Page 137 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

Basic HTML Version

KNOX / ABRAHAM REISEN
127
Jordan—and of the skies above them. And he wrote with un­
matched affection of the idylls of the newcomers, of the “green­
horns,” of their furtive fear and their great expectations in their
new home—America.
The transition from social and national themes to individual­
istic motifs is not as great in Reisen’s poetry as may appear at
first glance. Thus he sings of two sorts of sorrows—the world’s
and his own—which are ultimately one sorrow, each a function of
the other. His own experiences are not without windows, and he
does not turn his eyes away from the sun, nor from the earth. No
matter how individualistic the poems are, they retain his ineffable
and universal sympathy, and his “I” becomes our “I ” too; they
blend with his social and national poems in their gentle irony,
in their pensive, although somewhat grotesque, humor. There is
irony and there is grotesque humor in the poem about the phi­
losopher whose life was ebbing away as he sought the answers to
its riddles in the wise books. And in his elegiac plea there is a
delicate melancholy we have all felt: “I think I have lost some­
thing on the way, I do not know what it is”; or: “It is sad, dear
girl, it is sad to live alone. Can you not come to me?”
The transition is not a great one, but it is likely that in these
poems Reisen reached the height of his art. There is in them a
remarkable concentration of language, a purity of tone, and with
all their lyrical subjectiveness, an element of meditation and a
serene, epic quality. Nor is Reisen oblivious here of the word as
suggestion, of the
kainmol n it gredte verter
(the words never
spoken), of their tints and subtle shades, of Keats’ insight—“heard
melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter yet.”
On the centennial anniversary of his birth, Reisen’s stature
as poet of the people is indisputable. His stories and his poems
are a precious part of Yiddish literature, and they belong to all
of us. And now they are also a remembrance and a
Kaddish
for
a Jewish world that is no more, for a world ruthlessly destroyed
by a monstrous enemy.
B IOGRAPH ICAL N O TE
Abraham Reisen was born on April 10, 1876, in the town of
Koidanov (province of Minsk), White Russia. He received a
traditional Jewish education, although his father was a
mask'll