Page 36 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
the East-European dust from themselves forever and looked—
or wished to look—with unqualified love upon their new home.
Perhaps the most outspoken and extreme of these rebels was
Zisha Landau, an arch-individualist who dismissed the nineteenth
century Yiddish poets as a mere literary branch of the labor
movement, and who asserted the primary responsibility of the
poet to express himself, rejecting the notion that the poet had
any responsibility to be a spokesman for the mass. Is it only the
times that are heard in Landau’s declaration of individuality?
Or are there not echoes of Emerson and Whitman and the great
American dream of the unfettered self in his remark to a con­
temporary critic who chided him for his inconsistency and self-
contradiction:
I am aware of the contradictions. Who cares about your logic?
Contradiction is the logic of my soul, my need, my custom. . . .
We who have any kind of individuality, we, the brave lads and bold
adventurers, we assert our right to step on every logic and culture
and we treat all standpoints, ideas, opinions, and convictions—for­
eign or native—like children’s toys.!°
If Landau’s language was extreme his spirit was shared by his
fellow rebels. Their revolt was not merely the product of a
generation gap, a repudiation of predecessors by young Turks;
nor was it merely a literary revolt, for theirs was a movement
without any real manifesto. The revolt of the Yunge, in contrast
to their predecessors, was essentially an affirmation of America,
of a new life, a new home, a new freedom, a determination to be
American.11 I. J. Schwartz, one of the Yunge who in later years
was to write an epic,
Kentucky,
recalled those exhilarating years
half a century later in a conversation with fellow poet and critic,
A. Tabachnik:
I came to America in 1906. It was the time of the great mass immi­
gration. There was an endless stream of young people, [among them]
scores of talented people. . . . We came here during a time of great
hopes. Do you recall that time at the beginning of the century? I
have several times tried to depict that great, grandiose time, when
10
Noyakh Shteynberg,
Yung Amerika,
New York, Farlag Lebn, 1917, pp.
44-45.
11 See especially Joseph Opatoshu, himself one of the rebels, relating the
revolt of the Yunge to a parallel development in American literature,
op. cit.,
pp. 72-73.