Page 122 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

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J
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B
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imprint upon his poetry and essays, not only in the gallery of
poets he emulated, translated, admired, e.g. Milton, Herrick,
Whitman, Wordsworth (poets of the Anglo-American tradition
then popular in cultivated circles), but also in the cadences of
much of his verse and even in the exotic atmosphere of some
of the longer poems. (Hebrew poetry in America has had a
strong penchant for the exotic.) Both Regelson’s poetry and
prose vibrate with the heady intellectual tension so characteristic
of Jewish circles—Hebrew, Yiddish, and English speaking—in
New York City between the two World Wars. He was obviously
at home in all three languages and moved freely from one to the
other. He translated Yaakov Klatzkin, Yehudah HaLevi, and
Ari Ibn-Zahav from Hebrew into English; Mordecai Kaplan,
Solomon Goldman, and John Milton from English into Hebrew;
Yaakov Glantz and Sutzkever from Yiddish into Hebrew.
Master of Three Languages
Regelson was master of the three languages of intellectual
discourse of New York Jewry—English, Yiddish, and Hebrew—
but it was the latter that he loved most, even worshipped. The
poem
Hakukot Otiyotayich,
after which the volume of his col-
lected verse is named, is a hymn to the Hebrew language in
twenty pages. And like all his longer poems, it bears the im-
print of his unique, charmingly eccentric imagination: incredible
linguistic virtuosity, Whitmanesque prosody, bizarre thematics.
Regelson’s concept of poetry seems to be deliberately oriented
in a different age. Who today writes poems twenty pages long,
let alone hymns to the language in which he composes? Like
the Hebrew poets of medieval Spain whom he admired, Regelson
conceived of poetry as a form of literary expression which trans-
cends the merely lyrical; what other men may write in an essay
or a short story, he writes in a poem. For him the modern lines
of demarcation between poetry and prose are external conven-
tions; frequently the phrasing of his essays and occasional pieces,
some of which were collected in a volume called
Melo HaTa l i t
Al im
(Shawlful of Leaves, 1941), resembles the phrasing of his
poems. And though a hymn to the Hebrew language may strike
the reader as something rather odd, the׳ poet’s earnestness cannot
fail to alert him that this is really a hymn, even in the religious
sense.
Regelson is devout in his belief that there is a mystery in the
Hebrew language, a revelation of the secret heart of the race,
of all creation, in fact. What we have here is a secular version of
some of the earliest texts of Jewish mysticism,
Sepher HaYetzirah
(The Book of Creation) or
Ot iot DeRabbi Akiba
(The Letters
of Rabbi Akiba). The poem assumes that Hebrew has an almost