Page 45 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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TARNOR / AMERICAN MOTIFS IN HEBREW LITERATURE
35
warns” (1933) against a geographic background that was later
destined to become Maryland. It is a long, gentle poem in which
the paleface Tom falls in love with a beautiful Indian maiden,
Lalari. The poem is especially enjoyable because it violates every
stereotyped bit of mishmash we have been fed by Hollywood of
the great American myth of heroism, violence, the treacherous
redskin, the noble pioneer, etc.
In plain but rhythmic language, Efros presented the Indian’s
way, his tribal life, his spiritual life, his loss of a land sacred to
him but ravished by usurping palefaces. The first awareness of
ecology did not begin with us until the 1970’s.
The love affair of Tom and Lalari is a model of delicacy and
literary good taste. Biblical rhythms do not get in the way of
the story which moves along at its own tempo. We find excite­
ment, suspense, adventure and crisis worked out against the
background of an enchantingly beautiful landscape.
Tom intuitively understands the peculiar inability of the
Indian to hold on to his land and why, sadly and almost help­
lessly, he must see it slip away beneath him. Tom tries patiently
to explain that one must strike deep roots in the land like the
giant trees, probing, penetrating, wrapping their roots around
underground boulders and rocks to withstand the inevitable and
unbridled fury of the storm. His planting and cultivation of the
field is only tolerated by them. This woman’s work remains un­
seemly, unmanly and incomprehensible to them. However much
they respect him, they cannot understand what he is trying to
do. In this poem Efros demonstrated dramatically his thesis
that “a primitive culture does not mean a primitive spirit, as
the folk lyrics of the American Indian tribes will prove.”4
THE AMERICAN NEGRO AS MOTIF
What Efros achieved by bringing the American Indian into
modern Hebrew literature, Ephraim Lisitsky (1885-1962) sought
to do with rough folklore material shaped by the American
Negro. Lisitsky spent most of his mature life in the South, espe­
cially in New Orleans. After he discovered their history of slavery
and suffering, he attended revival and spiritual meetings, listened
attentively to their prayers and song, absorbing as much as a
4 Israel Efros,
Collected Works
(Tel-Aviv: Dvir, 1966), I, p. 5.