Page 48 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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38
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
YEHOASH A N D L IE S S IN
Subsequent developments belied the contention o f Sholem
Asch ’s “ Landsman” that everything was le ft on the other side o f
the Atlantic. On the contrary, everyth ing was brought ove r and
exposed to the influences o f the Am erican environment. A f t e r
the early wave o f “ radicals” o f the 1880’s came the p ro found ly
Jewish writers o f the late 1890’s and the early 1900’s. T h e most
capable exponents o f this tide were the poets Yehoash and A b ­
raham Liessin. Both o f them had a great adm iration fo r the
Jewish past and shared a religious approach to the mystery o f
reality. For the purpose o f this study we will consider on ly the part
o f their poetry written be fo re 1914.
Yehoash does not believe that, with his reason, man can “ lift the
curtain o f the universe” and explain everyth ing in logical terms.
T h e innermost sanctuary o f the ultimate truth is beyond human
comprehension. “ Research will not reveal to you the hand that
drives you like an obed ient servant.” T h e questioning m ind finds
only its own reflection . Men who set up “ reason in place o f G od ”
have only a “ substitute-God.” In his perception o f the Divine,
Yehoash identifies with the great o f Israel’s past and exp lores
their deeds and thoughts. His romanticism is an expression o f his
religiosity.15
In the writings o f Yehoash, American Yidd ish poetry reached
its climax on the romantic scale. H e re was a poet who shared in
the romantic’s adm iration fo r the imponderable and visionary.
“ From early m orn ing till late into the night, we seek to illuminate
a small speck on the surface with the tiny penny-candle “ reason,”
and we rejoice when in the vast desert one grain o f sand has
become clear to us.” Th is modicum o f light is surrounded by an
infinity o f darkness, which we will never be able to penetrate. In
this encompassing mystery lies the meaning o f life. I t is the duty
o f the poet to teach his peop le to believe and revere, to “ secure fo r
them a renewed con fidence and g ive them new ideals.” Flowers
do not grow in the frost and doubt does not inspire to heroic
deeds. T h e roots and “ raison d ’etre ” o f Jewish life grow from
hallowed historic ground and are beyond logical analysis. In ou r
long jou rn ey through history, we have been accompanied by the
15 Quotations from: “Ernes zukhen” and “Shivray luhes” in
Gesamelte lieder fu n
Yehoash,
N .Y . 1907, and “Saykhel bimkom Got
,” Naye shriftn,
vol. 2, N .Y . 1910