Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Story of Schmuel, the Tailor of Klimovich

Dear readers, my fiancee and I had the great blessing tonight of seeing the Broadway musical The Last Five Years live, courtesy of my future sister-in-law and her husband. It is a beautiful musical; I was especially struck by a folktale embedded in the midst of it: "the story of Schmuel, the tailor of Klimovich," as told by Jamie the novelist, one of the play's two unhappy-in-love characters. The tale concerns dreams and nostalgia and the desire to turn back time - whether for an artist, a lover, or a people. You can hear a snatch of the music here. And here are the lyrics; without the melody and the acting, the tale is only half itself, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

Schmuel would work till half-past ten at his tailor shop in Klimovich
Get up at dawn and start again with the hems and pins and twist
Forty-one years had come and gone at his tailor shop in Klimovich
Watching the winters soldier on, there was one thing Schmuel missed

"If I only had time," old Schmuel said
"I would build the dress that's in my head
A dress to fire
The mad desire
Of girls from here to Minsk
But I have no more hours left to sew"
Then the clock upon the wall began to glow...

And the clock said:
"Na na na na, na na na
Oh Schmuel, you'll get to be happy!
Na na na na, na na na
I give you unlimited time!
Na na na na, na na na
So Schmuel, go sew and be happy!"
But Schmuel said
"No, no, it's not my lot
I've gotta make do with the time I've got"

Schmuel was done at half-past ten and he said "Good night, old Klimovich"
Put on his coat to go, but then the clock cried, "Wait! Not yet!
Even though you're not wise or rich
You're the finest man in Klimovich
Listen up, Schmuel
Make one stitch and you'll see what you get"

But Schmuel said
"Clock, it's much too late
I'm at peace with life
I accept my fate..."
But the clock said
"Schmuel! One stitch and you will
Unlock the dreams you've lost!"
So Schmuel, with reluctance, took his thread
He pulled a bolt of velvet and said
"I should take out my teeth and go to bed
I'm sitting here with talking clocks instead!"

And the clock said:
"Na na na na, na na na
Oh Schmuel, you'll get to be happy!
Na na na na, na na na,
I give you unlimited time
Na na na na, na na na
Just do it and you can be happy!"

So Schmuel put the thread through the needle's eye
And the moon stared down from a starless sky
And he pushed the thread through the velvet black
And he looked, and the clock was turning...back

So he grabbed his shears and he cut some lace
As the hands moved left on the old clock's face
And his fingers flew and the fabric swirled
It was nine-fifteen all around the world

Every cut and stitch was a perfect fit
As if God Himself were controlling it—
And Schmuel cried through a rush of tears
"Take me back! Take me back all forty-one years!"

And on it went down that silent street
Till Schmuel's dress was at last complete
And he stretched his arms
And he closed his eyes
And the morning sun finally started to rise

And the dress he made on that endless night
Was a dress that would make any soul take flight
Not a swatch, not a skein had gone to waste
Every ribbon and button ideally placed
And sewn into the seams were forty-one seasons of dreams
Dreams that you could feel
Coming real

And that very dress, so the papers swore
Was the dress a girl in Odessa wore
On the day she promised forevermore
To love a young man named Schmuel
Who only one day before
Had knocked at her kitchen door

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