Page 136 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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126
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
REISEN’S BOYHOOD VOW
Many of Reisen’s poems are social and occasional. As a boy he
imposed upon himself a vow “to want not luck and joy, but to
consecrate myself to human misery and suffering.” Both his life
and his poetry attest that he kept faith with himself. And in
consonance with this dedication he could sing of others later
too: “Praised and blessed be they who gaze into dark prisons
with joy and with light in their hearts, who pay with measure­
less years for the peace that will come some day.” Reisen’s poems
of freedom, of a new world, were the inspiration of the Jewish
worker, of the masses who were sustained by his poems written
in a vein of bitter satire: “Howl, howl, evil winds; this is your
day! Long will be the winter and summer is far behind.” The
bitterness of the satire was softened for the Jewish masses by its
music and its message was imparted to them through its sym­
bols. And who among them could forget, especially today, “The
Wall,” the barrier to life and liberty: “their eyes full of wrath;
their hearts—oh, they beat writh strength and with courage! We
stand before a high, a fortified wall, with hatchet and hammer,
and with iron in our hands—we’re breaking down the wall.”
Tens of thousands sang its strains at forbidden gatherings in
cellars or in forests; it was heard in Siberia too. But far more
native to Reisen’s mood and temperament is the poem of pity
and affirmation: “Thunder rumbles in the distance, lightning
blinds the eye. O God, have mercy, protect the poor from the
evil storm . . . all who are stranded and have no nook of their
own—protect them all, God, from the evil tempest and guard
over them.” That is Reisen’s prayer. And this is his promise:
“No matter how far away, the day will come—of love and of
peace. Come it will, soon or late, the day—it is no dream!”
Reisen dealt with many facets of Jewish life. His poems are of
holidays—
Boruch A to ,
Blessed art Thou, sings my father, and
he lights the candles”; of Elijah the prophet; of Sukkot and syna­
gogue and the months of mourning and of awe—Ov and Elul and
Tishri; of the Talmudic student with his loneliness, shedding a
tear over the pages of the Gemara—“O, pale, dear student, why
do you lament over the Gemara? . . . and your weeping melody
fills my heart to overflowing”; of all the lands where Jews live
and dream and of the rivers—Dnieper, Vistula, Rhine, Hudson,