Page 34 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

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of his ambitions or strained his pride. His artistic problem de­
rives from his attempt to carry that allegiance, with its attendant
strain, into the idiom of modern poetry.
That attempt invited psychic and artistic peril. Writing in
English, Klein, who once described his childhood as “Yiddish­
speaking and Hebrew-thinking,” was faced with the problem
of fashioning out of the diction and syntax of his acquired
tongue an expressive vocabulary for his store of Jewish memory.
Drawing upon his inveterate love for archaism, and doubtless
re-echoing the influential King James Version, he frequently
resorted to the elevated language of the English Renaissance
as his chief means for rendering the ancient sanctities of Judaic
All too often the resulting voice is rhetorically stylized to the
point where exotic words draw attention to themselves, distort­
ing the poetic context; the verbal inventiveness is so dazzling
as to dim the total experience of the poem. In many poems
the reader feels that the bravura eloquence is excessive, imped­
ing interchange with the poet.
The sharpest example of rhetorical distortion is to be seen
in his long poem,
The Hitleriad
(1944). It was meant to be a
satiric account of European Jews’ tormentor and destroyer, a
vehicle for the poet’s passionate rage. Instead, it emerged as
an eccentric work, a pastiche of contemporary caricature wed­
ded to 18th century Augustan versification. All the stark out­
rage felt by a Jew forced to witness the murder of his people,
is deflected by the cumbersome display of wit, the semantic
games performed. Manner has completely subjugated matter,
diffusing the charged anger into the surface decor of the text.
It is in the lyric poems that we see Klein at his best. In con­
templation of his personal circumstance he attains a control
lacking in the public address, finds a voice at once natural and
poignant. In a number of self-reflexive poems his achieved tone
embodies his own predicament. There is the wrenching aware­
ness that an unbridgeable chasm lies between his precious mem­
ories of a childhood imbued with belief, and the present con­
sciousness of secular adulthood. Thus, in “Autobiographical”
the past is celebrated: