Page 134 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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126
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
at the sight o f imperfection, bu t draws upon the memory o f
his origins as a means o f self-exploration. T h e speaking voice
tu rns in on itself, seeking in the rem embered past some touch ­
stone to its own tru e nature . T h e self-reflective act o f memory
leads to insights which, ironically, go beyond egotism and self-
aggrandizement. For example, “Gothic Landscape” (1951) p re ­
sents a winter scene as reconstructed in “my Jewboy m ind .” T h e
n a r ra to r’s use o f the insulting term to identify himself makes
explicit the anxiety he is compelled to feel as an outsider. The
poem opens with his description o f wintry trees:
They stand like penitential Augustines
These trees; and in my Jewboy mind they are monks,
Brown-robed, fearful after their long sleep in dungeons;
and then proceeds to explain tha t the imagistic transference
o f trees to monks lies in their fearful austerity and an imagined
childhood escapade:
When I was a child one of them nearly caught me,
But I escaped, tunneling the snow to my mother’s face;
Under her grey shawl I saw God’s Assyrian beard,
And a page of
lameds
racing toward me like ostriches.
Wintry cold and do rm an t na tu re may be likened to monastic
orders, bu t comfort is to be found in a m o ther’s face and he r
proximity to the divine, pictured in the familiar schoolboy image
o f an ancient bea rded warrior, whose chargers are transform ed
to the picturesque Hebrew letter shaped like an ostrich. The
second stanza goes beyond the imagistic comparison between
winter’s blight and monastic severity by in troducing the m ature
n a r ra to r’s awareness o f the Jewish persecutions suffered at the
hands o f monks du ring the Spanish Inquisition — thus reveal­
ing the historical source o f his fear and dread:
I ’ve taken no vow not to forget
The torquemadas stirring in the frosty veins:
But the cloister bells deafen me with insults,
And the sallowfaced acolytes inform
the snowdrifts what to whisper against me;
Autos-da-fe make red the immaculate sky;
T h e use o f the p resen t tense tells us tha t the im p rin t o f history
still informs his read ing o f na tu re and man; he is pledged to
remembrance. T h e concluding lines calls for the re tu rn o f the