Page 46 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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mute streets to get to the shop because she must earn a living
and who also walks the streets late at night through darkness
and cold because she still must earn a living. He sings of blighted
women and blighted men whose bodies are spent and spirits
broken by murderous drudgery. But he also sings of Jewish
sorrows and Jewish hopes of redemption. His Zionist songs,
however, lack the concrete imagery and the sense of immediacy
which his sweatshop poems, based on real personal experience,
With Abraham Liessin (1872-1938) the Yiddish lyric emerges
from bondage to social panaceas and makes the transition to pure
poetry. After participating in revolutionary, socialistic activities
in his native Minsk, Liessin fled to America in 1897. Joining the
newly founded daily of the Jewish socialists,
he tried
to veer his colleagues towards a more positive stand on Jewish
nationalism and towards aggressive resistance to the dominant
melting-pot philosophy. But his deepest love was reserved for
the lyric muse. He gave of his heart in ballads and songs, pure
in diction, melodious in sound, rich in imagery, intense in
feeling. Nature entranced him and he sang of her ever changing
moods. In dark decades he encouraged Jewish readers with his
visions of their historic heroism and his faith in their rebirth.
He was the lyric voice of Labor Zionism, the spokesman for
Religious Socialism, the anticipator of the young Yiddish poets
who preferred Jewish themes to cosmopolitan catchwords.
With Yehoash (1870-1927) Yiddish poetry becomes the imagina-
tive expression of purely individual experiences. This is especial-
ly true of his nature lyrics. He pours his soul into the land-
scape and it becomes alive. Spring's nocturnal breath is soft and
fragrant like the breath of a beautiful woman. The tree in late
autumn curses the storm that strips it of its last clinging yellow
and brown leaves and compels it to face the coming bitter months
naked, orphaned, lonely. Winter, reluctant to be dethroned, un-
leashes a storm of white wrath, his last desperate gesture before
his inevitable rout. When the sun sets, the evening winds intone
the Kaddish prayer for the departed, and the heavens surround
it with memorial lights appropriate for the recently deceased.
The young snow laughs, sings, dances and accepts the poet as
its laughing, singing, dancing partner.
Yehoash is the poet of love’s intensity and contradictions. He
sings of passion’s flaming robe and fiery breath that envelop
and consume his rational faculties. He glamorizes untamed lust
common to man and to beast and then reproaches himself for
doing so. He is aware of the transitoriness of all emotional
relations. At the very moment when he asks his beloved to be
as wild as the seething blood that rushes through his temples,
he also senses that love’s magic dissolves all too soon and that an