Page 101 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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S
t a r k m a n
— A
aro n
Z
e itl in
95
Counted among the masters of modern Hebrew and Yiddish
poetry, Zeitlin’s individualism in subject matter and expression
rendered it impossible to categorize him in a specific school or
movement in our bilingual literature. Because of this individual­
ism, he cannot be set with other poets of his generation for com­
parison or contrast. Should a comparison be attempted, he is more
akin to the English writing T . S. Eliot than to any poet writing
in Hebrew or in Yiddish.
Zeitlin feels so poignantly the Holocaust of European Jewry
during World War II because he was so deeply rooted in its
physical and spiritual world. Born in 1898 in the White Russian
town of Uvarovich, he spent his childhood and early youth in
Homel, Vilno, and his formative years in Warsaw, where his father,
the great Hebrew-Yiddish writer Hillel Zeitlin, his wife and son,
and his younger brother were martyred.
Zeitlin occupies in Hebrew and Yiddish literature also a con­
spicuous role as an incisive thinker and essayist. While his essays
give the impression of being argumentative, they are actually the
expression of an independent thinker and of a critic of human
foibles. His approach is that of inductive investigation reminiscent
of the literary style of Bacon. His mind is alert to the crucial
problems that impinge upon life’s existential span. His essays are
permeated with Jewish ethics, and he makes use of every oppor­
tunity to inveigh against hypocrisy and selfishness. He often sees
mankind renouncing ideas and ideals without which civilized-
human existence is impossible.
The Poet's “ Ode to Liberty”
Because he differed from the outset from other poets among his
contemporaries, Zeitlin became no subject of a literary cult, as
was the case with some of his fellow-poets in pre-war Polish Jewry.
His poetry had been inspired by what he regarded as tried, un­
assailable truths which the revolutionary minded young readers
could not accept. His idiom is entirely original. He refused to
denigrate the majesty of the Jewish past, and steadfastly kept
himself aloof and independent of opinions deriving from the
popular trends of the times. While others espoused free-thinking
rebelliousness, Zeitlin boldly emphasized his traditionalism and his
attachment to its invincible values. This comes to the fore in one
of his earlier poems, “Ode to Liberty.”
I love you not because I love the guillotine;
And not because I wish to flay the flayers,
And not because I have learned to gnash my teeth
Wolf-like even as your progeny.
No, their black rage, their red flag,