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About The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923 | View Entire Issue (May 24, 1901)
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Two New Labor Poets.
The Brooklyn Eagle contains an in
teresting account of the rlso and
progress of m two Hebrew poets who
have appeared in the ranks of the
wage-carnors. It says:
Ono is Morris Rosenfeld, who re
cently wont there from New York, and
tho other is Isaac Itoingold, who has
lived there foi4 years. Both speak from
experience; both have known tho pri
vations and tho toil that thqy so pa
thetically picture; both havo worked
in sweat shops and both began their
literary labors amid tho surroundings
that thoy describe. In fact, tho first
poems of both wero written while
thoy wero earning their daily bread
with tho shears and the needle, in
that soul-destroying grind of which
so much is heard and so little is really
known by tho average man or woman.
Again, there is a similarity in the fact
that tho gonlus of both was recognized
by outsiders of discornment and op
portunity was given them to bettor
their condition and show what thoy
Today Itoingold still labors in a
Chicago tailoring establishment, but
under more favorable conditions than
heretofore and with tho hope that he
may be able to give up the work later.
Many of his songs havo been sot to
music and published, and arrange
ments are now being made to trans
late them into English and publish
the collection in book form. Rosen
fold, however, has been able to leave
his bench, has supported himself sev
eral years by his writings and is now
associate editor of tho Jewish Call, a
paper published from 213 West 12th
street, Chicago. His family still lives
in New York, and he has a book shop
there at 202 West End avenue, to
which ho may yet return. He is at
present undecided whether ho will
come back to New York or take his.
family to Chicago.
Of these two Yiddish poets Rosen
fold is deserving of first attention.
There may be as much of merit in
tho work of Reingold, but circum
stances conspired to bring Rosenfeld
more prominently into public notice.
His poem entitled "Tho Sweat Shop,"
created a veritable sensation when set
.to music by Miss Eleanor Smith and
sung before the Chicago Consumers'
league at Hull House, a short time
ago, and the interest thus aroused has
at least indirectly served to call at
tention to the other poot who is sing
ing in the same strain. It may be
said in passing that tho song as sung
on that occasion was incomplete, but
it certainly served its purpose. Miss
Smith, who is a Chicago music teach
er, is still working on the music, and
refuser, to give it out for publication
until it has been polished up to her
"So far as the music is concerned,"
she says, "the song was not finished
when it was heard at Hull House. I
have done a good deal of work on it
Tho words, however, havo under
gone no changes. They were 'trans
lated from tho original Yiddish by
Prof. J. W. Linn of the University of
t Chicago, and) in view of the fame
thoy have brought their author the en
tire poem can hardly fail to be of
interest. It is as follows:
The roaring of the wheels has filled
. Tho clashing and tho clamor shut
Myself, my soul, in chaos disappears.
I cannot think or feel amid tho din,
Toiling and toiling and toiling end
For wtiora? For what? Why should
the work be done?
X do not ask, or know, I only toil,
I work until the day and night are
-T!he clock above mo ticks away tho
Its hands are spinning, spinning,
like the wheels.
It cannot sleep or for a moment stay,
It iff a thing like me, and does not
It throbs as though my heart were
A heart? My heart? I know not
what It means.
The clock ticks, and below I strive
And so wo lose tho hour. We are
Noon calls a' truce, an ending to the
As if a battle had one rapment
A bloody field! The dead lie all
Their wounds cry out until I grow
It comes tho signal! See, the dead
They fight again, amid the roar they
Blindly, and knowing" not for whom,
They fight, they fall, they sink into
It was first sung before tho Arts
and Handicrafts' association, and at
tracted so much attention there that
the Consumers' league an organiza
tion that aims to better the condition
of employes generally expressed a de
sire to hear it. As before stated, the
finishing touches had not been put to
the music, but it made a distinct hit
nevertheless. That was February 15,
and since then the poem has become a
sort of anthem of the workers in the
slums. It is far more typical of ex
isting conditions than "The Man With
tho Hoe," and it bids fair to have a
And the man who wrote this song
worked in the sweat shops of England
and America for eighteen or twenty
yoars, being finally discovered in a lit
erary sense by a Harvard professor.
Rosenfeld is the son of a poor fisher
man, and was born in Russian Poland
in 18G2. Sucli scanty education as ho
received in his youth he secured there,
but his whole life has been one con
tinuous effort to improve mentally as
well as in a worldly way. He learned
the diamond cutting trade in Amster
dam, when he finally succeededin get
ting away from his birthplace, and
then found employment as a tailor in
London. From there he came to New
York, where he remained until in
vited to become associate editor of the
Chicago publication. In such sur
roundings as the sweat shop life
forces upon all thus employed he
wrote his first poems, but nothing ap
proaching literary success came to him
until Professor Leo Wiener of Harvard
accidentally got hold of some of his
work in the original Yiddish. Profes
sor Wiener was so impressed with Its
merit that he wrote to Rosenfeld ask
ing him to come to Cambridge and see
him. The result of this interview was
an arrangement for an English trans
lation of the best of the poems, and
these were afterward published by
Copeland & Day. Later an enlarged
edition was put upon the market by
Small, Maynard & Co., and now they
havo been translated into French, Ger
man, Polish and Danish, while an
Italian edition is at present being pre
pared. Pretty fair for tho son of a
fisherman, is it not?
Since leaving tho sweat shops Ros
enfeld has supported himself and his
family by his literary work. He has
lectured and given readings, and a
number of his poems have been set
to music my Miss Helen Bingham.
Three months ago he recited at the
University of Chicago, and later gave
some readings in Sinai Temple. Then
came tho rendition of his song, with
music by Miss Smith, before tho Arts
and Handicrafts' association, and the
invitation to appear before tho Con
sumers' leaguo followed. The sensa
tion created there served to call gen
eral attention to him, and now, as tho
author of "Tho Sweat Shop," ho is
widely known and his productions aro
in demand. From this it should not be
inferred that he had acquired no par
ticular reputation before, for that is
not the case. His first volume of transr
lated pooms attracted the attention of
such authorities as the Critic and tho
Bookman, but it is "The Sweat Shop"
that has accentuated his success and
made him known to the general public
as tho poet of the lowly.
Of his literary compatriot Isaac
Reingold, almost the same Story can
be told. Reingold has not achieved
quite the same measure of fame he
has not yet broken away from the
sweat shop, but he is already known
as the poot of tho Chicago Ghetto. He
lives amid the squalor and the poverty
of that district, but he has produced
many poems, some of which have boon
set to music by G. Mendelssohn, a
Jewish composer, formerly of New
York, but now of Greensborough, Pa.
His first volume has been published
only recently, but It has enjoyed a
large measure of popularity among
the people of his class; and arrange
ments are now being made with Alex
ander Harkavy of New York, asso
ciate editor of the Jewish Encyclo
pedia, for tho publication' in English
of some of the best that he has writ
ten. Reingold was born in Russia, but.
unlike Rosenfeld, his parents were
wealthy. They suffered financial re
verses, however, and he finally came
to America to seek his fortune. So
far as music and literature were con
cerned his education had been neg
lected, and this makes his recent suc
cess the more remarkable. The first
opera he over heard was in Baltimore
nine years ago, and that appealed to
him so strongly that he was seized
with a desire to express hisown emo
tions in song. He began the -following
day, and his first poem was one of re
volt at having to put in a wearisome
day at the machine. Like Rosenfeld,
he sang of toil, and suffering, and pov
erty, of the life that so many thou
sands arc compelled to lead, and his
songs appealed to those who knew
what that life was. Like Rosenfeld,
also, his ambition lead him to improve
his mind in every possible way. He
knew nothing of the art of poetry, so
he studied it. He had the ideas, and
he sought to learn how to express
thom, procuring for this purpose all
the Yiddish songs and poems that be
could. The natural result of this was,
that his work improved; it began to
show the polish as well as the soul of
true poetry, and ho furthermore had
the advantage of working in a field in
which he was almost alone. There
are many songs of the lowly, but such
as ho wrote could not be written by
no ono who had not had his exper
ience. Imagination alone cannot pic
ture the yearnings of a man thus tied
down; nor can it adequately tell of
the privations and the hopelessness of
Eight years ago he came to Chica
go, and here he now lives in a humble
apartment at 263 Maxwell street. The
sweat shop still provides his labor;
waiting is his recreation. "I am hap
py only when I am writing," he says.
Yet there is little money in what he
produces. In order to reach" the peo
ple for whom they are Intended his
verses have to be published in such
cheap form that there is practically
no profit, and, as he has a wife and
children to support, the needle and the
shears still claim nearly all of his
waking hours; but the proposed publi
cation of a volume of English trans
lations may materially bettor his con
dition. It is to be hoped so. The spec
tacle of genius in a sweat shop is sad,
to say the least.
Although, Miss Eleanor Smith, who
wrote tho music of "The Sweat Shop
has had no such soul-trying struggles
as the two Ghetto poets, she is in
touch with tho circumstances depicted.
She has charge of the music depart
ment of Hull House in tho Ghetto dis
trict, and also gives instruction, in one
of the training schools of Chicago. Sho
has lived nearly all her life in Chicago
and began her musical education in
the Hershey school here, although she
afterward studied three years abroad.
Her time is principally devoted to tho
instruction of children. '
The Same Old Birthday .
Harry "Girls take things so liter
ally, you know."
Fred "As, for example?"
Harry "Five je.irs ago, when my,
sister was 25, I wished her many hap
py leturns. And, if you'll believe.it,
her 25th birthday r.eturns regularly ev
Enraged Mamma "The very idea of
ray daughter marrying an actor."
Bethroted Daughter "Yes, but ma,
he's such a very bad actor; you would
never know he was one." Baltimoro
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