A Yiddish Poem Itself

Fein, Richard

A YIDDISH POEM ITSELF Leyg Tsu Dem Oyer Leyg tsu dem oyer tsu der hoyler erd, vi shver zikh dreyt di erdóhostu gerhert? Leyg tsu dem oyer tsu mayn hartsnóherst, dort kvelt? Dort dreyt zikh oykh,...

...The first change lends something of its majesty to the second, an idea advanced through the very sound structure of the poem...
...its implications are several...
...When the reader so listens, he participates in what the poem is about, for the rejoicing over the newly perceived world can also be his experience...
...The acts of listening to nature's innermost activity and of listening to the spirit of friend or lover are not only related to one another but also to a comprehension of a new social order...
...There also revolves, there also evolves, a new world...
...Put your ear to my heartódo you hear [something] rejoicing there...
...The poem is the sounds it makes...
...The presentation of this poem in Yiddish, transliteration and literal (not poetic) English translation along with a close reading of the poem is intended to bring the reader as close to the original poem as possible, whether or not the reader knows Yiddish...
...The acts of laying the ear to the earth and then to the breast of the speaker produce different yet related perceptions...
...The questions, with their slight note of doubt, are placed in the middle of the poem, thus enveloped by the narrator's assurance that the deep sounds and movement are there to be detected if only one puts his ear to the source and pays enough attention...
...His bent was to write simple, short poems that hinge, as does "Leyg Tsu Dem Oyer," upon syntactic and rhyme structures...
...This connected revelation through the act of listening is also exemplified in the internal rhymes (oyer/hoyler...
...Put your ear Put your ear to the bare earth, how mightily it turnsódid you hear...
...Halkin's poem is about the revivification of the senses and consciousness of the hearer...
...It's as if the poet employs his poem as an example of the idea that in our hearing the right rhythmsóthe rhythms that are there for us to hear if we only listen ówe can best appreciate what is happening...
...Just as the couplets of the poem are connected through the rhetorical device of the questions as well as through the repetitions of the instructions and of the word dreyt ("revolves," "spins" or "turns"), the poem combines the themes of natural change and personal change...
...Richard Fein is Professor of English and Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Program at the State University of New York, New Paltz...
...Nature and person are connected, their fundamental rhythms related...
...The author is currently co-editing an anthology along these lines called The Yiddish Poem Itself...
...Once we start listening, we may hear of many movements we had not anticipated...
...The change in self and society are as deep and basic as natural movements, the poem "argues," as the command to "Put your ear" is an instruction in understanding what great movements are going on...
...Indeed, by hearing those rhythms we come to participate in them...
...Dort dreyt zikh oykh, dort greyt zikh oykh a naye velt...
...Since we don't have to accept the political level of its meaningówe can even be oblivious to itówe feel that the poem has not ideologically thrust itself upon us but avails itself of a social interpretation if our ear and mind are so attuned...
...In any case, there is no recognition without active participation on the part of the perceiver...
...dreyt/greyt) as well as in the expansion of the first rhyme: erd/erd/gehert...
...Simply put together as two couplets, this four line poem suggests a specific arrangement of sensations when we notice that the first question ends the first couplet and the second question begins the second...
...It is as if Halkin wishes to bridge the couplets through the inciting questions as well as through the imperative mood and the repetition of the first five words of lines one and three...
...RICHARD FEIN Unlike other Soviet-Yiddish poets, Shmuel Halkin had never taken part in the stormier manifestations of the avant-garde...
...Halkin's poem thus shows us one way in which politics may enter a poem that ostensibly is only about nature and the self...
...This last reflection is not pressed home in the poem but is suggested in the last line, which can be taken both as a personal and a social reformation...
...The repetition of the "er" and "r" sounds throughout the poem is an aural reminder that the different acts of listeningóreally of paying attentionóare connected and one kind of perception leads to the other...

Vol. 6 • June 1981 • No. 6


 
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