Page 33 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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LANDIS / AMERICA AND YIDDISH LITERATURE
23
And his
“A Breevele der Mamen,”
protesting the deliberate
estrangement of American children from the parents they left
behind, and suggesting the parallel estrangement of American
children from East Side parents, remained a popular song well
into the thirties. The same homesickness that is reflected in the
popular writing makes itself felt in the serious fiction—the under­
tone of longing for the stable, traditional, spiritually rich shtetl
culture.
The proletarian writers were almost entirely the products of
the American experience. Most of them had little knowledge of
the substantial Yiddish literature that was developing in Russia,
especially during the eighties and nineties. While the young
writers in Russia were paying homage to Grandfather Mendele
Mokher Sforim, appearing in the periodicals published by
Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, and others, and gravitating to Warsaw
to consult with Peretz who had increasingly become the ideo­
logical center of the new renaissance in Yiddish, Joseph Bov-
shover in America was writing poetry under the influence of
Shelley, Emerson, Whitman and Markham, about whom he also
wrote essays. And Morris Winchevski, who had sojourned in
London before coming to New York, brought with him his
admiration for Thomas Hood and William Morris. As Leon
Kobrin noted:
Our Yiddish-American literature has its own history. It is not a
continuation of the older Yiddish literature in Russia. (In fact, we
who created American Yiddish literature, had no knowledge at all
of Yiddish literature in Russia at that time.)6
If the poetry of these two decades was public, declamatory,
hortatory—sometimes bombastic and sentimental—it was so be­
cause the poets were mainly workers whose private woes
coincided with the sufferings of the multitudes. So overwhelming
was the initial shock that private feelings were molten into
those of the mass, and the qualities of the response were derived
from its very immediacy. Crude, primitive, popular was also the
fiction of most of the prose writers, many of whom were self-
educated. Workers themselves, writing in the midst of struggle,
their work was direct, immediate, as hortatory as a demonstra­
6 Leon Kobrin,
Fun Deitchmerish Tzu Yiddish in Amerike,
New York, Leah
Kissman Literary Foundation of the YCUF, 1944, p. 28.