Page 28 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

Basic HTML Version

22
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
cessful parliamentary cand idate fo r C an ad a ’s social democratic
PartY-
T o these crowded public activities Klein brough t a life-long
intoxication with langu age which su ffu sed his work as poet,
novelist, editorialist, and literary scholar; for a b r ie f period he was
a university lecturer and wrote p enetrating articles on the method
o f his mentor, the word-bedazzled Jam e s Joyce . In Klein ’s s tru g ­
gle to jo in these two d isparate realm s — the private poet and the
public figu re — his life takes on a symbolic character, rich in the
pathos o f belated recognition . Ironically, with the publication o f
his two most acclaimed works, the final volume o f poetry and only
novel, Klein lapsed into the silence from which he never em erg ed
for the twenty years befo re his death. So it is with the f igu re o f a
prodigiously talented but unfu lfilled writer that Canad ian Jew ish
literary history begins.
During his lifetime Klein published fou r books o f poetry, Hath
Not a Jew (1940), The Hitleriad, (1944 ), Poems (1947), The Rocking
Chair (1948), and an impressive a llegorical novel, The Second Scroll
(1951). All his work displays his erud ition and verbal inventive­
ness, his desire to draw upon traditional lore for an evocation o f
the modern Jew ish condition. From Patriarchs to false messiahs;
from T a lm ud , S iddu r , psalms to H aggad ah ; from Spinoza , rab ­
binic legend, to P ragu e ’s Golem; from S a fed , Babylon, T o led o to
Chelm; from Pesah, Purim to S imhat T o rah — he ranges over the
names, places, myths and holydays o f Jew ish history. It was the
presence o f ju s t such materials which excited the ex travagan t
praise o f Ludw ig Lewisohn in his foreword to Hath Not A Jew ,
nam ing Klein “ the first contributor o f authentic Jew ish poetry to
the English langu age . . . the first Jew to contribute authentic
poetry to the literature o f English speech .”
Today , Lew isohn ’s commendations seem too narrowly based
on the mere p resence o f Ju d a ic term s and associations which,
while truly unmatched by his con tem poraries, often cannot bear
the burden o f authenticity. Th e re ader often finds the Ju d a ic
materials so self-consciously declaimed in Klein ’s typical high
rhetoric based on Chaucerian and Shakespearean diction as to
suggest disguise or repression . For in keep ing with modern litera­
ture ’s uses o f the past, Klein’s cultural touchstones are invoked as
an unattainable value, pure and prec ious, yet irretrievably lost. It
is a world in which the richest p art o f his imagination dwells, but
hardly a description o f the presen t, palpab le landscape . T h e