Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 36

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
8
So what? A case of plagiarism? Surely Reznikoff is not going
to be troubled by it. But, as the poet Auden says in a tribute
to Yeats, after his death the poet “becomes his admirers.״ And
to one admirer of Reznikoff, at least, the incident described and
its implications were rather troubling.
REZNIKOFF’S WORK
Why was the very
name
of Charles Reznikoff unfamiliar to the
rabbi and to most of his congregation? And even some of those
who knew the name and had read a volume of his poems did
not recognize what they had heard! The true poet may write
his poems on paper, but he means to inscribe them in the
memory of his readers. In this sense, of course, Reznikoff was
eminently successful. Years after his death, his words still lived,
though few apparently thought it important to connect them
with his name. He would have said perhaps that remembrance
of the name is vanity; it is the preservation of the work that
counts.
It cannot be expected that the status of the Jewish American
poet should transcend that of the poet in general in America.
Robert Frost himself used to complain wistfully of the con-
descension with which he felt himself treated by businessmen.
How many of those who remembered having heard him read his
Gift Outright
at the inauguration of Kennedy in 1960 felt
that they were honoring him on that occasion instead of being
honored by his presence? And how many of those who heard
him that day would have recognized the mistake if he had mis-
spoken himself and substituted one word for another?
Despite perfunctory acknowledgments on occasion or even
more elaborate ones, the Jewish community in America still,
I am afraid, does not realize the existence of the treasure it
lost in Charles Reznikoff. How fitting it might be, for example,
to begin a Seder with the half-dozen lines written by Reznikoff:
‘Begin with the disgrace and end with the glory,’ the
rabbis say.
The disgrace was not in being a slave
that may happen to anyone
But to remain such.