Journey of a Poet
EXACTLY fifty-two years ago Jacob Glatstein published a sparkling piece of impudence called “A Shnel-Loif iber der Idisher Poezie” (roughly, “A Quick Tour of Yiddish Poetry”), in which he slashed away at his poetic elders with the recklessness of a young man determined to incite the anger of those he most admires. When he died last November at the age of seventy-five, generally recognized as a major Yiddish poet, Glatstein was writing from the very center of Yiddish life, or at least what remained of it. Since the end of the Second World War he had taken upon himself the role of national-cultural spokesman, in journalism with polemical harshness and in poetry with creative force. Was this, one wonders, still another instance of that familiar rhythm by which a writer starts with rebellion and ends with acceptance? Not quite; for the circumstances of Yiddish writing these past fifty years have been so extreme as to call into question the usual categories of criticism.
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