yellow and electric blue
Mouth stupidly pursed
Fins undulating nonchalant
Silent as life or death.
Fish are ridiculous
Fish are easily tempted but rarely give in.
Eating fish is sacrilege. Kissing fish is good.
Fish are better than you unless you are one.
purveyours of common wisdom
Often denying their true identity
Unlikely to affect your life significantly
They swim on, on.
Like the neighboring Muladz and Endzy tribes, and despite their current reputation as fierce landholders, the earliest Iddish were a coastal people; there is no reason to doubt that this poem, and the importance (if not centrality) of fish in the Iddish mythos, dates back to ancient times. Unlike Neptune of Western folklore, sea creatures to the Iddish are hardly anthropomorphized or granted undue intelligence; they are instead seen as not too bright, stubborn, but possessed of a certain mystery that the Iddish find inexplicably alluring. Indeed, who among us has not stared for long hours into a fishtank and wondered: if a fish does not think, what does it not think about?
There is some controversy among the current generation of Iddish scholars about the best way to translate the third line of the second stanza, rendered above as "Eating fish is sacrilege. Kissing fish is good." This may sound strange to Western ears, and indeed, the original, "Ergroszo sobleytzso iydatn, diglaszo sobleytzsi erdatn", while undeniably mellifluous, sounds grammatically (and conceptually) strange to the modern Iddish ear, especially in the context of the rest of the poem--why should eating them be sacrilegious? We may perhaps assume that the line was originally constructed by some clever Old Iddish poet (a primitive William Shakespeare?) more intent on creating an amusing-sounding line than on communicating any deep meaning. Or perhaps the poem was altered in the Early Middle Iddish period through the sometimes farcical retellings of boisterous travelling storytellers as they tried to liven up those dark times. Nevertheless, by the Middle Middle Iddish period, this line was already being taken very seriously by conservative Iddish hardliners; eating fish was punishable by death during the reign of Szylny II.