Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 1

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Rosenfeld wrote a great deal. The gift of language and verse
was his in its entirety. Rhymes flowed from under his pen
without any visible effort. Yet he was not an “easy” writer. True ,
he often as not left his verses “unpolished.” He was conscious
of it, and said to me more than once:
“Do you think I don’t believe in revising and re-writing until
my work is as perfect as I can possibly make it? Of course, I do;
but, pray, for whom? For my readers? But do our publishers, our
editors, our critics do enough to develop our public’s taste for the
fine arts, for poetry?”
In vain did I attempt to convince him that just because of this
at titude it was his duty to give his readers the best that was in
him. T o my arguments, he had another reply ready:
“Once upon a time I toiled in the sweatshops. Now I am a
hand in a newspaper factory, and I feel the oppression even more
keenly than I did as a tailor. Then , at least, I could call my soul
my own, bu t now I have been sold body and soul into pen-
slavery.”
This was no exaggeration. After years of heart- and backbreak-
ing toil in the sweatshops, Rosenfeld finally became a regular
contributor to the
Jewish Dai ly Forward,
the Labor newspaper
in Yiddish. I t did not take long, and the former sweatshop
worker began to feel disillusioned. Rosenfeld chafed under
regimentation and would have it out with the editor, again
and again. And yet, the next day would find him back in the
editorial office, with a batch of new poems, and in seemingly
cordial conversation with the very editor whom bu t yesterday
he had called names and vowed never to see again.
No wonder! The eagle could never be at peace with himself.
One must be well acquainted with the milieu to appreciate what
it meant to be a Yiddish writer. Steeped in the daily cares and
worries of eking out a living, the Yiddish author, from the most
talented to the least significant, unless he had some other trade
or occupation to keep him alive, must needs become a news-
paper man. Thus, a poet knighted by God himself, a novelist
that might rank with a Dreiser; the divinely inspired, the singer
by God’s grace, would find himself side by side with reporters
to the manner born, filling the newspaper columns to order
with sexy stories, “social” poetry and pseudo-scientific articles.
Servility, jealousy, envy increased and multiplied in the stifling
atmosphere of the average newspaper. And Rosenfeld, who took
himself and his work seriously, felt lonely and kept albof from
his fellow-writers, editors and publishers.
When Leo Wiener, Professor of Slavonic Literature at Har-
vard, transliterated a few of his poems into German script and
published them with an English prose translation in
1 8 9 8
, under
the title
Songs from the Ghet to,
Rosenfeld won world-wide
recognition almost immediately. His trip to Europe, where he
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