the tears of revelation..


thanks to Hune MarguliesThe Martin Buber Institute For Dialogical Ecology , I have been enjoying Yiddish poetry. While I don’t speak Yiddish, I would love to hear it. I used to, as a boy, hear the various eastern European languages of immigrants to our town. I would envy them; it seemed that they could be happy or angry in more powerful ways than I had ever known people in my family to be.
Morris Rosenfeld, in about 1886, wrote of the Manhattan sweat shops he remembered:

O, kalt un finster iz di shap!
Ikh halt dem ayzn, shtey un klap!
Mayn herts iz shvakh, ikh krekhts un hust;
es heybt zikh koym mayn kranke brust.

Oh cold and dark is the shop!
I hold the iron, stand, and strike!
My heart is weak, I moan and cough,
my sick chest barely heaves.

(I won’t write any more Yiddish here, but I included this first verse so others could see the relationship with German written and Hebrew spoken. Try reading it out loud. It’s cool.)

a theme for the rest of the poem begins now in verse two and continues:

I moan and cough and press and think,
my eye dampens, a tear falls,
the iron glows; my little tear
it boils and boils and does not evaporate.

I have no more strength, it’s all been used;
the iron falls from my hand,
and still the tear, the hot tear
the tear, the tear, boils more and more.

"Perhaps you are a messenger,
telling me that more tears are coming?
I would like to know, tell me:
When will this great sorrow end?"

I would have liked to ask more and more,
of the unrest, of the wild tear,
and then a stream came forth
of tears, an unlimited amount of tears
and I quickly understood
that the river of tears is deep.

In another poem, written several years later, Rosenfeld wrote:

They pay with tears for a tear,
that is all they can afford:
I am a tear millionaire
and I lament the millions.

The tear that will not boil away is like the bush that will not burn, discovered by Moses. Both the tear and the fire are the word of God and revelatory..
I went back to these poems earlier today because I was experiencing the tears of others, spoken occasionally in actual tears, yes, but communicated more often in anger, stereotyping, belittling. Our tears so often have little to do with the points of view we stub our minds against, or in response to the names we might be called by someone who is projecting their own shame onto us. We are most often reacting to ancient hurts, childhood pains, adolescent misunderstandings, or adult questions that never received the answers that would satisfy our intellect or emotions. Our tears are always, it seems. tears-in-waiting, dammed up behind bravado or pretense but let loose when a particular word or thought acts like an opened handle on the riverworks.

The Yiddish factory worker was surrounded in the tears of faraway sadness- faraway from homeland, family, and childhood friends, and very far, it felt, away from hope. The Manhattan factory worker face 14 hour days on wooden floors in an always too hot or too cold factory and then a few hours in a noisy fifth floor walkup where- maybe- a few hours of sleep after a bowl of soup with some bread could be had.

His tears, her tears were of the same substance as our tears, even though formed of different pain. Taste his pain, taste her pain on your tongue as his tear her tears flow down your cheeks. Long ago, your tears, too, were tasted then wiped away with a dusty cloth. But they never ever really went away; they are the same tears still..the river of tears is deep.

4 thoughts on “the tears of revelation..

  1. Thank you for this site! very much appreciated 🙂
    See you have been impacted by “The Hune” 🙂 Hune is one of my favorite “catalysts” he sets of lovely electrical storms in my brain and in my life! and it’s all good 🙂

    • I agree. I am so delighted to find others who understand the I-Thou without having to explain, and then to find someone of such intelligence combined with such humor has been a great treat!

      Thanks for reading here today!

      • If you want to read the entire paper that I wrote and sent my dad, Hune, on leftist Yiddish poetry, here it is, with sources at the bottom:

        Professor Dauber
        A Survey of Yiddish Literature

        From Redwoods to Sweatshops:
        Walt Whitman’s Influence on Morris Rosenfeld

        Like thousands of other Jews that immigrated to America from Eastern Europe towards the end of the nineteenth century, Morris Rosenfeld brought with him his radical ideas and hopes for an egalitarian society. The history of Jewish oppression created a distinct Jewish progressive movement in New York in the 1880s and 1890s; and as is often the case when people organize to fight for a cause, writers accompanied them, identifying with and reflecting the hopes and dreams of the people. Yiddish poets, in particular, were able to act upon their inherent attraction to radical movements and social justice. Rosenfeld and other Yiddish poets during this time were called “sweatshop poets,” or labor poets. Their mission was to describe the Jewish immigrant experience and to inspire the masses, while simultaneously preserving the Yiddish language. Still, as strangers in a foreign land, they sought to connect to their new American culture. Poets like Rosenfeld looked to Walt Whitman, the “poet of America,” for guidance. The poems of Rosenfeld, in particular, show a strong influence by the poetry of Walt Whitman. Although the two poets used different poetic devices, Rosenfeld was influenced by his readings of Whitman’s poetry to write with revolutionary sentiment in order to describe the most pressing issues of his time and to inspire his audience to be active in the fight for social justice.
        Beyond the many indications that Rosenfeld read Whitman’s poetry that exist within Rosenfeld’s work itself, we can be sure that Jewish immigrants during the era of labor poetry had access to Whitman’s work. In 1889, three years after Rosenfeld immigrated to America, Leaves of Grass, Whitman’s most expansive collection of poetry, was translated into German. In the 1870s it was translated into Russian, as well. Next to Yiddish, Russian-Jewish immigrants, or Polish-Russian-Jewish immigrants (like Rosenfeld) read German and Russian (Prager 24).
        Whitman’s legacy was not short-lived. His poem’s initial translation into accessible languages for Jewish immigrants does not alone indicate that his poetic influence stretched furthest among “sweatshop poets” like Rosenfeld. Rachel Rubinstein, for example, discusses Whitman’s influence on the poets of the Yunge. She states, “the turn-of-the century ‘sweatshop poets,’ for instance, celebrated Whitman as the proto-socialist. For Shriftn [a publication of the Yunge], however, as for Poetry, Whitman was both a “native American and a cosmopolitan modern” (436). Whitman’s poetry did not have one central message. As he says in “Song of Myself,” “Do I contradict myself?/Very well, then, I contradict myself;/ (I am large – I contain multitudes.)” (Whitman). There are many ways of interpreting his poetry. I intend to prove, however, that despite the contradictory nature of Whitman’s work, the “sweatshop poets” distilled a unifying revolutionary message to use in their own work.
        As pioneers of Yiddish culture in America, the labor poets felt the greatest need to connect with American culture and plant their roots in a new home. Julian Levinson explains, “Without an established literary tradition to turn to, Yiddish poets found themselves in a position akin to homelessness…What emerged was a restless effort to adapt materials from foreign sources to build up a tradition they could call their own” (57). Not only was Whitman thought of as “the poet of America,” but he was also interested in the Jewish people, unique from other well-known American poets.
        “His rhythms and his use of various forms of parallelism and repetition echo the Hebrew Bible” (Prager 23) in his poetry, and at times his poems even reference the Jews. In “Salut Au Monde!” he writes, “You whoever you are!/You Jew journeying in your old age through every risk to stand once on Syrian ground!/You other Jews waiting in all lands for your Messiah!” (qtd. in Prager 22). Jewish immigrants would have felt drawn to Whitman because of his identification with the Jewish people, which, although not immensely significant, was larger than most other gentile poets. Labor poets, more so than the next two generations of Yiddish poets in America, would have searched for a literature that paid homage to the Old World they left behind.
        Another major reason why Walt Whitman influenced specifically the “sweatshop poets” was because of their anarchist and socialist tendencies. Whitman was not only the “poet of America” but also the “poet of democracy.” As Prager says, “The celebration of Whitman in Yiddish poetry is often linked with what is felt to be the authentic America of democracy and equality” (31). Whitman was born in 1819; America was still a fairly new country that had had a revolution in its recent history. Whitman believed that all men (even African Americans) were created equal and wrote a series of poems praising Abraham Lincoln following his assassination and about the importance of the Civil War (Miller, Jr.). While this attitude toward mankind was not unanimous among Americans during Whitman’s lifetime, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War planted the ideas of equality and new beginnings in the minds of many of those who had lived through them. Although Whitman did not live through the Revolutionary War, he strongly felt its influence on the new nation. Jewish immigrants in America felt similar notions of starting over and new possibilities for a better world. First, they had escaped the pogroms and harsh anti-Semitism of Europe, and second, many of these immigrants came from Russia and were “naturally radicals on all social questions…Thousands of the disciples of Karl Marx may be found among the organized Jewish workingmen” (Michels 2). Labor poets in the 1880s and 1890s, therefore, connected to Whitman’s progressive politics and thought them the key to an ideal society.
        The “sweatshop poets” and Walt Whitman were certainly aware of each other’s existence. These Yiddish poets looked to Whitman as a role model for his tolerance toward Jews and his liberal politics. Whitman’s influence on Rosenfeld in particular, however, requires more detailed analysis of both poets’ poetry itself. A close reading of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Rosenfeld’s collected works shows both a description of society and inspiration as the two main goals for each poet. Through describing society by means of nature, the masses, oppression, and war, Whitman and Rosenfeld call attention to their most pressing issues with the hopes of inspiring their readers to join their causes.
        The environment was one of Whitman’s largest concerns; he strived to describe it as appreciatively as possible. He looked to the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson for inspiration, and Emerson likewise read Whitman’s writing. The destruction of nature was of great concern to Whitman, because “the population had grown from some 10 million in 1820 to over 60 million in the 1890s. The largely agricultural country of Whitman’s birth, made up of farms, small towns, and vacant land, was rapidly becoming a country of factories, cities, and suburbs” (Miller, Jr. 7-8). Many of his poems, therefore, describe and reflect upon the depleting natural environment. In “Song of the Redwood-Tree” Whitman describes his encounter with a redwood:
        Murmuring out if its myriad leaves,
        Down from its lofty top rising two hundred feet high,
        Out of its stalwart trunk and limbs, out of its foot-thick bark,
        That chant of the seasons and time, chant not of the past only but the future. (Whitman 675)
        Redwoods are one of the largest, oldest, and most resilient species of trees. “Fossil records have shown that relatives of today’s coast redwoods thrived in the Jurassic Era 160 million years ago. And while the fantastic creatures of that age have long since disappeared, the redwoods continue to thrive, in the right environment” (National Park Service). Whitman begins his poem by noting the massive size and firmness of the tree. The last line of this stanza, however, questions the tree’s stability. We can already see that Whitman does not wish to talk about the redwood’s history, because its history is secure. He will discuss its future, because that is where nature’s risk of vanishing lies. The poem’s voice then switches from Whitman to the tree:
        But come from Nature’s long and harmless throes, peacefully builded thence,
        These virgin lands, lands of the Western shore,
        To the new culminating man, to you, the empire new,
        You promis’d long, we pledge, we dedicate. (676)
        Astonishingly, the redwood tree in Whitman’s poem admits defeat by the strength of mankind. Society does not appreciate “Lands bathed in sweeter, rarer, healthier air, valleys and mountain cliffs,/The fields of Nature long prepared and fallow, the silent, cyclic chemistry” (678). Whitman’s choice of words was not arbitrary. “The coast redwood environment recycles naturally: because the 100-plus inches of annual rainfall leaves the soil with few nutrients, the trees rely on each other, living and dead for their vital nutrients. The trees need to decay naturally to fully participate in this cycle, so when logging occurs, the natural recycling is interrupted” (National Park Service). He chose the redwood as his symbol for all of nature because of its resilience, ancient existence within America, and symbiotic relationship with other trees in its community. When at last the redwood surrenders to mankind, Whitman acknowledges that man is powerful, “the true America, heir of the past/so grand, / To build a grander future.” (679) “Whitman’s defiant poetry provided a language with which to understand and express their [writer’s] ambiguous position between the stability of tradition and the openness of the future” (Levinson 58). He describes man’s ability to change what has been stable for millions of years in order to say that this fact does not mean man should abuse his power. Humanity can change the world, but it must choose its battles, because there are certainly ways to misuse this influence.
        Rosenfeld arrived in America when its population was over sixty million and worked in the highly industrialized city of New York. As such, he moved into the very environment that Whitman hoped would never come to be. He viewed nature as beautiful and elusive, and lamented over its inaccessibility rather than its depletion, as Whitman did. He did not fear the destruction of nature because the damage had already been done. He could only express his sorrow of having made a new home in which Whitman’s trepidation had become a reality. We see Whitman’s influence on Rosenfeld as Rosenfeld’s poems lament over a green and natural world that is lovely, but out of reach. This is especially clear in “Despair”:
        Oh, how I would love to smell a flower,
        Just one sniff, before the grass dies out,
        In green fields, the blow of the little wind! (qtd. in Miller 103)
        Marc Miller explains that “nature becomes an unattainable ideal; workers can never enjoy the natural world” (102). Rosenfeld mimics Whitman’s appreciation for nature and then takes it a step further to say that nature has become an obscure goal. The city has separated its workers from nature and become dominant of these workers and nature. In Marxist terms, they became alienated from nature. As such, Rosenfeld maintains Whitman’s call for awareness and warns of a new force (the industrial city) that has the power to cause terrible destruction. Rosenfeld places nature beside the Jewish working-class, as a victim of industrialization and modernization.
        Nature in Rosenfeld’s poetry also serves as an allegory for the ruin of the Jewish community under capitalism. His poem “Led Astray” tells of a Jewish girl who is mislead by her boss’s son into believing he loves her and then having relations with him.
        Oh, who then knew your true intentions?
        Earth, sky, and moon were silent,
        When you swore to me with fire,
        That you would be my only one forever. (109)
        Nature, which is typically personified as peaceful, honest, and virtuous, has become deceitful. Its tranquil silence changes to cruel silence, leaving the girl to mistakenly trust the male embodiment of capitalism. Once nature is destroyed, humanity follows suit. As Levinson notes on Whitman’s poetry, “He developed a style of poetry aimed at celebrating the energies of everyday life, asserting that individuals are organically linked to each other and to the natural world” (Levinson 58). We see this same style of poetry in Rosenfeld’s “Led Astray.”
        While the poets describe individuals within the natural world, they also describe a mass society. Mass society typically implies an impersonal, modern, and industrialized culture, yet Whitman idealized the mass society. It was his perfect vision of America as united and equal. It was, of course, only a dream at the time in which he wrote. African Americans and women, for example, were still second-class citizens. In “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” Whitman describes the union of a democratic America:
        All the past we leave behind,
        We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world,
        Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march,
        Pioneers! O Pioneers! (Whitman)
        Whitman’s problem with society as it stood was that it was lacking cohesion. His poems depict a utopian society in which everyone works and everyone is equal, much like Rosenfeld’s vision of Communism.
        Having read Whitman’s poetry about mass society, Rosenfeld was able to see what was wrong with the mass society that he had become a part of, namely, the society of lower-class and exploited factory workers. Yiddishist “critics assign Rosenfeld especial poetic credibility because he lived the life he portrayed, emerging from the immigrant, working masses who served as his muse” (Miller 147). Between Whitman’s completion of Leaves of Grass and Rosenfeld’s writing career in New York, a mass society had developed, but it was not the equal and united mass that Whitman had envisioned. Rosenfeld, therefore, used Whitman’s description of an egalitarian mass society as a model to depict the flaws in the society that had developed. His poem “The Sweatshop” describes the worker’s dissension into the endless amounts of hard labor he had to endure to make a living.
        The machines in the shop roar so wildly,
        That often I forget that I exist in the noise;
        I get lost in the horrible din,
        My “I” is destroyed, I become a machine:
        I work and work and work and with no accounting,
        It produces and produces and produces without end:
        Why? And for whom? I do not know, I do not ask,
        How would a machine know how to think? (qtd. in Miller, 77-8)
        Although Rosenfeld writes in first-person, the “I” represents all factory workers in his position. Miller points out that the repetitive words remind us of the repetitive motions of machines. Rosenfeld depicts the monotony of factory life as dehumanizing and draining of the spirit. The masses are not unified by their equality but by their strife.
        Another aim shared by the two poets was to describe oppression in such a way as to inspire their readers to engage in revolutionary activity and resist oppression. This goal was especially important to both poets, as oppression was ingrained within each of their pasts. Whitman’s history with oppression dated back to the Revolutionary War. America had recently gained independence by the time he was born, and Whitman was well aware of the significance of autonomy. The Civil War and the Dred Scott decision also opened his eyes to the injustice of oppression (Miller, Jr.). Slavery and oppression was a crucial issue to Rosenfeld, as well, as these issues have been instilled within the Jewish mind dating back to 4,000 years ago when the Jews were slaves in Egypt and continuing in the form of anti-Semitism throughout his life. By describing specific instances of oppression in their poetry, the poets illuminate their vast injustice.
        A run-away slave narrates section 33 of Whitman’s “Song of Myself”. By speaking from the slave’s perspective, we see Whitman empathize with the slaves and provide detailed, horrible accounts of mistreatment. “I am the hounded slave,/I wince at the bite of the dogs,/ Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksmen” (Whitman). Although Whitman did not endure the oppression he wrote about the way that Rosenfeld did, he shows compassion for the slaves and wants to relate to them. His goal in this poem was to shock the reader into understanding and, if possible, action.
        Rosenfeld learned from Whitman’s poetry that dramatic personal accounts are most effective in producing emotional responses in readers. For that reason, he was the only “sweatshop poet” who was well known during his writing career outside of the Jewish community (Howe & Greenberg). Like in Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” an innocent victim who is worked like a slave by his boss narrates Rosenfeld’s poem “My Place”.
        Look for me not where myrtles green!
        Not there, my darling, shall I be.
        Where lives are lost at the machine,
        that’s the only place for me.

        Look for me not where robins sing!
        Not there, my darling, shall I be.
        I am a slave where fetters ring,
        that’s the only place for me. (qtd. in Howe & Greenberg 78-9)
        This poem models its depictions of laborers in New York after Whitman’s depiction of
        Slavery. It is less fictitious than Whitman’s poem but no more shocking. In fact, it is a fairly typical Rosenfeld poem. He begins the poem with an individual voice, crying out for the natural world – the flowers and the birds – which he cannot experience. He then transitions into the fate of the masses – losing their lives at the machines. In this case, he may be referring to physical injuries that were common in the factories, such as accidents involving the machines themselves, fatigue, or exhaustion, or he may be referring to the loss of his ability to think (as in “The Sweatshop”) or his ability to spend his waking hours with family (as in “My Little Son”). Finally, he states that he is not a free man. Like Whitman, he empathizes with other groups of oppressed people, and tries to expose their pain to the world.
        While the two poets try to breath life into the oppression that takes places every day, they also focus their energy on war. On the one hand, Rosenfeld’s poetry shows influence from the exciting and mobilizing poetry of Whitman. Yet on the other hand, neither forgets the darker, more hopeless side to war. Whitman published “Beat! Beat! Drums!” during the first year of the Civil War. The poem calls for the masses to stop whatever they are doing to become active in the fight for a better, unified world.
        Beat! beat! drums! – Blow! bugles! blow!
        Over the traffic of cities – over the rumble of wheels in the streets:
        Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? No sleepers must sleep in those beds;
        No bargainers’ bargains by day – no brokers or speculators – Would they continue?
        Would the talkers be talking? Would the singer attempt to sing? (Whitman)
        The sound of war for Whitman begins with the billowing calls of the drums and bugles that wake the sleepers, or those who are politically apathetic. He asks if people are still able to conduct their daily routines, relax, and even be joyful, while the war is happening. He answers his won questions in the last line of the stanza: “Then rattle quicker, heavier drums – you bugles wilder blow.” His reply indicates that if this kind of apathy is possible, the masses that are engaged in the cause must prevent it. Nothing will hinder the Union’s struggle.
        Rosenfeld’s poetry contains similar notions of inciting the masses into an uprising. Rosenfeld’s war was never successful, but it involved the same ideals of justice, equality, and unification that inspired those who read Whitman’s war poetry. Rosenfeld wanted to see a Revolution of the working class. In fact, what drove him to New York from London was news that tailors in New York had won a strike for a ten-hour workday. Furthermore, unlike other labor poets, he became increasingly attracted to Jewish nationalist or Zionist movements (Levin). This mixture of socialist and nationalist ideals is not unlike Whitman’s political outlook. Whitman sought freedom for African Americans under the protection of one centralized government, but this goal was based more on the idea of one grand, democratic country than the human rights of second-class citizens. According to Charles I. Glicksberg, Whitman
        protested against slavery as an economic institution because it kept the free worker of the United States in virtual bondage; it tended to degrade him. But on the whole he was moderate in his anti-slavery attitude, having no use for what he called the mad fanaticism or ranting of the ultra ‘Abolitionists,’ which, according to him, had done more harm than good. (326-7)

        As Rosenfeld became more involved in Jewish nationalism, his poetry began to express more longing for Israel, a homeland that he could love as much as Whitman loved America.
        Before this, however, Rosenfeld’s war poetry contained analogous metaphors to Whitman’s Civil War poetry. “The Two-Sided May” encourages workers to rebel and threatens the upper class.
        And I say to you rich tyrants,
        your end is very near!
        The working man has arisen
        from his deep, long sleep…
        You may block his path,
        employ every means,
        but I tell you in the name of truth,
        that the flag of freedom shall prevail (qtd. in Miller 73)
        Like Whitman, Rosenfeld uses sleep as a metaphor for political apathy. The enemy will never win, because the revolutionaries will employ all means necessary. As Whitman continues in his poem to say, “Make no parlay – stop for no expostulation;/Mind not the timid – mind not the weeper or prayer,” so to does Rosenfeld’s poem call for total disregard of all but the truth, freedom.
        This is another side to war, however, that both poets do not ignore. The poets question whether an ideal is worth dying for. When discussing the darker, lethal side of war, the poets do not beckon the masses; rather they highlight the pain of one family, making their message more relatable to their audiences. In contrast to “Beat! beat! drums!” Whitman depicts the unromantic side of war in “Come up from the Fields, Father.” In this poem, a mother received a letter from the army about her son who has been engaged in battle.
        Open the envelope quickly;
        O this is not our son’s writing, yet his name is sign’d;
        O a strange hand writes for our dear son – O stricken mother’s soul!
        All swims before her eyes – flashed with black – she catches the main words only;
        Sentences broken – gun-shot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital,
        At present low, but will soon be better. (Whitman)
        By the end of the poem, the mother is aware that her son has died. Whitman’s makes no mention of the boy’s heroism or noble cause, only the mother’s grief. “O that she might withdraw unnoticed – silent from life, escape and withdraw,/ To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.” Whitman’s previous derogatory use of sleep in his poetry no longer applies. Once sleep becomes permanent, the cause seems less important. It is no longer the fight to preserve daily freedoms for all.
        This poem would have resonated particularly strong for Rosenfeld, who lost his fifteen-year-old son. His poem “Earth” curses nature for taking his son. Encountering nature, as we have seen, was an important goal to Rosenfeld. His ambitions become thwarted, however, by his more powerful encounter with death.
        O earth, you angry, filthy, gluttonous
        Ripped throat swallowing everything
        And leaving pain alive
        Torn to pieces in your great belly (qtd. in Levin 124)
        His leftist ideals grew weaker after this point as notions of nationalism replaced them. His poems like “The Two-Sided May” concentrated on the worker as a hero.
        The central quest for the protagonists of Sweatshop poetry, however, is that of “Varheyt” (truth), and the speakers of these poems are often concerned with “tsaygn” (pointing to) this truth. For example, the dead speak to the protagonists of several poems from beyond the grave, from “oylem ho’emes” (the World of Truth), where, according to literary tradition, they are afforded a privileged view of the “true” nature of things. (Miller 73).

        As Rosenfeld’s son lies beyond the grave, Rosenfeld sees the true desperation of his cause, which permanently changed his poetry.
        In “Ambulance” a worker suffers a serious injury at work and says, “My children, oh, wife…/Where am I? Oh…/I am dying…And you?!/At work a stone…/Split my head…Don’t cry…/The tyrant…He…Woe is me!” (qtd. in Miller 75) In the workers final moments, when he is closest to truth, all he can think of is his family and himself. Rosenfeld’s poetry prior to his revolutionary cynicism was influenced by Whitman’s descriptions of nature, society, and oppression. After the death of his son and the prolonged inaction of his fellow workers, Whitman’s poem “Come up from the Fields, Father” influenced Rosenfeld in a profound way. “Ambulance” mirrors this poem’s narrator’s fragmented thoughts as her life, or reason for life, vanishes. Neither protagonist can express coherent thoughts, because the truth is muddled. The Civil War for Whitman and the “Tyrant” for Rosenfeld did not loose all meaning; however, the negative side to fighting for their causes began over time to weigh on them. They question and reflect in their poetry, and Rosenfeld’s poetry shows that both sides to Whitman’s internal argument over the value of war had, at different points, influenced him.
        Despite all this, one large difference exists between the poetry of Whitman and Rosenfeld: poetic structure. Whereas Whitman’s poetry takes the form of a free-verse lyric epic, Rosenfeld’s early poetry was exhortative, and his mature poetry was melodramatic. Whitman’s epic poetry involves long narratives. According to Mark Cumming, “Whitman’s effort to express in verse the reality of the American Revolution [is] shaped by an awareness in society, in individuals, and in literary form” (209). His poetry is “self-reflexive,” in that its subject matter and the poetry itself are important. A mixture of past and present events inspired him to write. Yet his epics are not tradition, because traditional epics contained themes of inequality and hierarchy, themes which Whitman did not want characterizing his poetry. Instead, his “new myths are shaped by an insistent awareness of the “antiquated Mythuses” or in Whitman’ term “the old signifiers,” of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, and Milton” (Cumming 215). Whitman wanted the structure of his poems to match their grand themes of nature and revolution. He followed the radical changes that were occurring, and his primary mission was to document them.
        Rosenfeld’s primary mission, on the other hand, was to incite a cathartic response in his readers. He chose the exhortative structure for most of his sweatshop poetry, ignoring narrative plot and addressing a collective audience from an impersonal “I.” Sweatshop poets “demanded a new, class-based consciousness from their readers; they used the exhortative poem to present the “folk” with a new, politically charged message that demanded nothing less than a workers’ revolution” (Miller 65). Perhaps the greatest difference between Rosenfeld and Whitman as poets were their levels of desperation. Whitman believed in the revolutionary changes that had been and were continuing to happen. He wanted to help America understand their importance and merits. Rosenfeld appreciated and read Whitman’s poetry for this reason, but Rosenfeld had to appeal to a much more despairing audience. The American proletariats that Rosenfeld was addressing were outsiders culturally, religiously, and geographically. They also had less reason to hope than Whitman’s proletariat readers, as the monotony and stress of factory labor drained their spirits day after day. For this reason, Rosenfeld turned to melodrama in his mature poetry. “In melodrama, the protagonist is not divided against himself; he is a “good guy” who suffers the evil acts of “bad guys” (Miller 76). Some of Whitman’s poems, such as “Song of Myself,” have melodramatic aspects, but they are still free verse. Whitman’s use of simple language and rhyme both make his poems easier for his audience to understand and symbolize his constrictive life – his sentences are bound within a rhyming structure. He is also less free to make contradictions than Whitman, because he must make one clear argument for his audience to be able to respond. Both poets use their poetry as a medium for documentation and inspiration, and both of their poetry is self-reflexive. Their structures diverge, however, because Rosenfeld wrote with a sense of urgency and immediacy that Whitman did not feel, given their different personal backgrounds and much different social engagements.
        As an immigrant in America, Rosenfeld viewed the world in much the same way as Whitman – as a New World. The Revolutionary War and the Civil War gave Whitman hope that America was capable of changing drastically for the better. After arriving in America, Rosenfeld, who had wanted to write poetry since his youth, looked to Whitman’s poetry as a means of familiarizing himself with the history of his new home as well as for a means of inspiration, a way of seeing the problems in America that were not solely within the Jewish community. Rosenfeld connected with Whitman’s core ideals concerning nature, socialism (or the mass society, as Whitman would have called it), slavery, war, and oppression more so than any other “sweatshop poet.” As Rosenfeld declared in his poem “Walt Whitman,” which he published shortly following Whitman’s death, “in whose marvelously powerful / song one feels the omnipotence and the splendor of nature – / immortal prophet! I give you praise. / I fall in the dust before your dust and sing” (qtd. in Prager 25). Whitman’s poetry conveyed nature’s omnipotence and power with almost spiritual fervor. Rosenfeld, in turn, wrote poetry with the goal of falling back into the dust, the earth, the nature from which Whitman came and felt inspired, to reconnect the proletariat with nature and to rebel against oppression.

        Works Cited

        “About the Trees.” National Park Service. US Department of the Inferior,
        Web. 17 Dec 2009. .

        Cumming, Mark. “Carlyle, Whitman, and the Disimprisonment of Epic.”
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