Page 143 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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Gabriel Preil: American Hebrew Poet
On the Occasion o f his 70th Birthday
T h e r e i s s o m e t h i n g
o f the ironic in the attempt to rend e r into
the unique effect of
the Hebrew
Poetry of Gabriel Preil. In
fact, it is hardly possible, since the artistic achievement o f the
resident Gabriel Preil stems, in part, from his surprising
mastery of the
vernacular. No wonder, then, that Preil’s
Hebrew free verse has long been a source o f amazement for
Israeli readers, who are puzzled by his genuine use o f the ir own
contemporary idiom. Equally bewildering would be the discovery
that the au tho r o f those lucid, refresh ing poems, which are usu ­
ally classified as “young” or “m odern ,” is approaching the 45th
anniversary o f his first Hebrew poem, “Hymn of the Dead
Soldiers.” I f we add , fu rtherm o re , tha t the actual debu t o f young
Preil had occurred a year earlier, and tha t it was in Yiddish, his
mother tongue, and not in Hebrew — the confusion would seem
to be compounded . This confusion might tu rn into a sheer
paradox, when we suggest that the very fact o f Preil’s roots in
Yiddish poetry can, at least in part, account for his successful
Hebrew modernism. However, the logic behind the appa ren t
paradox will become clear only when we recognize Preil as a
poet, probably the last in the Jewish-European tradition
of bilingual writing.
In o r d e r to acco rd P re il’s li te ra ry b ilingua lism its fu ll
significance we should place it in the perspective of the d ifferen t
poetic traditions o f Hebrew and Yiddish: Hebrew poetry in mod­
ern times is known for its fusion o f Romantic themes and attitudes
with Classical elevated style, shaped by biblical allusion and
rhythm on the one hand , and by European (mostly Russian)
versification on the other. Yiddish, the folk culture, is naturally
marked by colloquial speech, intimacy and vitality. Moreover, the
two languages d iffer not only in the ir heritage, but also in the ir
evolution. While Hebrew was still struggling to liberate itself from
“old forms” (the Shlonsky-Bialik debate on the question o f mod­
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