Prosodic Signification in the Longer Poems of Klein's Hath Not a Jew

by Susan Gingell

Not a radically experimental prosodist, A.M. Klein is nonetheless a most adept one, alert to the many possibilities for expression that meter, rhyme, and form offer a poet.  His awareness of prosodic history enables him to employ meter and form allusively to establish tone or context, and his skill is evident in the ways he uses prosody to delineate character or the nature of various parts of his poetic world.   He chooses appropriate meters and verse forms to help distinguish one character, racial group, idea, or thing from another and to convey information about their stature and stance.  Dorothy Livesay, the first critic to focus attention on Klein's prosody, has argued that Klein established himself as a master prosodist in Hath Not a Jew.   She writes: "Added to the singular felicity of his metre and rhyme was the delight in vocabulary and the contrapuntal use of pause, or juncture . . ."1  However, after she illustrates Klein's polished use of the caesura in "Greeting on This Day" (which she incorrectly identifies as "Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens") scant prosodic analysis follows, and since Livesay's article appeared, few critics have attempted to enhance readers' appreciation of Klein's reputed mastery in this field. 2

     For Klein, prosody was not simply a matter of aesthetic polish; it was an important way of encoding meaning.  Examining the versification, in conjunction with other features, of six major poems from the Hath Not a Jew volume, "Ave Atque Vale," "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage," "Portraits of a Minyan," "Greeting on This Day," "Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens," and "Design for Mediaeval Tapestry," will make evident the need to consider Klein's prosody in arriving at an understanding of his meaning.  These six poems, widely recognized as among his most significant achievements, are furthermore representative of Klein's habit of using prosody as a code of meaning.3

     The opening poem of Hath Not a Jew, "Ave Atque Vale,"4 uses versification to distinguish the British literary tradition from the Jewish, as well as the serious from the more light-hearted in the latter tradition.  The poem salutes but says farewell, if only temporarily, to a Christian British literary tradition, which, on the evidence of the poem's epigraph from Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona, is at least at times anti-Semitic in its assumptions.  "Ave Atque Vale," however, affirms the richness and variety of the Jewish literary traditions, rejecting two stereotypes of the Jew: that he belongs to an inferior race that has no literature to speak of and that he is ascetic, humourless, and mournful, one of a race of Jeremiahs:

No churl am I to carp at the goodly feres
In the Mermaid Tavern, quaffing the lusty toast;
Myself twanged Hebrew to right English cheers,
Though now I do bid farewell to mine host;

And not, in sooth, for that I am a wight
Of sober mien and melancholy way,
Drinking my water in sips, in life's despite
Changing heigh-nonny-no to lack-a-day, —

But that that parfait jolly company
That roistered in my salad days, calls me —
O sages of Sura, Pumbeditha's wise,
Drawers of elephants through needle's eyes!

The first three stanzas are iambic pentameter quatrains, a verse form which suggests the world-order of mainstream British poetry.  That the Jew does not fit readily into the established rhythms of this literature and its fellowship is an idea conveyed both by the near spondee of line 1 that denies that he is churlish:  "Nò chúrl am I" (whatever the inference of Launcelot's words cited in the epigraph) and the three successive stresses in line 3, particularly combined with the harsh, cacophonous sound of "twanged" in that line:  "Mysélf twánged Hébrew to right English cheers."  He denies that he is niggardly in his appreciation of life's delights, that he changes the light and tripping vol19_heigh.jpg (1783 bytes) to the more pedestrian vol19_lack.jpg (1691 bytes)

     The third stanza, however, explains his leave-taking from the admittedly "goodly feres" of the Mermaid Tavern as his response to the call of another tradition.  Form and diction indicate the tension between the two traditions.  On the one hand Klein retains the quatrain form and in the first two lines chooses words that recall Chaucer and Nicholas Udall's Royster Doyster and openly allude to Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, with its reference to "My salad days" (I.v.73); on the other hand he breaks the established pattern of alternating rhyme, substituting the couplets that he will use in the poem's longest stanza, the sixth, which provides a list of the brawny in the Jewish literary canon.

     To mark the actual turning away from one tradition to another "To you [Jewish sages] I turn" — which is to say, from one tradition of order to another, Klein changes his stanza form.  Stanza 4 has six lines, whose lengths vary from tetrameter to heptameter.  The form of the fifth stanza may at first seem difficult to account for because it is a quatrain with the ten-syllable norm of the first three stanzas, but in its handling of the question of the intellectual effeteness of the persona's Jewish company, the poet maintains that in terms of masculinity, Jews could meet and match the British on what the latter claim is their own ground.

     The eleven-syllable norm of the sixth stanza sets it in contrast to the ten-syllable norm of the "British" stanzas, the extra syllables producing a relatively high proportion of hypermetrical lines, of which there are none in the first three perfectly pentameter stanzas.  Significantly, however, the first two instances of hypermetrical lines follow hard on the turning point at stanza four, its second and sixth lines containing an extra half-foot.

      The seventh stanza, dedicated to the "gloomier sages" of Jewish tradition, initially marks its difference from the muscular, more playful Jewish company by slower-paced lines, the more stately effect being created either by a six-foot line (11.1 & 3) or a five-foot line with one or more caesuras (11.2, 4, & 5), and by an alternating rhyme scheme.  The quick gratification that comes from the completion of rhyme in couplets is better suited to the first Jewish company than it is to the more reserved sages, the pleasure that they give taking longer to appreciate.  The return to couplets later in the stanza, when individuals are listed, may indicate their kinship with the members of the other Jewish company, and the shorter line-lengths (in fact, bar the second-last line, the shortest in the poem) may be a playful mirroring of the fact that "these fasters, mortifiers of the flesh" were "skinny" and hence "slid through Satan's mesh."

     Both words and form argue the distance of the speaker from these gloomier men, because the rhyming couplet the reader expects in the last two lines of stanza seven (after the preceding pairs) is denied, the word "distances" lacking any confirming rhyme whatsoever, and the "sprightlier few" not finding its rhyme until the "this Jew" and "no pharisaic crew" of the next stanza.  The line "This Jew" stands small and alone against the expansive and symphonic British literary tradition characterized in the poem by relatively long lines,5 and assonantal and alliterative patterns, but in fact this Jew stands firmly (in spondaic form) between the mighty British and non-pharisaic Jewish traditions, his turning away from the former to the latter signalled once more by the quick succession of rhymes in "Jew," "to," and "crew."  However, his turning away is "for a space," a phrase which can have both temporal and spatial dimensions.  The British tradition is too rich in resources for him to turn his back on it permanently, but he needs room to establish himself, and this he does on the strength of his Jewish heritage.

     In "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" (pp. 113-118) Klein again exploits the potential of prosody to delineate the character of individuals and situations, but despite the allusion to the Byron poem of the same title, no prosodic connection is made between the two poems.6  Ironically casting the wanderings of the historical Jew as a pilgrimage, the Klein poem illustrates the brutal accommodations the Jew is forced to make in hope of finding acceptance in new lands.  The wrenching or distortion he makes for harmony's sake is well demonstrated by the slant rhyme of "avows" and "house" in the stanza devoted to Russia as a haven for the Jews:

       . . . thy fell is somewhat safe in Moscovy!
Quoth Kamenev to me.
And truth it is, as all the world avows:
I cast off my divine impedimenta,
And leave my household gods in the customs house.

Although Klein uses rhyme frequently in the poem, the rhyme is patternless, and despite a predominantly iambic, rhythm the poem is irregular in line and stanza length until the line vol19_fellowman.jpg (3617 bytes)  Here the poet sets up an iambic pentameter norm, one which points to an underlying sameness in the persecution of the Jew despite all his attempts to acculturate or efface himself.  At the same time the almost complete absence of rhyme from this section of the poem suggests the very rare harmonies are accidental.

     A remarkable formal change occurs in the stanza dedicated to the faith of the persona's father.  The stanza's uniformly eight-syllable lines (if the "er" of "prayershawl" is pronounced and the middle syllable of "furious" elided) combined with the rhyming couplets create an impression of order and dignity despite oppression.

     The stature of the father, allied with his ancestors and his god, is suggested in the next stanza by the heptameter line that forms so obvious a contrast with the spiritually impoverished son standing alone in the succeeding monometer line:

My father is gathered to his fathers, God rest his wraith!
And his son
Is a pauper in spirit, a beggar in piety,
Cut off without a penny's worth of faith.

The archetype of Esau crystallizes the aggressive response of Jewry to anti-Semitism, and alternating rhyme (abababcb) structures the stanza that describes his stance toward the foe as a possible model for all Jewry.  The introduction of an apparently new rhyme word in the second last line is the result of that line's having in effect been blown in two.  Thus Klein shrinks from giving the stanza the kind of co firming harmonic closure it would otherwise have had: vol19_and_let.jpg (2806 bytes)vol19_vociferous.jpg (1946 bytes)vol19_defiance.jpg (1832 bytes)vol19_oppressor.jpg (2311 bytes)  In fact, the following two-line stanza makes explicit the persona's rejection of violent response.  For him the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," bluntly prohibits the murderous stance.  Thus the speaker makes the statement of prohibition without the adornment of rhyme or a sustained regular meter: vol19_alas.jpg (1701 bytes)vol19_that_in.jpg (1804 bytes)vol19_there_sounds.jpg (2275 bytes)vol19_sixth.jpg (2009 bytes)vol19_sinai.jpg (1450 bytes)

     Klein groups absurd suggestions as to how the Jew can escape oppression by committing suicide in a series of three- and four-foot lines arranged in couplets or alternating rhyming pairs, appropriately denying the thoughts the dignity of the longer line, but the final stanza again shifts mood and consequently, form.   Having recorded the survival of the Jews through many oppressions, it counsels a secular, stoic patience, suggesting the answer to the Jews' problem will be found in time; the Jews need only wait.  After Klein sets up in the first four lines of the stanza a pattern of confirming structures — the rhyme of "come" and "pandemonium" (abcb) and the repetition of the words "not for" in 11.1 & 3 — the reader must wait some time for the reappearance of rhyme.  When it comes, however, it comes with a vengeance: The 'd' rhyme is thrice repeated as the original "play" (1.5 of last stanza) is varied to "pray," (1.11) "day," (1.14) and "away" (1.17); the rhyming words of the couplet ending in "abhorred" and "horde" (11.12 & 13) are echoed in the slant rhyme "word" just two lines later; and the last four lines create an envelope rhyme with the pairing of "the" and "imperturbability."   Thus is versification used to reinforce thematic statement.

     The study of poem sequences or montages, forms characteristic of Klein from his earliest collection onwards, allows readers to see another way in which prosody is used to encode meaning.  Sometimes Klein relies on the shaping of individual poems in a single form (usually the sonnet, but sometimes, as in "Obituary Notices," the quatrain) to suggest a parallel in thought between the individual poems that justifies gathering them under a single title; at other times his choice of a variety of verse forms within the grouping reflects the diversity of character, situation, event, or viewpoint presented in the poem as a whole.  Such is the case with "Portraits of a Minyan" (pp. 118-123).  In rhythm, line length, or stanza structure each verse-portrait differs at least slightly and occasionally greatly from the others in order to convey the variety of character in the minyan.  The predominance of quatrains and iambic rhythm, however, indicates the common element that binds the minyan together.

     The variations from these norms of quatrain form and iambic rhythm are, then, indicative of particular character traits.  "Landlord" uses a ballad stanza, but one in which the second and fourth lines are hypermetrical, having an unstressed syllable left over at the end of the line, and this fact, combined with the rhyme occurring in unstressed syllables — rigid / digit, pedagogic / logic, Aleph / bailiff — has the effect of indicating the landlord's excesses.  The excesses, in turn, undermine the impression of the landlord as a serious and balanced scholar and prepare the reader for the inconsistency of his behaviour when he moves from the realm of books to the realm of life.  The nature of this shift is marked by the spondee at the beginning of the last line of the last stanza:

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Even the structure of the stanzas, a four-foot line followed by a three-foor line, suggests that the landlord has not as much substance as may first appear.

     The iambic trimeter line and thus quickly alternating rhyme conveys the jollity of Reb Abraham.  A spondaic substitution in such a context stands out very prominently and at the beginning of stanza two a spondee heightens the sense of contrast between the joyous Jews and the gloomy devil:

     Similarly, the frivolity of the shadchan finds formal expression in the trimeter line, but both the trochaic norm of the verse portrait and the abcb rhyme encode the shadchan's difference from Reb Abraham.  The materialistic calculations of the shadchan make this figure ultimately less gay and attractive than Reb Abraham; hence the shadchan has attributed to him less music than that which the lines of alternating rhyme give to Reb Abraham.

     "Sweet Singer" is in form a humble sonnet, and the trimeter norm is a signifier of Old Mendel's humility.  Twice, however, the line shrinks to dimeter, expanding in the final couplet to a pentameter and then a hexameter line, precisely when Klein wants to make the point that Mendel is invested with dignity because of the form in which he chooses to voice his praise:  vol19_Old_Mendel.jpg (1933 bytes)vol19_begs.jpg (1931 bytes)vol19_alms_By.jpg (2358 bytes)vol19_reiterating.jpg (2045 bytes)

     "His Was an Open Heart" is the only poem in the sequence written in iambic pentameter, but the choice of this line length is obviously appropriate in the context to describe someone magnanimous.  Klein breaks the iambic norm most significantly to indicate a contrast in pace at lines 3 and 4: vol19_A_rabbi.jpg (1995 bytes) (SCASION) from a foreign land / A holy man, a beggar ar, all found rest!" The speed of the passing referred to in the first line quoted is dependent upon the pyrrhic followed by the iambic foot in the third and fourth feet of the line, while the iambic succeeded by the spondaic foot at the end of the line reinforces the idea of rest in the next line.  The trochaic reversal at the beginning of the first line quoted signals the remarkable fact that (SCASION) "even Gentile saw / A welcome at the door" of the open-hearted Jew.

     For his caricature of the self-effacing Jew, "And the Man Moses was Meek," Klein chooses a dimeter line that he reduces on one occasion to a catalectic dimeter line to heighten the irony that


The only time Moses breaks his silence is to pray and thus Klein breaks the iambic rhythm, which represents the normal, supremely unobtrusive conduct of his life, with one not too forceful, but still noticeable, substitution, that of a trochee for an iamb: (SCASION) "He never spoke Save in' his prayer!"

     Versification encodes the same kind of variety within a group of people, events, or things in such montages in Hath Not a Jew as "Haggadah," "For the Leader — With String Music," "Of Kith and Kin," "Of Sundry Folk," "Of Kings and Beggars," and "Of Holy Vessels."

     In "Greeting on This Day" (pp. 124-128) Klein calls on all his intellectual resources thematically, and prosodic resources stylistically, to effect a reconciliation of his humanism with the bitterness and hostility, even hatred, that rises in him for those Moslems who were responsible for the murder of Jewish innocents (as Klein characterizes them) at the time of the 1929 riots in Palestine.  Finally, the socialism that lies behind what Miriam Waddington has called Klein's "Radical Poems"7 enables the reconciliation, but prosody is a primary indicator of tone in this poem, and tone is crucial to the establishment of the original state of hostility and grief and to conveying the agonized search for reconciliatory grounds.  Moreover, tonal shift is fundamental to the convincing achievement of the longed-for harmony.

     The poem begins with the creation of tension between the desire for unchecked expression of grief and the need for control.  The end-stopped lines, anaphora, parallelism, and rhyme of the opening stanza are the stylistic marks of the attempt to discipline despair, anguish, anger, and blasphemy.  Only in the first line does Klein break the rhythmic rush of his grief with a spondee that follows an iamb, and the effect here is to convey the force of his pain: "Lest grief clean out the sockets of your eyes."  The lack of internal pauses and otherwise nearly totally unimpeded rhythms of the first quatrain betray the strong currents of sadness:

SCANSION. . . . 8

The second stanza forms a decided contrast to the first stylistically.  After the auditory and spatial blankness of the stanza break comes the confirming admonition "Be silent."  The caesura that follows is a stylistic acquiescence to that admonition, but the poem does break that silence in continuing, though the number of internal breaks in the flow of these second four lines serves as a constant reminder of the poet's need to discipline a grief that threatens to push him to hysteria: (SCANSION) "Be silent.  Sorrow is a leper, shun / The presence of his frosted phantom.  Plant / Small stones . . ." Apart from the easily identifiable caesuras of lines 5 and 6, and the short line-end pauses that occur despite the enjambed quality of the lines, the structure and diction of the seventh and eighth lines create less easily recognizable but nonetheless real silences.  The repeated "s" sounds and the mid-line new clause beginning with the word "so" enforce the break in line 7, "Small stones for eyes || so that no tears may run," while inverted syntax and the once-more reiterated "s" sound account for the brief mid-line pause in "And underneath your ribs || set adamant."

     The persona issues directives of restraint to the chronicler of Jewish sorrows in pentameter lines at the beginning of the poem's second movement, but then Klein phrases the sense of there being no Saviour for the Jewish people in a way that mimetically reflects the brief conspiracy that for the persona is the word "Messiah," the line being reduced to a dimeter length:

Omit your adjectives, sad Jeremiah,
Spare you your adverbs; let your phrases house
No too-protesting tenant of despair;
And if the meagre tale brings no Messiah,
Messiah is a short conspiracy
    Of thróat| and aír|. (SCANSION)

Rhyme is the chief stylistic interest of section iii, as Klein uses this form of sound link to suggest his persona's connection with Palestine, though he has never been there:

Though never have I left my northern snows,
Nor ever boarded ship for Palestine,
Your memory anoints my brain a shrine,
Your white roofs poeticize my prose,
Your halidom is mine.

Here rhyme connects the northern snows of his Canadian home to profane prose.  This frozen prose is, however, animated and poeticized on the one level by the images of the holy city of Safed gleaned from the writings of its sages and on another level by the music of the repeated long "i" sound that draws the word "poeticize" into connection with the triple rhyme of Palestine / shrine / mine.  The plethora of rhymes, both at line-end and within the line, and the effective use of assonance and alliteration represent the beauty of his memories of Safed and its learned men recalled in the rest of this section.

     Section iv of the poem describes the night-time unrest of both Jewish ghosts and Moslems who fear this Jewish resurrection and Klein finds a formal equivalent for this unsettled state.  There are many aspects of this section that begin by suggesting the settled form of the sonnet: the thirteen lines are at first glance close enough to hint at the form; so is the opening line's perfect iambic pentameter, but this dwindles in subsequent lines until at line 4 it reaches its most reduced form in iambic trimeter; and the rhyme scheme looks initially as if it will follow that of the Petrarchan sonnet, but the abb is not followed by the second "a" rhyme and the closing lines form a couplet reminiscent of the Shakespearean sonnet.  The lines refuse to settle into any established pattern, then, acting in a formal way as a mirror of the thematic concerns.

     The short nursery rhyme-like form of the lines in section v mask its subtle propagandistic imagery.  Moslems here are associated with stones, and hence the ground, darkness, and violence.  By contrast, the Jews are transformed into white doves, symbols of peace and transcendence, who rise above the darkness of the Moslem world and whose whiteness is united with the blue of the heavens, thus forming a banner that is identical in colour to the flag of Israel.  The section is worth quoting in full for the subtlety of its associative movement:

The white doves flutter
From the roofs
Where stones did utter
Dark reproofs.

That these pale pigeons
Be alarmed
Guerilla legions
Have been armed.

Effendi, Mufti,
Holy ones —
They are not thrifty
With their stones.

This is the manner
Doves take flight:
The sky a banner
Blue and white.

Under that banner a new life begins, but it is a life crucially linked to that celebrated in Jewish scripture, so the reader is reminded that the Promised Land is being reclaimed.  The form, diction, and images Klein chooses in section vi are appropriately allusive to Hebrew writings.  The outstanding feature of classical Hebrew prosody is a symmetry of units or the use of parallel structure, and Klein's celebration of contemporary Jewish life in the Holy Land exhibits the three basic types of what Biblical scholars call parallelismus membrorum.9   Complementary parallelism structures stanza 1; stanza 2 uses an antithetical parallelism in a partially interrogatory form; and stanza 5 in its second line exhibits the parallelism of sameness:

O who is this, rising from the Sharon, bearing a basket of grapes,
   vaunting the golden apples? And who is he, that other one,
    following behind a plough, breaking the soil, as hard as the heart
    of Pharoah?

If this be a Jew, indeed, where is the crook of his spine; and the
   quiver of lip, where?
Behold his knees are not callous through kneeling; he is proud,
   he is erect.

There is in his eyes no fear, in his mind no memory of faggots.
And these are not words wherewith one tells a Jew.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A son has returned to her that bare him; at her hearth
   he grows comely; he is goodly to behold.
Behind the bony cage there beats the bird of joy;
   within the golden cup is wine that overflows.

     The sense of idyll in section vi is partly a function of image, but the harmony implicit in the parallel structures and contributed by the musical qualities of assonance, alliteration, and the occasional internal or half-rhyme (Sharon / one, in the first stanza; Behind / wine, in the last, for example) are equally important factors in the creation of the idyllic.  The choice of the prose poem to structure the thought of this section also supports the sense of connectedness.

     In section vii, after the initially fluid and relaxed rhythms in which Klein thematically considers a pacifist Christian attitude, plosive and sibilant sounds join with emphatic rhythms and broken lines to express the rejection of this stance, at least toward the Moslem leaders.  However, in section viii, the persona searches for a sense of affinity with the fellaheen, Islamic peasants or labourers, and the meter becomes more and more regular as the poem progresses until, with the offer of companionship, the line becomes perfectly iambic and triyle rhyme replaces alternating rhyme: (SCANSION) "I, who have known the sweat that salts the lip / The blister on the palm, the aching hip, / I offer you companionship."

     The ninth and final movement of the poem has a Petrarchan sonnet form which gives expression to the vision of an ordered future possible when workers unite across the gulf of religious differences.  The Dome of the Rock, sacred to both Moslem and Jew, is the foundation of the projected unity and the word "dome" is thus appropriately linked to the key words "home" and "Shalom."  The affrighted white doves of section v now "settle on the roofs again," a concept linked by rhyme to the idea that "Though blood was spattered, it has left no stain."  The greeting on this day, then, turns out to be not a message of hate and threatened revenge, but the expression of the Hebrew equivalent of "Peace be with you," "Shalom."

     Klein once more uses prosody to indicate tone in "Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens" (pp. 128-132).  Undoubtedly one of Klein's most accomplished and best explicated poems,10 its stature is in no small part due to the successful manipulation of verse form and rhyme.  The opening stanza's rhymes occur in unstressed syllables, a tactic which helps establish a scornful tone towards those orthodox "sons of Abraham" who tried to change the theological position of Baruch Spinoza by the coercion of ostracism, "spatted spittle," "anathema," or the "irrefutable stiletto."  Klein reduces Spinoza's antagonists to clowns through the use of frequently recurring rhyme, both the traditionally comic rhymes in unstressed syllables — here spittle / whittle / tittle — and the even more often repeated rhyme in prose / suppose / foes / crows / nose, where the associative links created by the rhymes further diminish the status of his antagonists' arguments.

     There is some tension in the opening section of the poem between the comic rhymes and the meter.  Line lengths vary between tetrameter and hexameter, and there is a great variety of metrical feet, though the lines are basically iambic pentameter, traditionally associated with a dignified treatment of a subject.  This tension has the effect of heightening the sense of inappropriateness that is the thematic focus of Klein's depiction of the Dutch Jewish community's attempts to return Spinoza to orthodoxy.

     An extreme tension between form and content characterizes the section of the poem dedicated to showing the effects of coercion on a precursor of Spinoza, Uriel da Costa.  The meter and rhyme of section ii, reminiscent as they are of nursery rhyme, may undermine any serious notion of schism but the tension between form and content also suggests the abyss of doubt that destroys da Costa:11

Uriel da Costa
Flightily ranted
Heresies one day,
Next day recanted.

Rabbi and bishop,
Each vies to smuggle
Soul of da Costa
Out of its struggle.

Confessional hears his
Glib paternoster;
Synagogue sees his
Pentitent posture.

What is the end of
This catechism?
Bullet brings dogma
That suffers no schism.

Klein's use of form in the poem is everywhere instructive, blank verse being chosen for Spinoza's monologue addressed to his heart about the matter of his theological doubts, and traditional quatrains for the section concerning institutionalized religion.  Hutcheon and Goldschlager have already recorded the effect of the hidden rhymes and sonnet in the apparent prose of section v, the heightened beauty to be found when one deciphers "a new scripture in the book."12

     That Klein should have chosen couplets in the sonnet-length apostrophic hymn of praise to man's intellect that comprises section vi is entirely in keeping with prosodic tradition.  The shift to the ballad stanza to express the humility of Spinoza before the infinitesimal and infinite glories of the universe in section vii is once more a perfect matching of form and subject matter.  The psalm-like prose poetry of section viii blends, in a perfectly natural way, Christian and Judaic images and tradition, this natural blending, freely and harmoniously expressed, forming a pointed contrast to the jerky alternation between the two traditions in the Uriel da Costa section of the poem.  The sacred force of section viii is largely the result of the formally and stylistically allusive quality of this verse, but the section also shares with the Psalms the quality of being "God-intoxicated," nature and humanity existing not as independent factors in the universe, but as "manifestations of a transcendent power."13

     The major formal interest of the final section of "Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens" lies in its rhyme scheme.  If one pays attention simply to end rhyme, the second has the rather odd scheme abbcc deefgfg.  The first line of each stanza, lines 1 and 6, is left rhymeless, but when the poem is read aloud rather than looked at on the page, the listener will have no sense of an element missing from an otherwise perfect harmony.  The word "think" at the end of line 1 serves as a harmonic echo of the same word at the beginning of the line and the anaphoric repetition of the phrase that begins the first line, "Think of Spinoza," at the beginning of line 6 provides a further echo.  A similar form of repetition supplies a kind of rhyme for the final word of the apparently unrhymed line 6, because in line 9 Klein expands the final phrase, "plucking tulips," to "Plucking his tulips." The rhyme scheme is thus not orthodox, but the musicality is undeniable, just as Spinoza's theology, while adhering to no dogma, is presented as genuine.

     Whereas individual sections of the poems "Greeting on This Day" and "Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens" are prosodically allusive, Klein casts the whole of "Design for Mediaeval Tapestry" (pp. 136-142) in an allusive form.  The terza nina Klein chooses for the poem is appropriate in two ways.  "Design. . ." is constructed of various attempts in different voices to come to terms with the history of the Jewish diaspora, especially in Christian Europe.  Klein establishes the Christian context not only by the diction of the various verse panels in the tapestry, but also by the terza nina verse form, which Dante used for The Divine Comedy, arguably the greatest poetic expression of the Catholic view of the world.  Klein uses this form several times in his canon and always it provides the sense of a Christian, or at least a religious, context.14  Section xxiv of The Hitleriad (pp. 205-206), the section which deals with Hitler's usurping of the name and powers of God; the allegorical "Psalm XXXI: To the Chief Musician, A Psalm of the Bratzlaver, Touching A Good Gardener," (pp. 229-230) from Poems (1944); and "The Cripples," (pp. 298-299) Klein's poem on the Montreal shrine Oratoire de St.  Joseph from The Rocking Chair and Other Poems, are all cast in this form.  Each use has its evident appropriateness, but never is the woven quality of the terza nina stanzas more apt than in the poetic tapestry of medieval Jewish life and thought in Hath Not A Jew.

     Having established his prosodic norm, Klein departs slightly from it in the panel titled "Judith Makes Comparisons."   Here the aba bcb cdc rhyme scheme is modified to abababcdc, the triplets being forced together and rhyme recurring when it is not expected.  On a thematic level the poem records the divergence between what Christian art in such forms as the ballad and the romance, have led Judith to expect of the Christian knight-at-arms, and the reality of her experience with "the cross-marked varlet," her own contemporary Holofernes, who forces himself upon her:

Judith had heard a troubadour
Singing beneath a castle-turret
Of truth, chivalry, and honour,
Of virtue, and of gallant merit, —
Judith had heard a troubadour
Lauding the parfait knightly spirit,
Singing beneath the ivied wall.
The cross-marked varlet Judith wrestled
Was not like these at all, at all. . .

The only other variations from the prosodic norm occur as loose ends in the panels "Job Reviles" and "Ezekiel the Simple Opines." In the first instance the one-line stanza "How long will you sit on your throne, and nod?" concludes Job's angry portrait of Israel's "dotard God," the near double rhyme appropriately linking Jehovah to the concept of senile sleepiness, but because the poem does not provide the expected final triplet, a sense of abandonment, which is the basis of the poem's agonized and irate lament, results.  The final one-line stanza of the Ezekiel panel may well be a reflection on his overly simplified view of Jewish history that essentially blames Jewish suffering on the nation's lack of religious zeal, but there is also a kind of decorum in operation here that is analogous to the choice of the humble sonnet to give voice to Old Mendel's song in "Portraits of a Minyan."  The appropriateness of the brief seven-line form of "Ezekiel" becomes clearer in relation to the extended use of terza rima in the following panel, "Solomon Talmudi Considers His Life."  The exegetical exercise of the Talmudic commentator of course requires ample space to explore complexities.

     The discrete yet interrelated panels of the tapestry are naturally a conscious part of the design.  Like many medieval tapestries, Klein's has a border or frame, his consisting of the initial six stanzas and the final five, which hold within them the individual scenes, characters, and events of the titled sections.  The Book of Tapestry: History and Technique describes a style of medieval tapestry fostered by the patronage of the Dukes of Burgundy: it was characterized by lively compositions "well filled with figures and trees, each cut up into several separate compartments or scenes by means of motifs borrowed from architecture. . . ."  Flemish tapestry-makers pushed the compartmentalizing even further.  Their works "began to teem with figures, each scene of the tapestry being completely framed, rather like a picture, by its own private architectural- type surround."15  The white space between the panels of Klein's tapestry are the literary equivalents of these architectural surrounds.

     The appropriation of the tapestry into literary form has its own kind of logic, both since many medieval tapestries combined words and visual images, and since tapestry was "a collective art."16  The substance and elliptical form of Klein's title present the idea that the poet is the equivalent of the tapestry designer, known as the cartoon-maker, but this artist had to rely on the tapestry-workers to reproduce his design in fabric.  The relationship between the cartoon-maker and tapestry-worker can thus be seen as paradigmatic of the poet-reader relationship.  The poet is of course responsible for the excellencies of the design — the vividness of its images, the harmonies of its music and movement, the comprehensiveness of its vision, the balance of its parts (consider, for example, the Ezekiel / Solomon pairing and the way the stoicism of "Nahum-This-Is-Also-For-The-Good Ponders" is answered by the epicureanism of "Isaiah Epicure Avers") but the reader recreates the totality of the tapestry in his or her mind in the act of reading.

     A.M. Klein's poetic resources are extraordinarily rich, and critics have only begun to trace the intertextual relations of his poems into cultural systems of enormous diversity.  That those intertextual relations have an important prosodic dimension is part of the burden of this paper.  Given the ways in which Klein uses versification to signify tone, context, and aspects of character and society, readers of his poetry cannot hope to approach a full understanding of his work without paying due attention to one of the primary ways in which Klein encoded his poetic meanings.


  1. Dorothy Livesay, "The Polished Lens: Poetic Techniques of Pratt and Klein," Canadian Literature, no. 25 (Summer 1965), pp. 33-42.[back]

  2. D.M.R. Bentley's "Klein, Montreal, and Mankind," Journal of Canadian Studies, 19, no. 2 (Summer 1984), 34-57, is a happy exception.[back]

  3. In confining the examination to selected longer poems I have, however, precluded consideration of one of the most characteristic forms of Klein's verse, the sonnet.  As individual structure ("Sonnet in Time of Affliction"), as unit within a larger, formally varied poem ("Black Decalogue" in "Haggadah," as well as "Sweet Singer" from "Portraits of a Minyan," section ix from "Greeting on This Day," and section vi of "Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens") and in uniform sequences ("Talisman in Seven Shreds" and "Sonnets Semitic") the sonnet is a significant presence in Hath Not a Jew, as it is in all Klein's volumes, but his use of the sonnet form deserves to be studied in its own right.[back]

  4. The Collected Poems of A.M. Klein, compiled with intro, by Miriam Waddington (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1974), pp. 112-113.  Further references to Klein poems will be to this edition and will be cited parenthetically in the text.[back]

  5. The length of the lines is as much a matter of pace determined by caesuras and successive heavy stresses as it is a matter of numbers of syllables or feet.[back]

  6. Byron's poem employs the Spenserian stanza (ababbcbcc) and an iambic pentameter line.[back]

  7. See Collected Poems, pp. 81-110, and Miriam Waddington, A.M. Klein (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1970), pp. 30-59.[back]

  8. Collected Poems reads "mounting" here, but that the text is in error is pointed out in Zailig Pollock, "Errors in The Collected Poems of A.M. Klein,"Canadian Poetry Studies / Documents / Reviews, no. 10 (Spring/Summer 1982), p. 95.[back]

  9. For a discussion of Hebrew prosody see Eisig Silberschlag, "Hebrew Poetry," in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed.  Alex Preminger, enlarged edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 337.[back]

  10. See Linda Hutcheon and Alain Goldschlager, " 'Out of the Pulver and the Polished Lens': A.M. Klein as Wordsmith," Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, no. 4 (Spring/Summer 1979), 52-58.  This article extends, refines, and corrects aspects of Gretl Fischer's discussion of the poem in In Search of Jerusalem: Religion and Ethics in the Writings of A.M. Klein (Montreal: McGill Queen's Univ. Press), 1977, expanding her idea that the poem's structure is thematically based.  They trace a pairing of parts i and ix, ii and viii, iii and vii, and iv and vi in terms of corresponding themes and formal opposites arranged around the thematic and formal core of the poem, part v.[back]

  11. Hutcheon and Goldschlager have argued that da Costa's " 'glib paternoster' is echoed in the lilting verse of the poem, which works to undercut both da Costs's fate and his religious schism" (p. 54).  Robert Lister, a graduate student at the University of Saskatchewan, suggested to my Canadian literature seminar that the tension between form and content was related to da Costa's abyss of doubt.[back]

  12. " 'Snow Storm of Paper': The Act of Reading in Self-Reflexive Canadian Verse" Dalhousie Review, 59, no.  1 (Spring 1979), 114-128.[back]

  13. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, p. 39.[back]

  14. For a discussion of Klein's use of terza nina in The Rocking Chair and Other Poems, see David Bentley, "Klein, Montreal, and Mankind," Journal of Canadian Studies, 19, no. 2 (Summer 1984), pp. 37 and 41.[back]

  15. Pierre Verlet et al., The Book of Tapestry: History and Technique (New York: Vendome Press, 1978), p. 28.[back]

  16. Madeleine Jarry, World Tapestry From Its Origins to the Present (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969), p. 7.[back]