Page 141 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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black man. The interrogator poses the first question: What will
you do on “the day of accountability?” And the black man an­
swers: “Heavenly grace will illumine my soul.” The interrogator
poses the second question: Who will silence the voice of con­
science in your desolate heart? Answer: “The soft hand of pity will
wipe my tears.” Third question: Who will halt the approach of
shame to your presence? Answer: “Pardon will smelt the dross of
my deeds.”
“A Negro Motif’— practically unknown since its publication in
the memorial volume for Silkiner under the editorship of
Menahem Ribalow — imitates the paradigms of sermons and
spirituals which were and still are popular in black circles. It was
probably co-terminous with the article by Hillel Bavli on “Negro
Poetry in America,” which first appeared in 1923 in a miscellany
(Strings) under his editorship and was republished in his
book of essays
Ruhot Nifgashot
(Spirits Meet) in 1957/58. That
article included samples of Negro poetry in Hebrew translation
and ushered in an era of “negritude”whose prominent represen­
tatives include Lisitzky, Simon Ginzburg and Reuben Avinoam.
Historicism and biblicism were the twin forces which shaped
Silkiner’s literary output. Biblical characters, like Ruth the
Moabitess and imaginary characters of the biblical era like the
Moabite king, engaged Silkiner’s imaginative faculties. Rilke con­
verted Ruth into a parable of the soul; Silkiner recreated Ruth as a
person with a happy past and a melancholy present who gleans
and gathers “among the sheaves” after the reapers in an alien
field and gives more — as the onlookers think— than she takes. A
discreet anonymity characterizes her and the imaginary king of
Moab who, in the guise of a beggar, gathers more information
about his subjects than in his regal reality.
The Hebrew narrative poem was fathered by Silkiner in
America. Endowed with a gift of characterization, he created
gentle personages who thought bold thoughts and acted with
commendable restraint. Manoah Franko — protagonist of the
poem under the same name — is such a personage. Though he
represents the twin type — the exile and the redemptive dreamer,
he is an individual with an acute sense of that twin tension. With