Page 35 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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SlLBERSCHLAG — AMERICAN CLASSICS IN HEBREW 2 7
the American continent from Massachusetts to California on a
spiritual level as surely as the ir ancestors had subdued it on
a geographical level. T h e Hebrew writers of America felt the
dilemma of American poets like Frost and Sandburg in a non-
poetic or even antipoetic age; the anxiety of American dramatists
like O’Neill and Cauldwell and A rthu r Miller, T ho rn ton
Wilder, Clifford Odets and Tennessee Williams in a milieu
which was hostile to tragedy in the classic sense. They translated
American novelists and poets, sometimes brilliantly, mostly
adequately, rarely shoddily. For a reason difficult to fathom they
avoided to a certain extent Henry James—though not his bro ther
W illiam—and they neglected George Santayana. Perhaps these
introspective authors presented difficulties for translators, perhaps
they did no t find congenial translators.
Since most Hebrew writers of America were lyrical poets, they
were somewhat immune to the essays of John Crowe Ransom
and other representatives of the New Criticism. T h e analytical
dissection of poetry was less prized by them than the singing
line or the singing strength of the lyrical poets. T h a t is why
they were drawn to the musical sonorities of Edgar Allan Poe,
Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edwin Arlington Robinson ra the r
than to the flat tonalities of Pound and Eliot and Auden. Only
the younger poets in Israel are fascinated by the poet of “T he
Waste Land ,” which was rendered
in toto
by Noah Stern who
lived a number of years in this country.
The poet of Jewish pioneers, Uri Zevi Gruenberg, was inspired
by the poet of American pioneers, W a lt Whitman, who revealed
a democratic vision of the world in free verse and in long,
majestic lines. He modeled himself on Walt W h itman to such an
extent that he was ready to adopt him as a Hebrew poet. In his
booklet
Kelape T ish ‘im we-Tish‘ah (Against N inety-N ine),
which
attacked all contemporary Hebrew writers, Gruenberg said among
other things, “I th ink Whitman should have written in Hebrew.
What a pity tha t he d idn ’t!” Small wonder tha t Simon H a lk in ’s
translation of Walt W h itm an’s
Leaves of Grass
was warmly
received by writers in Israel. T h e virile rhythms of the untamed
American furnished a young generation of Hebrew writers with
a major text of poetic inspiration.
T he rich vein of Negro poetry was diligently mined by Hebrew
poets in America. Hillel Bavli, a Hebrew poet of note in America,
was among the first to in terp re t their folk-songs and folk-poetry.
Stimulated by James Weldon Johnson’s
The Book of American
Negro Poetry,
he studied individual Negro poets. In the transla­
tion of “T he Negro Poet,” a sonnet by James D. Corrothers,
“T h e Prayer from A tlan ta” by W. Burghardt Du Bois, and
“Blood for Blood” by Claude McKay, he found emotional equiv­