Page 107 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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ia lo st o t zk y
— M
orr is
o s e n f e l d
Morris Rosenfeld brought pathos, intensity of emotional and
intellectual power to Yiddish poetry. In exalted tones he cried
ou t against injustice and oppression of the poor, and it is no t
difficult to detect the influence of the prophets in these poems. A
critic once wrote tha t in these powerful outpourings Rosenfeld
was under the influence of Walt Whitman. We should, however,
remember tha t W h itman himself was strongly influenced by the
Bible. (When Rosenfeld grew older he was often seen with a
Bible under his arm.)
Rosenfeld seldom employed angry words like “ tyrants” and
“bloodsuckers” which were common to the verse of o ther labor
poets of tha t era. He wrote about the worker, about his experi-
ence and thwarted dreams; about the lonely girl and the orphan
roaming the streets of the poor neighborhoods. He saw the pale
operator and the pale Jew, the individual personality of the
worker. In his earliest sweatshop verses he voiced the complaint
that “the man disappears, he becomes a machine” and loses his
individuality, his ego. Such expressions are quite different from
the impersonal labor poetry of David Edelstadt and Morris
A careful study of Rosenfeld’s verse clearly reveals the influ-
ence of the greatest poet of the Enlightenment period, J. L. Gor-
don (1830-92), and of the Zionist poet S. Frug (1860-1916). For
example, Rosenfeld’s melodramatic poem “On the Bosom of the
Sea” is closely related to Gordon’s “In the Depth of the Sea.”
Both poems deal with the fate of the exiled and ostracized Jewish
people, bu t Gordon treated this national motif much earlier. T he
same is true of Rosenfeld’s Zionist and satiric poetry. I t contains
echoes of S. Frug bu t possesses a unique flavor, a breath of his
own original form and language.
I t is clear from Rosenfeld’s verse tha t his national feelings
were very strong from the outset. He wrote on social themes be-
cause the environment overwhelmed him, bu t his poetic thoughts
and feelings were always oriented to the fate of the Jewish peo-
pie. His poem about the sweatshop was accompanied by “T he
Jewish May,” a sentimental, moving description of an old Jew,
the symbolic Israel who walks alone, lost in a verdant field which
does not belong to him. Amid the poem’s lovely lines this beauti-
ful couplet shines forth:
On a weeping willow tree
My people’s dream hangs silently.
T h e lines are reminiscent of the Psalm which depicts the
Judean prisoners who hung their harps on the willows by the
waters of Babylon, refusing to comply with their captors’ orders
to sing the songs of the Temple service.