Anna Margolin

Jewish Russian-American, Yiddish-language poet

Anna Margolin (Yiddish: אַננאַ מאַרגאָלין) is the pen name of Rosa Harning Lebensboym (1887–1952) a twentieth century Jewish Russian-American, Yiddish language poet.

Quotes edit

  • Above is a patch of sky, but this has already turned grey, cold and deeply calm. Slowly, slowly, as though embarrassed, long, soft, dark shadows crawl in through the open window, stealing their way into the room, growing bold, and making themselves comfortable in every corner.
    • "In France" published in 1909 in the New York newspaper Di Fraye arbeter shtime, translated from Yiddish by Daniel Kennedy
  • "A man over forty is in his prime. When can one live if not now? When does one know how to live if not in these years? It's not with twenty, but with forty that one comes into one's true youth. In France they understand these things.
    • "In France" published in 1909 in the New York newspaper Di Fraye arbeter shtime, translated from Yiddish by Daniel Kennedy

"From a Diary" (1909) edit

Translated from Yiddish by Daniel Kennedy, During Sleepless Nights and Other Stories (2022)

  • Yearning conquers fear.
  • This is how it always goes: when my life becomes dismal and sombre, I delve into my past and select sparks of pure joy, of untainted happiness and use them to light up my blackened soul. And here it is, my beautiful dream: A quiet, trembling night spread its wings over the blooming valley, shrouding it in starless obscurity.
  • My face burns with shame.
  • My books, my great friends, gaze down on me with quiet resentment, calling me to them.
  • I sit with my books all day. But then the evening comes, quiet, nostalgic and sad and, unnoticed, the work slips away out of my hands. I suddenly get the urge to see wide, open skies and dark earth, the urge to breathe freely and not suffocates under heavy stones. Here in the long, narrow streets between high walls, you won't find wonders such as these. I throw myself down on the bed, close my eyes and my fantasy takes me away to where the sky is broad and wide and the earth is free to breathe-to my

poor Lithuania.

  • Reality and dreams are weaving together, flowing into each other and I don't know where one ends and the other begins.
  • I'm young and strong and not afraid to stare my sorrow in the eyes, drinking it down to the dregs. And because I am young and strong the work draws me in, just as life does, the joy of life. Lately I find myself pausing in wonder when faced with the creations of the long-gone, half-forgotten peoples. The past is becoming as familiar and dear to me as the present, as the advance fulfillment of tomorrow. I sometimes feel as though I'm bathing in the light of those stars, long dead, which continue to send us their bright, shining light. We are bound to them by thin threads, spun from gold.
  • I have no desire for rhetoric, for platitudes, and cannot find the words as deep and great as my awe for mankind, as my awe for its creation. Not with words-I will prove it with my life.
  • If my idea is weak, it will flare up just for a moment, halting, fearful of every hurdle. I want to select the brightest and most beautiful ideas in generations, ideas which have until now only revealed themselves to a select few, and make them clear and comprehensible for thousands and tens of thousands of people. May those thousands, tens of thousands, warm themselves in the same sun that shines for me, may they enjoy the same happiness that has been lavished on me.
  • No sooner does one rise a little above one's own petty joys and pains, than crystal clear wellsprings of new joy and new pain open up.
  • even if he brought me the worst unhappiness, even if he should cause my soul to age terribly, there's one thing that he could never kill inside me-my striving for higher things, my ardent longing for the mountain peak.

”During Sleepless Nights” (1909) edit

  • I am now old and weary. Life storms and seethes just as before, casting incandescent yearnings into human souls, summoning them to happiness and suffering, but life no longer knocks on my door: its waves do not reach as far as my threshold. I have already drained my glass to the very dregs. I am weary. My lonely days, my sleepless nights, pass in peaceful silence-without joy, without pain, without desire. With each new day and each passing night I creep one step closer to eternal peace and calm-to death. And the closer I get to death the more intently my gaze lingers on my tear-soaked, paper-garland-crowned youth. During sleepless nights I see, paraded before me, the shadows of those who bore light or shade in my soul, causing it to quake out of love or hatred.
  • Long and sorrowful stretched out those days.
  • The moment had passed, and, disquieted, she walked away from me, carrying within her an ocean of pain and happiness, a wild storm of conflict and struggle.
  • She looked at me and yet she did not see me.
  • I lie awake with open eyes during sleepless nights and look at them in cold surprise, and I seek to understand how these strange, distant people could have once been so close and dear to me. What magical thread bound me to them? And how had they severed that thread? And why was this all so alien and meaningless to me now?
  • I already had a lover at that time, and whenever a letter from him arrived it brought with it light, lustre, and profound happiness, transforming all the days that followed into one long uninterrupted holiday. I remember one of those days with particular clarity. I'd just been handed a letter from my lover and secluded myself in one of the hidden corners at the far end of the garden to read it. I drank down the words like strong, intoxicating wine; a wave of hot joy enveloped me entirely.
  • During the whole journey I thought about my mother. Somehow I now found her easier to understand; I felt closer to her-she had been transformed into a sister in suffering.
  • What was she trying to tell me? Did she want to say that life was empty and grey, pitiless in its ordinariness? Like a wicked serpent life wraps its coils around your airy dreams and winged desires, smothering them with its venomous breath, killing them on the spot before they have a chance to bloom. Your struggles will be in vain, your attempts to free yourself from the ordinary, to rise above-life will ridicule and crush you without mercy. Is that what she wanted to say? Or did she want to say that love is small and ephemeral?-A pale spark against the dark back-drop of life; flashing but for a moment, only to vanish in the thick darkness? It cannot open up cloudless, starlit skies; cannot pour blue light over the cloudy paths of life. It is easily extinguished with only a little water; even its purist flame does not burn eternal. Is that what she wanted to say? Or perhaps she wanted to remind me that however beautiful and jubilant life can be, however brightly the sun of love can shimmer, embracing you with its gentle rays, there will always be, standing behind your shoulder, a merciless enemy as old as life itself-death. It stands behind you as you stretch out your hand toward the happiness calling out to you nearby; as you lie in the arms of your ardent beloved and dream of eternity; as you begin a great project and in passionate desires see it through to its end-it is always there behind you, with a cold smile on its bony face, ready to steal away your life, your love, your creative accomplishments-What was she trying to tell me?

Drunk from the Bitter Truth: The Poems of Anna Margolin (2005) edit

Translated from Yiddish by Shirley Kumove

Poems and fragments edit

  • Drunk from the bitter truth,/I refuse all other wine.
  • Somewhere in the world, in a city/I am flowering like a lily.
  • "Violins"

The blue dream of violins.
I and you,
such a revelation,
such a revelation,
and nobody knows,
that we circle
in golden rings
like butterflies,
in the blue night of violins.
You, my peace,
our night,
the blue violins play
for me and for you.

  • I want, angry and tender one,

to tell you how it was with me,
always waiting on tiptoe.
For love? Not for love. No.
Just for a hint, a miracle, a voice-
close as a breath, yet distant as a star,
for the jubilant call that can be heard
only with closed eyes.
And yet, I love the earth, the breadth and charm
of ordinary life, its beloved sins, its harsh reality.
And yet, and yet-all my life was
anticipation, a waiting on tiptoe.

Epitaphs edit

  • Say this: until her death

She faithfully protected
With her bare hands
The flame entrusted to her
And in that same fire
She burned.

  • She of the cold marble breasts

and the slender light hands,
she squandered her life
on rubbish, on nothing.
Perhaps she wanted it so, perhaps she desired
this misery, these seven knives of anguish
to spill this holy living wine
on rubbish, on nothing.
Now she lies with shattered face.
Her ravaged spirit has abandoned its cage.
Passerby, have pity, be silent-
Say nothing.

From letters to Reuven Ayzland edit

  • I know that my devils have knives instead of teeth, and snakes instead of fingers. I can't do very much about that. I can't just get rid of them.
  • The creative person wears a mask... just like a sculptor wears an apron."
  • The authentic artist carries within himself another world to which the ordinary person has no access. The great value of the poet is that he enriches us with new, thoroughly experienced feelings, with unseen or differently seen landscapes.
  • Why must one rhyme?... My work demands otherwise. I require bad rhymes because I don't want good ones... I know shvayg rhymes with tsvayg and shtayg; lebn with shvebn and shtrebn; himl with driml... but I require something different. I am insulted by the mechanical precision of the conventional rhyme. Somewhere, perhaps in only one syllable, the words should agree. I want the third and fourth lines to be subtly evocative of the first line with the colour of a word, with a sound that is but a shadow, a pale echo of the previously used sound.

Quotes about Anna Margolin edit

  • A human being emerges out of her poetry who lives life intensely and sharply. Nothing is lukewarm to her. Everything becomes an elemental, shocking experience drawn from the broadest range of emotions: from the most refined love to the most barbarous hatred, from the deepest servility to proud admiration and contempt, from turbulent dramaticism to calm resignation, from heroic daring to almost childlike fear.
  • even though Anna Margolin was far from typical, her life and her writing tell us something about the restlessness and dislocation that marked her and many other Jewish women of her time...Margolin wrote around what Tillie Olsen calls "hidden silences" or "one book silences," publishing journalism for years, then editing a volume of the poetry of others (Dos yidishe lid in amerike (The Yiddish Poem in America), 1923). Her own poetic voice emerged in the single volume Lider, published when she was 42, and even here the images tell of enforced silence, muffled cries, women mute as statues, "madness closing tenderly over [the] throat". Margolin actually felt the silence, writing desperately in letters of pressure in her throat, obstruction; imagining growths, tumors.
  • What is rarely known except by scholars is the range and variety of the pre-Holocaust Ashkenazi communities of Europe: traditional, socialist, communist; Orthodox and secular; capitalist and worker; Yiddish-speaking and/or fluent in the vernacular of wherever they lived: Russian, Polish, French, Czech, German. ... There is a whole literature, not just Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, or Sholem Aleykhem...but also brilliant narrative writers and experimental poets such as Chaim Grade, Kadia Molodowsky, Anna Margolin, Mani Leyb, Itsik Manger, and a host of others.
  • As a translator of Yiddish, I often find myself confronting the void created by the loss of millions of Yiddish-speaking Jews. It was therefore with a sense of urgency as well as obligation that I undertook to make the treasure of Anna Margolin's poetry available in English. I came to the poetry of Anna Margolin as a member of the Yiddish Women Writers' Study Group in Toronto. We began by reading poetry in Yiddish, and Anna Margolin's poems made an immediate powerful impression on me: her images possessed me like a dybbuk. Margolin haunted me for the better part of five years as I tried to understand her work. As I wrote draft translations, I often felt that she was speaking through me and sometimes even for me. During this process, when the meaning of a particularly troubling phrase or image suddenly revealed itself to me, I would experience a sense of "joyous rapture." Rilke used this term to describe the heightened state he found himself in when translating the poetry of Paul Valéry.
    • Shirley Kumove Drunk from the Bitter Truth: The Poems of Anna Margolin (2005)
  • there are other ways as well from a linguistic or literary aspect, where you could see how Jewish tradition was being reinvented with a kind of radical lens. For example, Anna Margolin, a Yiddish modernist writer, described herself in a letter where she says, “I've always been an anarchist. I've never been able to be an atheist. Indeed, in times of trouble, I spoke to God and I gave God hell.” And that's one way of modeling the psychological straddling of having grown up with a religious background and then reinventing it in some way towards anarchism.
  • a fiery bohemian, who wrote a passionate, disciplined poetry.
    • Ruth Whitman and Robert Szulkin Introduction to An Anthology of Modern Yiddish Poetry

Drunk from the Bitter Truth: The Poems of Anna Margolin, Shirley Kumove (2005) edit

  • Anna Margolin's reputation rests on one slim volume of Yiddish poetry published in New York City in 1929. Her poetry remains remarkably fresh and contemporary in spite of having been written a long time ago: the language is original and personal, and her themes of anxiety, loneliness, and search for identity and meaning are, if anything, more relevant today than they were in her lifetime.
  • Restless and dislocated, Margolin was deeply at odds with the world in which she found herself.
  • Anna Margolin was an exceptionally beautiful and gifted woman, fiercely individualistic and with a volatile temperament, who lived a tempestuous, unconventional life. Like many other Jewish women writers-Clare Goll (Franco-German poet, 1901-1977), Elsa Lasker Schüler (German poet, 1869-1945), and Yente Serdatsky (Yiddish writer, 1877-1962)-she adopted a bohemian and an eccentric lifestyle. A complex personality torn by fundamental tensions, Margolin had a keen wit, intellectual acumen, and uncompromising honesty; she was also high-strung and aggressively self-confident. She threw herself into both intellectual pursuits and romantic attachments with great passion and had a succession of lovers beyond her two marriages. Most of her liaisons were with exceptional and prominent men.
  • The Yiddish newspapers provided only limited opportunities for female writers. These women did not write about economics or politics, but were invariably consigned to the other side of the mekhitse (the barrier separating men from women in the synagogue)-to the women's pages, where they were limited to writing about fashion, home decor, and child rearing. Many of them, including Anna Margolin, resented this restriction. In addition to a weekly column, Margolin wrote fiction and essays...With her flair and style, she succeeded in leaving the mark of her considerable writing ability and literary consciousness on even trivial subjects. Her articles soon came to the attention of the major Yiddish and Hebrew writers, such as Chaim Nachman Bialik, Mani Leyb, and Itsik Manger. But many critics refused to believe that these articles were written by a woman. Reuven Ayzland said of her fashion section in Der Tog (The Day) that "it read like poetry."
  • During the early decades of the twentieth century, Yiddish women writers in North America considered themselves emancipated and enlightened. They created an extensive literature that ran the gamut from chronicles of the domestic scene to the experimental and highly complex writing of Anna Margolin and others.
  • Enamored of the work of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, she undertook to learn Spanish. She was greatly influenced by Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud; among the Germans, by Else Lasker-Schüler and Rainer Maria Rilke; and among the Yiddish poets, by Itsik Manger and Avrom Sutzkever. She was knowledgeable about the major literary trends in poetry and was a formidable critic. When Margolin's collection Lider (Poems) was published in 1929, leading writers in Warsaw discussed her work with great admiration, and gatherings were held to read and study her poetry. Although Lider was well-received in New York, it did not gain the wide readership Margolin had hoped for-even though such well-known writers as Chaim Nachman Bialik and Moishe Nadir praised her work.
  • Margolin's major themes of anxiety, loneliness, and a search for meaning run through all the sections of her book...Anna Margolin's central motifs include her yearning for transcendence, her resistance to the constraints of gender, and the tensions between rigid immobility and graceful movement-between proud, calm exteriors and inner turmoil, between mirror images that mock her and the masks and shawls that conceal her.
  • Anna Margolin created her own language and style, which even now seems fresh and contemporary.
  • While most of the Yiddish poets of the 1920s were conventional in their use of rhyme and observed the linguistic proprieties of that time, Anna Margolin-along with other Yiddish women writers-experimented with free verse and with incongruous and jarring juxtapositions of diction and sound. Although no specific connections have been established between Anna Margolin and other Yiddish women writers, she acknowledged their general influence in a letter to Reuven Ayzland: “If I have borrowed from anyone, it was not from men, never, only from women. And if my own work shows signs of other minds, other hearts-these are the minds and hearts of women I have encountered. I never forget them.”
  • Margolin's fierce, individualistic expressiveness was not at all concerned with the literary niceties. In a letter to the critic S. Tenenboym, she declared: “My poems are not just mumblings, aromas, spiderwebs. A large part of them are texture-massive, rhythmic, broad; and the context-dramatic."
  • the Yiddish poet Reuven Ayzland kept her informed about how her poems were being received in the New York cafes where the Yiddish literary intelligentsia gathered. About the reception of her poem "To Be a Beggarwoman," which had just appeared in the weekly newspaper, Di Fraye Arbeter Shtime (The Liberated Workers' Voice), he wrote: "Last night, Anna Margolin was the main topic among the literati. A thousand hypotheses were offered about who might be hiding behind the name, and the general opinion is that it must certainly be a man." Later, he wrote her again: "Why people want Anna Margolin to be a man is beyond me. The general opinion, however, is that these poems are written by an experienced hand. And a woman can't write like that." These clearly prejudiced responses indicate how widespread such attitudes were at that time and perhaps cast some light on the reception her book was to receive.
  • Although Anna Margolin was neglected by male critics of her time, who dismissed her as a "woman writer," and her reputation suffered during the general decline of interest in Yiddish writing, now after more than half a century of obscurity, her work has been rediscovered. A new generation of feminist scholars-Adrienne Cooper, Marcia Falk, Kathryn Hellerstein, Norma Fein Pratt, Sheva Zucker, and others are reappraising Margolin's achievement. Her poetry, reissued in a Yiddish edition, speaks to us across the generations with perhaps even greater strength today than it had in her lifetime. Anna Margolin dreamed of immortality. In the last of her three poems titled "Autumn," she wrote: “Heavy autumn, heavy step, I am old./Dark heart of mine, don't curse, believe in miracles:/somewhere in the world, in a city/I am flowering like a lily.”

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