A(braham) M(oses) Klein

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M. W. Steinberg

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Klein is a product of three rich and distinct traditions, all of which formed his mind and imagination, determined his response to time past and present, to place, and to religious and literary forms and values. As a consequence, his contribution to the Canadian mosaic reflects the same elements. His major contribution stems primarily from his presentation of Jewish experience, historic and present, with its inherent ideas and values. It is a unique contribution, reflecting the religio-cultural heritage of his people and his own deep, passionate attachment, his on-going concern. One can readily agree with Ludwig Lewisohn's prefatory comment to Hath Not a Jew that Klein "was the first Jew to contribute authentic poetry to the literatures of English speech. For until his appearance all or nearly all Jews writing verse in English … had sought to make themselves more or less indistinguishable from the non-Jewish poets. Hence none of these men and women had gone to that core and visceral center whence poetry springs…." (pp. 73-4)

Although very much a product of the Jewish ghetto in Montreal in his early formative years, Klein was also shaped by the French-Canadian society with which it was in constant interaction. For a variety of reasons, reasons which go well beyond geographical and economic, the Jewish community was closer to the French-Canadian than to the third stratum of Montreal society, the English Protestant. Though by no means uncritical of various attitudes and actions of some elements in the French-Canadian society, particularly the raucous and the subtly insidious anti-semitism in the 1930's, Abe Klein, in his poetry and other writings, reveals a sensitive understanding of the French-Canadian way of life as he encountered it, and an appreciation not frequently expressed a generation ago by non-French-Canadians of the values it embraced. (p. 74)

As a member of a minority culture himself, endangered by forces within and without, deeply committed to preserving the ways and virtues of that culture within the framework of the Canadian mosaic, Klein was very sensitive indeed to the position of other cultural groups who had lost or were in danger of losing their special identity….

When we speak of a mosaic, we are inclined to emphasize the component elements in terms of their individuality and separateness, although we recognize and value the patterned whole which embraces them. (p. 75)

The interaction of ethnic groups and cultures, which weakens the concept of a mosaic, is, however, not negative. Klein, as we have seen, was shaped by non-Jewish forces, social and cultural, by the great writers in the English literary tradition, past and present, and by his associations with contemporary poets, most of whom were not Jewish. And so while we recognize the individuality and in a sense the autonomy of the elements that constitute the Canadian mosaic, we must also remember that there was and is a fruitful intermingling of cultural forces that led to the enrichment of all. (p. 76)

M. W. Steinberg, "A. M. Klein and the Canadian Mosaic," in The A. M. Klein Symposium, edited by Seymour Mayne (copyright 1975 for the authors by the University of Ottawa Press), University of Ottawa Press, 1975, pp. 73-6.

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