Page 47 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 42

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GOLDSMITH / YIDDISH POETRY AND AMERICAN JEWISH IDENTITY
39
humanity , messianism and mission as individual, collective and
un iversa l expe riences . “W hat is sorrow ?” he asked, and a n ­
swered: “Sorrow is responsibility fo r everything, fo r everyone,
fo r all times.”6 T h e very first poem tha t he wrote in America (in
1914) already con tained motifs to which he con tinued to re tu rn
th ro u g h o u t his life. In J an u a ry 1940, when repo rts o f Jews
compelled to wear yellow armbands in Eu rope reached America,
images from tha t first poem came back to h au n t the poet.
The first snow fell today
And children are sleighing in the park.
The air is filled with joyful shouting.
Like the children, I too love white snow.
Most of all I love winter days.
(Somewhere far, somewhere far
A prisoner lies alone.)
True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
Punish me not for this old love of mine.
Punish me for not shaping
A Moses from the meager New York snow,
For not making a Mount Sinai from the snow
As once I did in distant years of childhood.
(Someone wanders in the snow
Strewn all about.)
Punish me for not actually wearing
The six-towered Star of David and
The round emblem of the yellow badge,
To strengthen Israel in the hangman's land,
To praise and glorify
The arm that wears the honor of this ancient seal
In every country of the world.
(“L ider Vegn d e r Geler Late”)
A fter the Holocaust and years o f struggle with self-incrim ination
and guilt fo r no t having been in T reb linka with his m arty red
b re th ren , the original vision helped Leivick search fo r meaning
in his peop le’s sufferings:
From the forbidden land
To the trodden land
6 H. Leivick,
Ale Verk,
New York, 1940, vol. II, p. 261.