Page 132 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
may and h o rro r the en trapm en t o f the ir Eu ropean families.
On the streets o f Montreal, meanwhile, they nervously observed
the rise o f indigenous xenophobic Catholic and Fascist senti­
ment, openly demonstrated in public rallies and street parades.
To many, it seemed tha t the m u rderous atmosphere o f Europe
had now overtaken their haven in Canada.
Little wonder that the appeal o f left-wing movements opposed
to Fascism and Nazism was so widespread among Jewish youth.
Like many o the r self-respecting members o f his generation,
Layton gravitated to the socialist groups which, in the ir intense
polemical discussions, internationalist orientation, and fierce d e ­
bates with competing factions, served as a kind o f finishing
school while he attended Baron Byng High School and du r ing
his college years at MacDonald.
Both his formal education and deep involvement in Marxist
movements o ffered secular alternatives to the disparaged J u ­
daism o f his father. T h e g ramm ar o f political science acquired
at university (he took an M.A. degree in the subject following
his B.Sc. at MacDonald) and the universalistic ethic o f socialism
became the surrogates for the antiquated vocabulary o f trad i­
tion. Layton, whose education in the lite ra tu re and religious
though t o f Judaism never went beyond the elementary
heder
level, found in the secular version o f history and hum an destiny
an intellectual seriousness that was absent from his experience
with Judaism . And the clash between these particularistic and
universalistic world views had a p ro found influence on the re p ­
resentation o f Jewish experience in his poetry.
Thus a read ing o f Layton’s work reveals two distinct stages
in the evolution o f his attitude to the literary trea tm en t o f Jewish
circumstance. In the first stage, which comprises the poetry
from the 1940s to the mid-60s, he is only interm ittently con­
cerned with the tex tu re o f Jewish life, and rarely are the poems
concerned with the n a r ra to r’s awareness o f himself as Jew.
When he does draw upon Jewish character o r incident the
poems are often blun t indictments against bloated materialism
o r moral indifference. His targets are usually middle-class sub­
urbanites, ind ifferen t both to T o rah and poetry. So in “T h e
Real Values” the n a r ra to r commiserates with the hapless Rabbi
o f such a congregation, asking: