up on line and found all these lyrics! What truly amazes me is that there are so many of us who learned this at the same time (I was in 7th grade in 1963, in Brooklyn, NY). I wonder if there were general songlists that music teachers referred to. I know for a fact that none of my kids ever learned this one. It’s a great old song, and I’ve always loved it. Thanks to all for such a wide variety of lyrics!

    Brooklyn’s version from Charles Dewey Jr. High:

    Tumala tumala, tum-a-la-laika
    Tumala tumala, tum-a-la-laika
    Tu-ma-la-laika,
    Tu-ma-la-laika
    Tu-ma-la-laika,
    Tu-ma-la-lai

    Maiden, maiden, tell me true,
    What can grow without the dew?
    What can burn for years and years?
    What can cry but shed no tears?

    Tumala tumala, tum-a-la-laika
    Tumala tumala, tum-a-la-laika
    Tu-ma-la-laika
    Tu-ma-la-laika
    Tu-ma-la-laika
    Tu-ma-la-lai.

    Silly lad, the answer true,
    A stone can grow without the dew,
    Love can burn for years and years,
    And a heart can cry but shed no tears.

  25. Isaac Bergman Says:

    Hi Adele,
    Your version from Brooklyn is almost identical to NJL’s version submitted on this site in October 2009 except for a different balalaika sound in the chorus. I suspect that schoolteachers all over both America and England did have a book in 1963 with a list of similar songs from which they could just pluck out the best ones. I know that I have books like that on my shelves.

    But we’re back to the ancient question which doesn’t seem to matter: can a stone grow without the dew? Diana on April 27 this year (2010) suggested that a stone could be a cherry, plum or peach stone. That’s quite plausible unless one gets too analytical!

    For the musical people who read this site, it sounds really good on guitar in the key of A minor.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  26. Adam Says:

    I learned this song in music class, and I believe I have the translation:

    Maiden, Maiden, Tell me true,
    What can grow without the dew?
    What can burn for years and years,
    What can cry and shed no tears?

    Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.
    Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.
    Tumbalalaika! Tumbalalaika.
    Tumbalalaika, Tumbalalai.

    Listen, I’ve an answer for you,
    Stones can grow without the dew.
    Love can burn for years and years,
    Hearts can cry and shed no tears.

    Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.
    Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika.
    Tumbalalaika! Tumbalalaika.
    Tumbalalaika, Tumbalalai.

  27. Gary Amsterdam Says:

    A dear friend forwarded a short cantorial concert from the Sephardic Scul in Amsterdam to me tonight. It highlighted this song. I knew the song which I learned from my Grandfather who taught it to me and my siblings and cousins more than 60 years ago. To me it represents the essence of Yiddish culture and musical tradition.

  28. Jack Wilkins Says:

    I rember this song from my youth.
    It was 1967-69, ln 2 room elementary school in southern lp
    Utah. I remember it this way.

    Once upon a night of so long,
    A young man sang a haunting song.
    What shall I say to my love today?
    Oh what shall I say to my love today?

    Tum bala, tum bala tum balalika,
    Tum bala tum bala tum balalika
    Tum balalika play balalika
    Tum balalika laugh and be gay.

    Maiden maiden can you explain,
    What can grow without snow or rain?
    What can burn for endless years?
    And what cn weep yet shed no twars.

    Chorus

    Idol lad your joking I know.
    A stone can grow without rain or snow.
    Love can burn for endless years.
    A heart can weep and shed no tears.

    Chorus
    Chorus

    Thank-you Isaac.

  29. Denise Fouche' Says:

    Looking for a version that begins…”the night was cold, the night was damp. I wandered into a gypsy camp. As I was warmed by the fire’s glow a gypsy did sing her tale of woe.

    Then it goes on to say what can grow without the dew, what can burn for years and years, and what can cry and shed no tears, although I can’t remember the exact words.

    Then the last verse reveals that love can grow with the dew, desire can burn for years and years, and a broken heart cries and sheds no tears, and again I don’t remember the exact words.

    I would like to find all the words to this version.

    Does anyone know? Thank you.

  30. rajani Says:

    Here’s a version we sang in music class in India-brings back great memories of the school choir!

    Hear my tale of a certain young man
    Who stayed up all night till he thought of a plan
    He wanted a girl who would be his delight
    A girl who was pretty, witty and bright

    Tell me, my pretty one, tell if you know
    What needs no rain and yet it can grow
    Tell what can blossom, bloom through the years
    Tell what can yearn, cry without tears

    Oh foolish boy, now surely you know
    A stone needs no rain, and yet it can grow
    True love can blossom, bloom through the years
    And a heart when it yearns, cries without tears

    Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika,
    Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika,
    Tumbalalaika, shpil balalaika,
    Tumbalalaika, freylekh zol zayn.

  31. elizabeth Says:

    I remember singing this for chorus in elementrary school. The version we sang was just-
    “Maiden, maiden, can you explain? What can grow without any rain. What can burn for many a year, what can cry but shed not a tear?
    Tum bala, tum bala, tumbalalaika
    Tum bala, tum bala tumbalalaika
    Tum balalaika tumbalalaika
    Tumbalalaika tumbalalaika
    Foolish boy, I can explain, a stone can grow without any rain, a fire can burn for many a year, a heart can cry but shed not a tear
    Chorus”
    The end :)

  32. jeneane Says:

    It was definitely from mid sixties elementary school as part of a story pairing in a literature book. I believe the story was Stone Soup about European village. I grew up in a blue collar factory town in WNY
    I was in second or third grade
    and still remember the tune as it was pretty and unique
    An original attempt at cultural education
    I can still sing it

  33. Lisa Says:

    Jeneane – if you’d like to sing it for us, we’d love to post a recording! Cheers! Mama Lisa

  34. Ted Prosnitz Says:

    The line “A stone can grow grow without rain” is problematic. Stones grow?
    Perhaps the text was corrupted, long ago.
    Instead of shteyn שטיין meaning rock,
    it might originally have been sheyn שיין meaning beauty.
    This certainly fits better in the stanza which mentions love and heart.
    Sheyn works for me, although shteyn is universally used.

  35. Maria Ninten Says:

    The version elizabeth typed is almost exactly the same version i learned in 3rd or 4th grade. It was just a little different:

    *Chorus*
    Tumbala Tumbala Tumbalalaika
    Tumbalalaika, Tumbalalaika
    Tumbalalaika, Tumbalalaika
    Tumbalalaika, Tumbalalai Tum

    Maiden, Maiden, can you explain?
    What can grow without any rain?
    What can burn for many a year?
    What can cry and shed not a tear?

    *Repeat chorus*

    Foolish boy, I can explain
    A stone can grow without any rain
    True love can burn for many a year
    A sad heart can cry and shed not a tear

    *Repeat chorus*

    That’s the version I learned.

  36. David Schertz Says:

    I agree with Ted Prosnitz that this song must have been corrupted long ago because clearly stones do not grow – with or without rain. The true word must have been “home.” A home (i.e. a family) can grow without rain. Also, I do not speak yiddish, but my understanding is that the word for home is “haim”and would sound similar and fit the song just as nicely as “shtain”(stone). It certainly would make a lot more sense. Any thoughts??

  37. Maria Ninten Says:

    Well, by stone, they could mean strength. I mean, a stone could represent strength, and they could mean that their love has unbreakable strength, and that strength can grow without any rain. So it kind of makes sense. What does everyone else think?

  38. SylvieB Says:

    Just want to say a heart-felt thanks to everyone who contributed their memories and varied lyrics here. I recently heard the song on my 4 little nieces’ CD of Jewish folk songs. It was familiar, so I’m sure I heard it as a child. Hearing it again as an adult, I was so struck by the beauty of the lyrics and melody that I started hunting around. I don’t remember all the lyrics on the CD, but it had lines like,

    Hear my story of a (something) young man
    Who stayed awake all night until he found a plan
    He wanted a maiden (for his delight?)
    A girl who was pretty and witty and bright

    Chorus

    Maiden maiden tell me true
    What can grow without the dew
    What can burn for years and years
    What can cry and shed no tears

    Chorus

    Something something something
    A stone can grow without the dew
    Love can burn for years and years
    A heart can cry and shed no tears

    Chorus

    1. What do the words in the chorus mean, does anyone know?

    2. I really appreciate the explanations that the young man wanted a girl who was smart. Before I read this website, I was puzzled over the wording because I assumed he wanted a specific girl. Now that I see he wanted not a specific girl, but any girl who had the specific characteristics he desires, it makes so much more sense.

    3. I’m far from a linguist and don’t know Yiddish, but was fascinated by the discussion about a stone growing. The suggestions that it might refer more to love, house, or beauty were quite intriguing. I did a little hunting on the word “shteyn.” I found a couple of sites that might be interesting to this group. One is:

    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2365608

    This site uses a lot of Hebrew, which I also don’t know. But it looks interesting.

    The other has a completely different translation of shteyn. It focuses on its meaning of “stand.” The many meanings listed here are quite interesting when considered in the context of this song. The website is:

    http://yiddishwordoftheweek.tumblr.com/post/598351761/shteyn

    Again, many thanks!

  39. Lisa Says:

    Olivia sent this:

    I sing to my grandchildren the following:

    Tell me my pretty one, tell if you know
    What needs no rain and yet it can grow
    True love can blossom, bloom through the years
    But it takes a true heart to cry without tears.

  40. Nelly Says:

    I too learned it from some brand new singing books they bought at our school in 1966. Well I guess the translation I learned was close:

    A lad stood thinking all the night through,

    thinking, thinking what to do,

    whose heart to take, whose heart not to break,

    whose heart to take, whose heart not to break.

    Chorus

    Maiden, maiden can you explain,

    what can grow without snow or rain,

    what can weep and never cry,

    what can burn and never die.

    Chorus

    Lad, oh lad you’re joking I know,

    a stone can grow without rain or snow,

    a heart can weep and never cry ,

    Love can burn and never die.
    Chorus

  41. Lisa Says:

    Flawless sent these lyrics:

    Maiden maiden can you explain,what can grow without snow or rain? What can burn and never die and what can weep and never cry
    Chorus

    Idle lad your joking I know a rock can grow without rain or snow, love can burn and never die, and a heart can weep and never cry

  42. Lara Says:

    Does anyone know the actual Yiddish characters for this song?

  43. Lisa Says:

    David E. wrote:

    “In a song book we had in school from the fifties this song was listed as a Russian folk song. I know the song went back and forth between the male and female perspectives. I remember a verse following the boys reply of a stone can cry, the maidens reply was love can grow without the dew, passions can burn for years and years, a heart can cry and shed no tears.”

  44. Vladimir Says:

    Hi,

    I have just translated
    @
    http://samlib.ru/editors/g/gurwich_w_a/tum-balalaika-1.shtml

    Best

    Vladimir

  45. John Says:

    This what I remember sing in choir back in1975.

    A boy lays thinking all night long.
    Wondering what is right or wrong.
    Which one to choose.
    Which one to loose.
    Which heart to take.
    Which heart to brake

    Chorus

    Lovely maiden tell me true.
    What can grow without dew.
    What can burn for years and years.
    And what can cry and sheds no tears.

    Chorus

    Foolish laid I’ll answer you.
    A stone can grow without the dew.
    True love can burn for years and years.
    A heart can cry and sheds no tears.

    Chorus.

  46. John Says:

    Last verse should read:
    Foolish lad I’ll answer you.

  47. Marco Says:

    The version I remember from when I was about 10 years old went like this:

    Maiden mine I would like to know
    What can grow without rain or snow
    What can flame and ever glow
    What can weep
    With no tears to show

    Refrain

    Foolish lad if you wish to know
    Stones can grow without rain or snow
    Love can flame and ever glow
    Hearts can weep
    With no tears to show

    Refrain

  48. Joshua Says:

    Listen boy
    Tell if you know
    What needs to rain
    And yet it can grow?
    What can blossom
    Throughout the years?
    What can cry
    cry without tears?
    (Chorus)

    Foolish boy
    Don’t you know?
    A stone needs no rain
    And yet it can grow.
    Love can blossom
    Throughout the years.
    A heart can cry
    Cry without tears.
    (Chorus)

  49. rdsmalley Says:

    A young man played on an old balaleika/ while he tried to make up his mind/
    O, whom did he love & whom should he choose/And how not hurt the ones he’d refuse.

    Then to all the maidens he clearly said/Just guess my riddle and we will be wed/
    What burns forever and never will die/ What sheds no tears & yet it can cry?

    The maiden who truly loved him/ spoke up & said/She knew the riddle & so they were wed.
    For love burns forever & never will die/ A heart sheds no tears & yet it can cry.

    These verses (minus the refrain) avoid the obscurity of rocks that grow,
    And, the rhyme and meter work in English. But yes, they take some liberties
    with the Yiddish original.

  50. L Says:

    Regarding the strange riddle of a growing stone, I found an explanation that feels right to me: it seems to be a Yiddish pun that was lost in the translation to English. Here’s my source:

    (from https://www.quora.com/In-the-Yiddish-song-Tumbalalaika-the-riddle-what-can-grow-without-rain-is-answered-a-stone-can-grow-without-rain-What-does-this-mean)

    It’s a play on words. The Yiddish word for stone is “Shtayn” which can be a foreshortened way of saying “Farshtayn”, the Yiddish word for “understanding”.

  51. L Says:

    Also the translation I remember learning (in the U.S.) is almost identical to the one rajani posted:

    Chorus: Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika,
    Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika,
    Tumbalalaika, shpil balalaika,
    Tumbalalaika, freylekh zol zayn.

    I’ll tell you a tale of a certain young man
    Who stayed up all night and thought of a plan
    He wanted a girl who’d be his delight
    A girl who was pretty, witty and bright.

    Chorus

    Tell me, maiden, tell if you know
    What needs no rain and yet it can grow
    Tell what can blossom, bloom through the years
    And what, when it yearns, cries without tears.

    Chorus

    Oh foolish boy, surely you know
    A stone needs no rain, and yet it can grow
    True love can blossom, bloom through the year
    And the heart when it yearns, cries without tears.

    Chorus

  52. Sabrina Says:

    I love all these different translations!

    When I sang this to the girl for whom I nannied, I’d switch the answers to the riddle in a way that made more sense to me. I don’t remember a first introductory verse whatsoever. Here’s what I would sing (with the wrong answers):

    Maiden, oh maiden, tell me again:
    What can grow, grow without rain?
    What can burn for many long years?
    And what can cry without shedding a tear?

    Tumbalala, tumbalala, tumbalalaika
    Tumbalala, tumbalala, tumbalalaika
    Tumbalalaika, sing me a-laika
    Tumbalalaika, sing me a tale.

    Silly young man, why ask again?
    Love can grow, grow without rain.
    A heart can burn for many long years
    And a stone can cry without shedding a tear.

    As a child, I figured only someone made of stone would not cry tears. The actual explanations for a stone growing are so interesting! I found one comment on another page that says: “Stones (in the fields), which are under the earth surface, appears from time to time on the surface. At first appears the top of the stone, then, in years, the whole stone. So, it grows. You can see it in north-east Europe.” Another person mentioned her garden in which she is always picking out stones that emerge from below.

  53. Beth Says:

    Tumbala, tumbala, tumbalalaika x 2

    Many the maidens, bright are their eyes–how shall I choose one who is wise?
    Refrain
    Maiden, maiden, can you explain–what can grow without snow or rain?
    What fire can burn, but never die?
    And what can weep, but never cry?
    Refrain
    Idle lad, you’re joking I know–a stone can grow without rain or snow.
    Love can burn for endless years.
    A heart can weep yet shed no tears.
    1970’s version from grade school.

  54. Alec Says:

    Wikipaedia has a brief, but good, article on the song, even including a second verse (set of questions) that I was unaware of. Sadly, although the song is termed a “folk song”, implying a certain antiquity, there is no reference to write or age. I am now in my middle seventies and first heard it on my mother’s knee, so it must be a shtetl song, but the concept of a boy choosing his own bride is contrary to my understanding of shtetl life. Also, how is telling the rejected girl that she isn’t smart enough to be his wife keeping her from shame ?

    But perhaps that’s overthinking it a little. Its a beautiful song with a lovely melody from our wonderful culture, so lets just enjoy it.

Leave a Reply