Page 135 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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KNOX / ABRAHAM REISEN
125
her child’s Benjamin, as they were fleeing from a pogrom—that
these must be blessed days as they were deemed worthy of putting
to rest a second Rachel (“The Second Mother Rachel”).
SYMBOLS ENHANCE THE STORIES
There are symbols in these stories and they do not stand outside
of them; imbedded like a gem in a ring, they lift the stories
above the incident of moment and milieu. Rachel dies during
the First World War, but she is as much a symbol of the sor­
rowful Jewish mother bewailing the lot of her children in the
Europe of Torquemada, Chmielnicki, and Hitler, as is the
Biblical Rachel, and her tears and anguish are as eternal. It is
so plausible that the grandfather’s lantern bequeathed to the
grandchild should become preternaturally bright, in the light of
a millennial history, and that when we have read the tale its
haunting sadness should not leave us alone. The lad with the
patch on his pants belongs to Koidanov and he belongs every­
where, but his despair and his muffled protest cry out to our
hearts with an irresistible appeal because we remember—we dare
not forget—the ancient indictment: “they judge not the father­
less, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.”
It is hard to say whether Reisen is more famous as storyteller
or as poet. His poems are short, uncomplicated in theme and
expression; some of them have been set to music and are sung
everywhere. Others possess an unmistakable narrative element
and could readily be retold as stories. Reisen’s words are of the
plainest, and yet they are poetic with a purity of tone that trans­
forms, in his best pieces, the very content into melody. There is
metaphor in Reisen’s poems, there is color and there is imagery,
but they are quiet and unobtrusive. The poems are essentially
musical and their meaning is bodied forth more by sound than
by picture. His lines are laconic and sparing with adjectives,
and his similes are fresh and vivid. The themes of his poems are
even more varied than those of his stories. No facet of Jewish
life is left out of them; they are replete with musings and the
stirrings of the heart as it is baffled by death and sorrow and
love and longing and the evanescence of happiness and the
waywardness of fortune.