The Pripet Marshes Irving Feld

MAN (1979) "The Pripet Marshes" belongs to that genre of poetry that deals with, or bears witness to, the Holocaust. Its final version appears in the center of Irving feldman's work. Feldman imagines his own family and loved ones on the site of the tragedy. Thinking of his Jewish friends, he seizes "them as they are and transport[s] them in [his] mind to the shtetlach and ghettoes," the poem begins. The words seizes and transport—relating to the Nazis gathering their victims—are used ironically. This imaginative act at first gives the speaker a sense of control. At times he takes a Biblical tone. The poet's defeat at the end signifies the utter failure of the artist or, indeed, of the individual to stem the tide of hatred that will soon, like the Pripet Marshes, an area in Eastern Europe overrun by the Germans, engulf his loved ones. Desperately trying to seize his people, the speaker collapses "as though drugged or beaten," stupefied by the prospect of such brutality.

The poem is full of color. Feldman celebrates people, friends, and relatives, whom he imagines in a Russian village moments before the Germans arrive. Frank has the "hair and yellow skin of a Tartar"; there is also "Abbie whose coloring wants lavender," his mother "whose gray eyes are touched with yellow," as well as his "brown-eyed son" and "red-haired sisters." Against the grim and anonymous Holocaust, which annihilated the individual, Feldman evokes character, personality, individuality: One friend is "Sullen," while another is a "moping, melancholy clown." He also includes the names—Marian, Adele, Munji—of those who engage in social activities, "walking the streets, visiting, praying in shul," and "arguing." There is banter and impatience and merriment.

The poem is also full of sound. The speaker's ears "tingle" when he hears voices: Maury's voice "is rapid and slurred," Lotties voice "flattens every delicacy," Abbie "who, when [he] listen[s] closely is speaking to [him]," and the family is "bantering [its] tenderness away." The emphasis on daily human activity substitutes here for any rumination on nature. The primordial marshes, the nature, is irrelevant to the poet's vision. Of course, the individual is helpless. As the Germans approach on their motor cycles, the speaker cries, "I snatch them all back, / For, when I want to, I can be a god." But the protective mist with which he seeks to cover his people "clouds" his own mind instead. He is overtaken by primordial and voiceless forces. It is the end of civilization. But such is the force of the witness poem, or Feldman's dramatic reinvention of it, that the testimony itself provides transcendence.

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