Page 105 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Ghetto Poems ofSutzkever
writer was drawn. The Communist Party was outlawed, but it en­
joyed the active support of many younger Jewish intellectuals: oth­
ers supported competing political movements—Zionism,
Territorialism, the Bund. In this atmosphere Sutzkever was an
avowed original, avoiding or transcending political considerations.
He was turned down in his first attempt to join the literary group
Young Vilna
because the poems he submitted for consideration,
ballads about Kirghisian horsemen, seemed irresponsibly asocial
and naive. In contrast to the ideological orientation of most of the
artistic milieu, Sutzkever’s poetry explored the natural world and
the nature ofwords. On the very eve of the war Sutzkever was com­
pleting a modern Yiddish version of an Old-Yiddish classic, the
Bove-Bukh
or
Bobe-Mayse
, an epic verse adventure whose title had
long since become the Yiddish idiom for fairy-tale.
It would be a mistake, however, to identify Sutzkever’s poetic
playfulness and the absence of ideological direction, as some critics
did, with escapism. His aestheticism is actually born of a confron­
tation with material reality, with the sensuous physical reality that
takes cognizance of social forces only when it must. His work of the
late 1930s is already shot through with foreboding, the certain
knowledge that:
Your generation is no peacock, brother,
but sunset over stormy horizon.
In a noteworthy poem, “On Account of a Rose,” Sutzkever has
the Angel of Destruction confronting God in a modern parallel to
the Prologue of the Book ofJob. Taking the ugliness and evil of the
world as its given condition, the Destroyer offers to lay flat the
earth and mankind. The argument here turns, not on the existence
of a righteous man, on the presence of morality, but on the saving
grace of beauty: God would willingly have accepted the Destroy­
er’s offer,
butfo r a rose
planted the previous day that has not yet re­
vealed it full ripe beauty. For Sutzkever, himself in the seedtime of
creativity, the unrealized potential of a single work of art is reason
enough to redeem all the world’s admitted ugliness and evil.