Page 115 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 37

Basic HTML Version

SLOTNICK / GRADE’S CENTRAL CONCERN
107
Quorum, 1976). But such works as
Der Brunem
(The Well, 1958;
English, 1967
) ,DiAgune
(TheAgunah, 1961; English, 1974), and
Di Yeshive
(The Yeshivah, two volumes, 1967-8; English, 1976-7),
while they may wholly or partially take place in the Vilna of the
author’s childhood and youth and may include autobiographical
elements, are interesting for more than local color. In them,
Grade addresses himself to themes which have been central to his
art throughout the development of his career.
SOME EARLY EXAMPLES
Even in his first published volume of verse, the well-received
book with the apparently affirmative title of
Yo
(Yes, 1936),
Grade’s poetry is characterized by the tension, the ever-present
conflict, that informs his writing to this day. In these early poems,
the sharpness of internal strife is often expressed through di­
rectly and purposefully paradoxical images. For instance, the
poem “In Wolfish Teeth” begins with the lines, “I carry my
sheepish life in wolfish teeth,/1 live like a sheep and hate myself,
like a wolf.” The poet’s impatience with his own shortcomings in
particular, and with the distressing state of the world in general,
then takes the artistic form of a succession of images: days like
weary woodchoppers, laying their hatchets to his broken spirit;
thoughts like mourners in the cemetery; nights like church bells
or field birds crying “Wake!” But his hopes are continually
crushed, and the poem ends with an expression of discontent and
of contempt, from an historical as well as a personal perspective:
“I see in my weakness the pain of my generation, and its shame,/
And I hate myself, as a man hates his own withered hands.”
The title poem of this volume, “Yes,” while asserting the poet’s
mastery of his own fate (“Yes! — That means: my fate is my own
doing”) does so in terms of conflict. The poet, watching the gloom
of night give way to dawn, affirms his commitment to the future
— a future of suffering. Having lived through the night, he has
“drunk to the dregs / My pain of the night — and justified / My
pain of the days to come.” The poet’s personal affirmation is
actually his defiance; and this extends to his concept of his own
art. He cannot, he says, be like “the bird in the branches,/ That just
sways and sings.” He is, rather, the descendant of jungle animals
who “caress me with hot teeth and sharp nails,/ [And say] we have
fought for generations, that you may exist.” Finally, the poet