Page 49 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 38

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SOVIV / AMERICAN YIDDISH LITERATURE
39
letters o f the To rah . T h e sheets o f parchment, on which they had
been written, decomposed long ago, but the letters survive and
saturate the air we inhale.
Liessin was a socialist who drew his social pathos and national
inspiration from the religious sources o f his people. In 1897, the
year o f his arrival in America, he published a poem, “ From the
Dark Past,” in which he expressed his admiration fo r “ the mag­
nificence o f the Jewish past” and his concern fo r “ a continued
Jewish existence.” H e did not approve o f the prevailing idea, that
the Jewish peop le will disappear in the bliss o f the future socialist
society. “W ith my head I live in the radiance o f the future, but my
heart is full o f you — Oh dark, great, and heroic past! H ow dear
and precious are you to m e!”
Th is romantic attitude toward the peop le o f Israel calls also fo r
the acceptance o f the God o f Israel. In 1910, Liessin wrote a poem
which was a fo re run n e r o f his future magn ificent religious
poetry. Vicariously, he experienced the g lory and pain o f the
martyrs o f Israel. As the “ Phantoms” o f the past crowd into the
room he feels like one o f them and calls out: “Oh sanctified
grandfathers, give your God back to me.” H e wants to share in the
“ grand, old G od ,” whose spirit saturates every chapter o f our
history.16
ECHOES OF TH E P A S T
Liessin drew inspiration from two sources, from his East Euro­
pean memories, and from the biblical and heroic periods o f
Jewish history. During the first years o f his creativity in America,
his positive attitude towards Judaism expressed itself mainly in
recalling the sanctity o f the Sabbath and holidays in his native
town. In the darkness o f his room he saw “ the longings hover ing ,”
and his heart pined fo r the ou tgo ing Sabbath. On “ Y om K ippu r
in the Synagogue,” he heard the “ spirit o f old martyrs praying
aloud here, and the clamor o f hundreds o f generations seemed to
reach the Heavens and split them.” A l l these passionate emotions
culminated in “ Y idd ish ,” the open ing poem o f his first volume o f
poetry. In his perception, the Jewish past was identified with the
vision o f his mother, bent over the Teutsch-Khumesh (Y idd ish
16
Lieder un poemen,
N .Y . 1938. Quotations from vol. 3.