ARN NISENZON (AARON NISSENSON) (October 9, 1898-May 1, 1964)
He was born in the village of Tshepeli (Chapyali), Minsk region, Byelorussia. His father Hirshl was a miller; his mother Tsherne-Feyge (née Ashkenazi), owned farmland and a garden as a lessee. Until age thirteen Nisenzon studied in religious elementary school Yiddish, Hebrew, Tanakh, as well as a bit of secular subject matter in Russian. In March 1911 he came to the United States with his mother and sister Khane (Hannah) (wife of the poet Froym Oyerbakh) to join his father and two brothers. In New York, he attended public school, middle school, and university. He graduated as a pharmacist, but decided to turn to newspaper work instead. He was associated with Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal) in New York for over thirty years as a writer and—primarily—as the business manager of the newspaper. He began writing poetry when he was fifteen. At sixteen he began publishing them. He debuted in print in Yidishes tageblat (Jewish daily newspaper) in New York with a Hanukkah-themed poem and soon thereafter began publishing in the Zionist weekly Dos idishe folk (The Jewish people), edited by Av. Goldberg. He later published poetry, journalistic articles, essays, and reviews in: Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor), Di tsukunft (The future), Literatur un lebn (Literature and life), Fun mentsh tsu mentsh (From person to person), Ist brodvey (East Broadway), Di feder (The pen), Poezye (Poetry), Unzer zhurnal (Our journal), Di tsayt (The times), Varheyt (Truth), Nay-yidish (New Yiddish), Oyfkum (Arise), Idish-sotsyalistishe monatshrift (Jewish socialist monthly writing), Morgn-zhurnal, and Der idisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter), among others, in the United States and other countries. He was co-editor of the monthly Der onhoyb (The beginning) in New York (1918). He was active in the Jewish community with the Jewish National Labor Alliance, with YIVO, with the World Jewish Culture Congress, and with the Y. L. Perets Writers’ Union. In his last years he led the Yiddish press division of the Joint Distribution Committee. He made a visit to the state of Israel in 1961. In the summer of 1963 he visited Argentina as an emissary on behalf of the Joint. Although Nisenzon came to poetry on his own, without any literary group, he nonetheless is added to the group that emerged with “Di yunge” (The young ones). Poets in this group belonged to no school of literature; each of them came with his or her own tone and bent vis-à-vis social and national motifs. In book form, he published: Hundert lider (One hundred poems) (New York: Unzer zhurnal, 1920), 109 pp.; Meteorn (Meteors), poetry (New York: Di feder, 1925), 79 pp.; Dos lebn vil a mayse hern (Life wants to hear a story), poetry (New York: A. Biderman, 1930), 140 pp.; Der veg tsu mentsh (The way to man), a dramatic poem in twenty-one scenes (New York: Yidish lebn, 1934), 184 pp.—“a beautiful, quiet, solemn and joyous spirit radiates out from every line,” wrote Dr. A. Mukdoni of this book, “a pious beaming belief of a man in his own heights and with him that of the world”; Dos tsugezogte land (The promised land), a dramatic poem in twelve scenes (New York: Idish bukh, 1937), 188 pp.; Dos lebn zingt afile in toyt (Life sings even in death), poetry (New York: Shrayber farlag, 1943), 224 pp.—“This is a collection of religious-philosophical poetry,” noted Y. Kisin. “Distinctive questions are raised in the book of Job about the injustice of the savage fate of one individual. Nisenzon, however, is a modern poet. The eternal questions remain, in essence, the same, but an answer to them gives each era its own special language…. Nisenzon successfully turns not only prayers to song but also sermons. In general, song for him may be the main idea in the book at hand. He is a poet on a fixed, accepted religious-philosophical path. He is profoundly Jewish with his language, style, and ideas, and he is a universalist”; In tsadeks trit (In the footsteps of the righteous), poems (New York: Um Publishing Co., 1950), 85 pp.—“Nisenzon has a keen sense,” writes Shmuel Niger, “for the expression of ideas and not only for them alone. He knows that content and form unite in art and become one—and he attains a certain stage of this unification in a part of this book he called In tsadeks trit…. This is no ordinary series of poems. This is more like a prayer book…. If not for the modern poetic technique and not for the contemporary Yiddish language, one might believe that the content derives from an ancient author.” He also published in English a biographical novel about Eugene Victor Debs, entitled Song of Man: A Novel Based on the Life of Eugene V. Debs (New Haven: Whittier Books, 1964), 200 pp. He died in New York.
“The motif of humanity…,” stated B. Y. Byalostotski, “became the main motif in Nisenzon’s writings. He believed in the essence of Creation. Man had lost his way, stumbled, was no longer there. But man would be, he will come, he must come, although he has been delayed. The prayer for being was repeated in his poems; a voice of confidence, of the love of mankind, can be heard in his poems; with his poems, he touched the edges of the celestial, profoundly innovative Jewish optimism. It was a belief, an optimism that once was perforce, the all-encompassing force of optimism, the obligatory optimism…. Nisenzon was devotedly optimistic, not because everything is fine now, but because it will be fine; not because the world is now redeemed, but because that day approaches. It is the commencement of the redemption—the ‘time of times’ is coming, the time of the kingdom of the spirit is coming.” “Nisenzon’s poetry,” noted Yekhezkl Bronshteyn, “was overloaded with substance, wisdom, and typical Jewish-ethical values, which suggests the Ethic of the Fathers and coincides with the attitude of the saintly man whose humility and perfect conceptions of God, the world, and mankind are not only not a drawback, but on the contrary the absolute driving force and the inspiring, domineering factor in the poetic interpretation of the contemporary poet in Yiddish, Arn Nisenzon…. Due to the authenticity of Nisenzon’s beliefs in the ethics of mankind, he finds a ‘sense in every thing of beauty’—in the realm of all who extol God’s name in prisons, cellars, on the gallows at dawn.” “Nisenzon’s poems are permeated with beliefs and the hope,” wrote Froym Oyerbakh, “of the purification of man. He saw reasoned visions. He celebrated man in messianic times, which was for him in the seventh thousand of the creation of the universe. He ignited his poem with a flare of reason. He left behind the expressiveness of words. He wanted the word to rise to nakedness of the burning bush in the desert, which burns and does not burn out. His poems are dramatic. Into his own time, though, it carries a sacred dream of man and the world. The outside pathway brought about for him the drama Der veg tsu mentsh—a drama whose background was the purely human, socialist leader in America, Eugene V. Debs. He rendered the great socialist martyr not as an idealistic, socialist fighter, but as a seeker approaching the very depths of man. Three years before his passing from this world, he wrote on the same theme a long novel in English, which appeared when he had fallen ill and was deriving pleasure from the fact that American critics were responding to it with praise and appreciation. He only derived this pleasure for a couple of weeks, as his end was already lurking in the shadows.”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Froym Oyerbakh, in Idish-sotsyalistishe monatshrift (New York) 4-5 (1920); Oyerbakh, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (May 16, 1964); Y. Podruzhnik, in Renesans (New York) (April 1920); M. Grim (Menakhem Boreysho), in Tsayt (New York) (September 25, 1920); B. Grobard, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (February 2, 1923); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Der amerikaner (New York) (May 1, 1925); Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (January 23, 1935; May 26, 1943; February 19, 1950); B. Y. Byalostotski, Lider un eseyen (Poems and essays), vol. 2 (New York, 1932); Byalostotski, Kholem un var (Dream and reality) (New York, 1956); Byalostotski, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (December 1, 1959; December 15, 1959; January 1, 1960); Y. Glants, in Yidishe shtime (Mexico City) (October 18, 1933; May 16, 1964); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (March 31, 1935; January 18, 1953); Y. Horovits, in Nyu yorker vokhnblat (New York) (April 12, 1935; April 19, 1935); Horovits, in Der shpigl (Buenos Aires) (February 1960); Horovits, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (February 1960); M. Yofe, in Dos idishe folk (New York) (November 25, 1938); Yofe, in Hadoar (New York) (May 23, 1947); M. Basin, Amerikaner yidishe poezye (American Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1940), pp. 569-75; Sh. Tenenboym, in Der idisher kuryer (Chicago) (January 2, 1943; May 23, 1943); Y. Kisin, in Forverts (New York) (August 1, 1943); Y. A. Vaysman, in Epokhe (New York) (July 1947); Y. Rodak, in Idisher zhurnal (Toronto) (February 22, 1948); Rodak, Kunst un kinstler (Art and artists) (New York, 1955), see index; Y. Varshavski (Bashevis), in Forverts (January 15, 1950); Dr. Y. Shatski, in In Jewish Bookland (New York) (February 1950); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (September 18, 1950); Yekhezkl Bronshteyn, in Keneder odler (July 1956); N. Mayzil, Amerike in yidishn vort antologye (America in Yiddish, an anthology) (New York: Ikuf, 1955); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (August 2, 1963; August 23, 1963); Botoshanski, in Di idishe tsaytung (August 22, 1963); obituaries in the Yiddish press in New York (May 2-3, 1964); Dr. L. Zhitnitski, in Di prese (May 5, 1964); Who’s Who in World Jewry (New York, 1955); Who’s Who in the East (Chicago, 1957); American Jews: Their Lives and Achievements (New York, 1958); Harry Gilroy, in New York Times (April 11, 1964).