Page 156 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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148
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Thine eye will catch the twinkle o f a light
Set in a window, and a human form
A shadow trembling, swaying back and forth . .
.
It is a
Matmid
in his prison-house,
A prisoner, self-guarded, self-condemned,
Self-sacrificed to study of the Law.
(Translated by Maurice Samuel)16
Steinhardt partially explained his interest in these sorrowful fig­
ures in his diary entry o f August 2, 1918:
It is remarkable that for me the mourners, the tragic and
oppressed succeed the best. Is this a subconscious expres­
sion o f my inner being? Always these unspeakably sad faces
come back to me. Even before now, I have thought that they
are the inner expression o f the soul o f my people and the
most genuine expression of myself.
His attitude towards their mournful condition is thus one o f posi­
tive self-identification, o f a conscious retu rn to his past and him­
self that echoes Bialik’s lines in his “Re turn” o f 1891:
Once more. Look: a spent old scarecrow
shrivelled face
straw-dry shadow
swaying like a leaf
bending and swaying over books.
Once more. Look: a spent old crone . . .
Youve not changed:
All old as the hills,
Nothing new.
I'll join you, old cronies!
Together w e ll rot till we stink.
(Translated by Ruth Nevo)17
This identification with misery is not, however, merely an idio­
syncratic quirk o f both men. Rather Bialik and Steinhardt be­
lieved that it was specifically in the midst o f this suffering that
they could find the best expression o f that religious feeling that
had sustained the Jewish people during their exile. Bialik ex­
pressed this idea most clearly in 1898 in “I f Thou Wouldst
16 In
Selected Poems o fHayyim Nahman Bialik,
ed. by Israel Efros. New York, Bloch
Publ. Co, and Histadruth Ivrith, 1965, p. 29.
17 In
Chaim Nachman Bialik: Selected Poems,
p. 2.