Page 176 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
about desire. It is this ambivalence about the desire for home and
for love which I would like to address in this essay, by examining
several poems in Halpern’s earlier works.
A brief accounting of Halpern’s life will provide a context for
this discussion.1 Halpern was born in Zlotchev, East Galicia, on
January 2, 1886, and died in Brooklyn on August 31, 1932. Dur­
ing the course of his forty-six years, he published two massive
volumes of poems in Yiddish,
In New York
(1919) and
Di goldene
pave
(The golden peacock, 1924). The poems in these two
volumes were but selections from his numerous poems that ap­
peared in various New York Yiddish journals, and the Commu­
nist daily,
Di Frayhayt.
He co-edited two anthologies of Yiddish
literature,
Fun mentsh tsu mentsh
(1915) and
East Broadway
(1916);
he translated Heinrich Heine’s long poem,
Deutschland: eine
Winter Marchen,
into Yiddish, for the eight-volume Yiddish
Heine, published in 1918,2as well as other German poets. During
his years in America, Halpern produced a body of paintings and
drawings, as well. When he died, he left a substantial number of
poems in manuscript, selections of which were published, along
with uncollected poems, u n d e r the ed ito rsh ip o f Eliezer
Greenberg, in a posthumous, two-volume edition,
Moyshe-Leyb
Halpern
(1934).
DIFFICULT YOUTH
Halpern’s life was characterized by material poverty and peri­
patetics. His formal schooling included some years in
kheder,
some in the Baron de Hirsch Polish school in Zlotchev, and nine
years of training in graphics in Vienna, where Halpern’s father
sent him from the age of twelve to twenty-one. In Vienna,
Halpern, an autodidact, studied German philosophy and litera­
ture on his own. En route to America, in 1908, after a brief return
to Zlotchev, Halpern participated as one of the forty voting dele­
1 Eliezer Greenberg, “Biobibliographishe Notitsen,”
Moyshe-Leyb Halpern
(New
York: Moyshe-Leyb Halpern Comitet, 1934), Vol. 1, pp. 15-30, and Yitskhak
Karlash, “M.L. Halpern,” in
Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur.
Ed. Sh.
Niger and I. Shatsky (New York: CYCO, 1963), Vol. 3, pp. 31-37. For further
information in English, see Ruth Wisse, “A Yiddish Poet in America.”
Commentary,
70, No. 1 (July, 1980) 35-41.
2
Di Verk fun Heinrich Heine.
(New York: Farlag Yidish, 1918). Vol. 8, second
half, pp. 7-106.