Whitman In Yiddish, Soon Posted Online

Inspiring and Influential: Whitman was an iconic figure for Jewish immigrant poets living in
New York at the turn of the century.
wikicommons
Inspiring and Influential: Whitman was an iconic figure for Jewish immigrant poets living in New York at the turn of the century.

By Shoshana Olidort

Published May 11, 2011, issue of May 20, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Perhaps the greatest American poet ever to have lived, Walt Whitman was not always regarded as such. Thanks, in part, to the emergence of modernist forms in poetry toward the end of the 19th century, Whitman’s work did not attract critical attention until after his death in 1892. But for Jewish immigrant poets living in New York City at the turn of the century, Whitman was an iconic figure — a poet and even a prophet. Morris Rosenfeld, the famous Yiddish poet, wrote an ode to Whitman shortly after his death, which concludes, “Prophet, immortal, I praise you / I fall now into the dust before your dust and sing!” And the legendary Yiddish writer Avrom Reyzn, in a study delineating Whitman’s influence on Yiddish poets, called him the “Prophet of New America.”

Indeed, many Jewish poets drew inspiration from and were influenced by Whitman, and quite a few took to translating his work into Yiddish. These translations will soon be made available through the Walt Whitman Archive, as part of a project whose goal is to give readers access to translations of Whitman that have long been out of print. Matt Miller, assistant professor of English at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women and senior assistant editor at the Archive, is working with student Shoshana Singer to put Yiddish translations of Whitman on the Archive’s website. A book-length translation of Whitman’s works by Yiddish novelist and poet Louis Miller is scheduled for release this summer.

Interest in Whitman among Yiddish poets, Miller said, can be ascribed to the American poet’s celebration of the ordinary working man and of those on the margins of society. Through his poetry, Miller said, “Whitman invites everyone to feel as essential parts of the American experience… regardless of religious or ethnic backgrounds.” In addition, Whitman’s formal approach — long, unrhymed lines — echoes that of the Hebrew prophets, another possible point of appeal for Yiddish poets.

Shoshana Olidort is a freelance writer and editor based in New York.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.