Page 158 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
PRE-WAR RESPONSE
In his book o f poems,
Farvoksene Vegn
(Overgrown Paths,
1947), consisting o f poetry originally published in newspapers
before the war (1939), Grade has this to say about the phenom ­
enon o f prefiguration in his own poetry:
Does it make any sense to publish now works written prior
to the war, descriptions and reflections of a difficult foreboding
period which has been entirely buried under the ruins of our
destroyed lives?
I believe that it does make sense, if only to make known to
what extent our generation of writers anticipated the catastrophe
and to what extent we could not foresee the oncoming disaster.8
What Grade is saying here about his pre-war poetry is that
it indicates how strong was his premonition o f the catastrophe;
at the same time, however what eventually happened was not
foreseen.
G rade’s poetry, beginning with the second ha lf o f the
30’s can indeed be called “T h e Poetry o f P remonition .” His first
book o f poetry,
Yo
(1936), included also a poem by tha t name.
T he title “Yo,” meaning “Yes,” is in itself highly significant. It
presupposes a reality in which the world is governed by a com­
plete d isregard for the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,”
a world which says “No” to Jewish values. G rade’s yea-saying
to his Jewish heritage is in fact a nay-saying to that world in
which he lived on the eve o f World War II. Grade himself ex­
plained this while argu ing with Hersh Raseyner about his first
book o f poetry:
I have written a book called “Yo” and you scream to my face
— No! You do not grasp that I myself say to the world’s order
— No! And for this reason I command you to say — Yes! Because
I believe in my milieu, (p. 81; cf. also p. 94)9
G rade’s “Yes,” then , is a kind o f battle-cry. This, in the face
o f the continuous persecution o f the Jews du r ing the years
1935-39 and the flouting o f the ir heritage o f “Thou shalt not
kill.” Murder, victimization and catastrophe were in the air d u r ­
ing this time. In both
Farvoksene Vegn
and
Yo,
Grade gave poetic
expression to his sense o f doom in many ways — from love
8. Chaim Grade,
Farvoksene Vegn; Lider un Poemes
(Paris, 1945), p. [5].
9. Chaim Grade,
Musernikes
(Poem);
Mayn K r ig mit Hersh Raseyner
(Essay) (Je­
rusalem, Department o f Yiddish Literature, the Hebrew University, 1969).