Page 96 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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Jewish artistic personality which, however influenced at first by
the Slavic mood, nevertheless managed to relate that influence to
the more profound dream-world of his Jewish childhood.”7 In
the United States, Leivick deepened his concern for the suffering
and downtrodden, but also learned to control his pathos and
exploit the power of silence in his poetry. He sought, as he put it
in a poem, to “tear seven hides from words and peel their skins
until the kernels deep inside were revealed in their pristine splen­
do r”
(Vort un Zakhn).
In the 1920s, Leivick was associated with
Di Yunge
— the
“young rebels” of American Yiddish literature who sought to
divest Yiddish writing of ideological overweight and bring liter­
ary refinement and new aesthetic standards to the Yiddish word.
Leivick was attracted to the
because of the seriousness with
which they approached their work. For Leivick, literature had to
have profound spiritual significance since he viewed it as an
extension of the traditional Jewish quest for the holy. Thus, he
looked askance at the attempt of some of the young rebels to
totally dissociate themselves from the concerns of society and
form an isolated, aesthetic island in the sea of Jewish life. In one
o f his longer poems, “A Letter from America to a Distant Friend”
(1927), he confessed that while the Yiddish poets had indeed
dreamed of a holy life in America, “in order to live a holy life,
apparently life needs more than singing words.” Where many of
were satisfied with the pursuit of art for art’s sake,
Leivick was concerned with morality and with the meaning and
destiny of life for both the individual and society.
The existential engagement of Leivick’s work repelled many of
who were preoccupied with finding homespun Yiddish
words and images to make their poems more supple. They would
have none of what they regarded as Leivick’s sanctimoniousness
and self-righteousness. They also failed to appreciate his linguis­
tic innovativeness. “In their attempt to find poetic terms and
images for things in their familiar environment and in normal
human experience, the
failed to take note of Leivick’s great
achievement in finding terms for things for which Yiddish there­
7 J. Glatstein,
A f Greyte Terries,
Tel Aviv, 1967, p. 85.