Page 159 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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FRIEDEN / PSYCHOLOGICAL DEPTH IN I. L. PERETZ’
FAM IL IAR SCENES
1 5 1
to Mendele’s style, which “derives from the folk-tradition,”
Peretz’ style “comes from him alone.”9 This may be something
o f an exaggeration, since Peretz learned from his precursors
who wrote in Polish, Russian, and Yiddish. Yet even when
Peretz follows the Enlightenment authors by satirizing igno­
rance and superstition, he does so in a subtler, more individual
way.
One hund red years ago, I. L. Peretz published his first, highly
original collection o f stories under the deceptive title,
Familiar
Scenes.
Some of the scenes may have been familiar, yet the style
Peretz employed to depict them was previously unknown in Yid­
dish. Moreover, Peretz did not subordinate his portrayal o f a
messenger or mad Talmudist to a single ideological position;
instead, he sought to simulate the depths of particular minds
in extreme states. While Mendele remained the revered “grand­
father,” Peretz thus became the father o f modern Yiddish lit­
erature, preparing the way for modernist authors in Europe,
America, and Israel.
When Peretz died in 1915, after an astoundingly prolific ca­
reer, writers around the world eulogized him. Perhaps the most
powerful poem written in his memory was M. L. Halpern’s “I.
L. Peretz,” which affirms his centrality to subsequent Yiddish
authors. In answer to the question, “What, then, were you to
us?” Halpern responds by comparing Peretz to haunting images
of
A last charred log at night
Smouldering on the steppe in a gypsy tribe’s camp;
A ship’s sail struggling with the wind and sea;
The last tree in an enchanted, mazy wood
Where lightning cut down at the roots
Oak giants, thousands o f years o ld .10
9. Ibid., p. 172.
10. Translation by Kathryn Hellerstein in the bilingual edition o f Moyshe-Leyb
Halpern’s
In New York: A Selection
(Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication
Society o f America, 1982), p. 103.