The Seed of Dream

By Carman, Judith | Journal of Singing, January/February 2008 | Go to article overview

The Seed of Dream


Carman, Judith, Journal of Singing


The tide of this bittersweet work full of both horror and hope comes from the third poem, "To My Child." The poet describes the tiny infant who has just died in his hands: "Neither stranger were you, nor guest./ On our earth, one births only oneself, one links one-self into rings and the rings into chains./ Child, the word for you would be love, but without words you are love, the seed of dream. . . ." Newborns are always the promise of hope and new life, even in the direst of circumstances, and never more than in the dark and macabre days of Hitlers Holocaust.

Several composers have composed settings of the poems written by the children of Theresienstadt, but perhaps not so many of the poems of adult poets who survived the various concentration camps and ghettos. These poems are by Abraham Sutzkever (b. 1913), who survived the torments of the Vilna Ghetto (where he was a member of the "Paper Brigade" that smuggled out hundreds of rare books and manuscripts) long enough to escape into the forests of Narocz where he joined the partisan fighters and survived the freezing winter of 1943. He is hailed today as perhaps the "last of a line of Yiddish writers that began in the Nineteenth Century with Sholom Aleichem. Without direct use of religious language, Sutzkever's poetry translates the inherited faith of the Jewish people, and recounts the quintessential pilgrimage from annihilation to renewal" (Mina Miller, quoted in the introductory notes).

The first four of these five poems were written in the Vilna Ghetto in direct response to the poet's personal experiences, and the fifth was written in the Narocz forests on February 5, 1944, still months away from the liberation of the Ghetto by the Soviet Army, after which Sutzkever was airlifted to Moscow. "I Lie in This Coffin" describes the poet's experience of hiding from the Germans in a coffin, where he summons the spirit of his dead sister for comfort. "A Load of Shoes" recounts seeing the loads of shoes of murdered Jews being shipped off to Berlin, and the horror of recognizing his own mother's shoes among the hundreds of others. "To My Child" is a heart wrenching lament for the poet's murdered son. "Beneath the Whiteness of Your Stars" is a cry to a higher power, the creative source of words: "Beneath the whiteness of your stars,/ Stretch out toward me your white hand;/ All my words have turned to tears-/ they long to rest within your hand./ See, their brilliant light goes darker/ In my eyes, grown cellar-dim./ And I lack a quiet corner/ From which to send them back again." "No Sad Songs Please" is a testament to the poet's belief that words and nature are healing to tortured souls.

This cycle reveals more clearly than many of her works that Laitman is above all a melodist. That is not to say that she does not excel in harmonic and rhythmic treatment of her musical material also; only that there is always melody going on somewhere in the texture of the music. This aptitude is a strong factor in her successful composition of vocal lines that are grateful to the voice and music that is always accessible to the listener. Add to this grace her appreciation of wonderful poetry, and lyric song is a natural consequence. This work is a sterling example of lyric expression. …

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