Page 138 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
renderings of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven, “Annabel Lee,”
and other lyrics, his ability to translate complex English rhythms
into equally effective Yiddish rhythms.
Influence of American Modernists
His first original volume,
L abyrin th
(1918), reflected the influ-
ence of the American Modernists but also his mastery of intricate
traditional forms. It preceded the founding of Insichism and did
not spurn Impressionistic effects. In one poem, “Rain,” Leyeles
aimed at imitating in trochaic dimeters the harsh fall of heavy
raindrops. In another poem, “Snow,” he sought to reproduce in
trochaic stanzas of varying length the soft fall of snowflakes. In
“Nocturne” he tried to convey through an accumulation of ad-
jectives the mood of night—a mood of weariness, satiety, melan-
choly, uncanniness, ghostliness. In “Rest” he joined various colors
from pale blue and pale violet to orange and tender rose, and
various images from a soft sofa with silver-silken cover to dying
flowers and medieval magic in order to create a unitary impres-
sion of autumnal tiredness. Leyeles, however, also sang in strident
tones of the sights and sounds of New York, its haste and con-
fusion, its Bowery figures and asphalt pavements, its streetcars and
granite skyscrapers. His subject matter was universal rather than
specifically Jewish, with the single exception of his final poem
“Yehuda Halevi.” This poem relates the story of the medieval
Sephardic minstrel’s longing for his ideally envisaged Zion and
his death at the gates of Jerusalem when he was about to realize
his dream.
In the lyrics of
Young Au tum n
1922), the Intro-
spectivism of Leyeles was full grown. When he now composed
a new poem on “Snow,” he sought to capture in images the
essence of a mound of snow and not the temporary mood it
evoked. As he compressed the frosty whiteness of the snow in his
hand, he felt its soul running down in cold tears. This evoked
the image of an expired infant whose mother was still wiping the
last tears from its pale, chilled cheeks. When he now composed
a “Nocturne,” the emphasis was on images and thought associa-
tions that spanned many years and not on the immediate impres-
sion of a New York night under the cold shimmer of an electric
lamp. The subjects of Leyeles now ranged from cats and worms,
chaos, madness, and pogroms to maidens with musical exotic
names by the shores of the Ganges, along the sands of the desert,
and within the harems of fabled Samarkand. Free verse was now
his normal medium.