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120 years Anniversary to Itsik Manger

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

On May 30th we mark the 120th anniversary of Itsik Manger. The literary critic Shmuel Niger said about him "Es zainen do poetn, un es iz do Manger" (there are poets, and there is Manger). He will certainly forever remain at the very top of the pantheon of Yiddish poetry. He is one of the few Jewish poets who are firmly rooted in the people's memory. They do not stop citing him, even more than half a century after his death. He is the champion in the number of poems set to music. Songs to his words remain and will remain popular for many generations. And some of them, such as: "Oifn veg shteit a boim" (There is a tree on the road) or "Yidl mitn fidl" (Yidl with a violin) have long become popular folksongs

Many volumes of essays, literary criticism and research have been written about Manger. But what, after all, distinguishes him from other Jewish poets, and what led to his peak in popularity?

He was born in 1901 in Czernowitz (then Austria-Hungary) - a city that combined two ways of life. One part of the Jewish community wanted to Europeanize, become "Austrians of the Moses" faith", while the other part lived a truly Jewish, traditional way of life, and turned this small city into one of the main world centres of Jewish culture. Manger solves this dilemma unambiguously. Although his poetry carries the tinge of European aestheticism, the classic features of German poetry, it is nevertheless firmly rooted in the soil of the Jewish people, in the depths of Jewish folklore and in the national-cultural tradition:

Lomir zingen poshet un prost

Fun alts, vos iz heimish, lib un tayer,

Fun alte layt, vos sheltn dam frost

Un fun kinder, vos benchn dos fayer.

Let's just sing

About everything that is near and dear to us,

About old people who curse the frost,

And about children blessing the fire.

Manger is romantic. Among his favourite images are wind, stars, light, mountains, forests. He revealed to the Jewish reader colours, smells, the play of light and shadow, and other shades of nature. His poetry is full with colours. We find in it "The Ballad of a Jew who has gone from grey to blue", silver tears, the red colour of wine and blood, a red ring, blond mothers carrying blue mugs, a ballad about a white nurse in a dark hospital, almost the entire colour spectrum.

But, of course, Munger's favourite colour is gold. Moreover, for him, gold is not a symbol of wealth and power, but a symbol of beauty, light, sun. The images created by him became fundamental in the Jewish artistic tradition, for example: golden peahen, golden goat, golden twilight. He admits that he got this "goldenness" in the landscape of his childhood, in the Carpathian Mountains. In his poem "Tsvishn Kosev un Kitev" (between Kosov and Kuty), Manger writes:

Tsvishn Kosev un Kitev

Shteyt a gildener brunen,

In tifn, klorn vaser

Hob ikh mayn zun gefunen.

Der nakht in groye berg

Trog ikh di zun antkegn.

In klorn goldenem shayn

Blien ale vegn.

Between Kosov and Kitev

There is a golden well.

There I found the sun

In the water, that is clean and alive.

Towards the night

In the grey mountains

I carry the sun

All paths come alive

In its clear and golden light.

It should be noted that it was there, between the two townships of Kosov and Kitev, a couple of hundred years before Manger, Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer gone for several years in a mountain forest, and there he developed the theory of Hasidism. Subsequently, there he became the Baal Shem Tov. Therefore, it is not surprising that the image of the Baal Shem Tov and numerous motives of Hasidic folklore are abundant in Manger's poetry and prose.

Munger can be confidently called "Velt-mench" - a man of the big world. The geography of his life is extremely rich. Born in Czernowitz, spent his youth in Yassy, ​​then Bucharest, Warsaw, Berlin, Czernowitz again. A year before the start of the war, he came to Paris, during the war he was in London, after the war he settled in New York, and spent the last years of his life in Israel, where he died in 1969. It is not surprising that each successive "station" had a strong influence on his work. At the same time, he does not leave the feeling of an eternal wanderer, a restless soul that cannot find a refuge in this world:

Ikh hob zikh yorn gevalgert in der fremd,

Itzt for ikh zikh valgern in der heim ...

I've been dragging myself in foreign lands for years,

Now I'm going to drag myself home ...

Even in his epitaph, Manger writes:

Do shloft a mide troyerike nakhtigal,

Dos ershte mol in an eygn bet ...

A sad, tired nightingale sleeps here,

For the first time in his own bed ...

Despite the fact that there is a lot of romance, humour, light and flight in Manger's poetry, over the last more than twenty years of his life he has written a whole series of sad, touching works, some epilogues, the main theme of which was the eternal confrontation between genius and the crowd. All these works are imbued with pain for the fact, that a genius is extremely rarely recognized and appreciated during his lifetime. At the same time, Manger is not shy and fully recognizes his genius and his destiny in this world. In one of his appeals to God he says:

Ikh hob dokh geton dayn shlikhes

Un getrogn dayn getlekh lid ...

I was fulfilling your mission

And carried your divine song ...

And in the poem "I'm tired" he literally presents the scores to the public, which did not understand him and did not appreciate him according to his merits:

Kh"hob a kholem aych gebrakht,

Un ir hot mikh opgeshtoysn,

Ven s"iz gevorn nakht,

Hot ir mikh gelozt in droysn ...

I brought you a dream

And you pushed me away,

When the night has come

You left me outside ...

Poetic forms in Manger's work are extremely diverse. He wrote short poems, ballads, and sonnets. World fame was brought to him by "Humesh Lider" and "Megillah Lider" - poems in which biblical and historical plots are played out in a humorous form. He left behind a decent amount of literary and folklore essays. But the most important thing is, that when reading Munger, you do not need to think about what the poet wanted to say ... His poems are transparent and drip on the heart like a life-giving balm. They touch the thinnest strings of the Jewish national spirit. That is why he will remain forever the unsurpassed singer of the Jewish soul.

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