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Weiner's songs of the 1930s and 1940s reflect a deepening awareness of social and political crises as they affected the Jews of Europe and the Soviet Union. Ergets vayt (1936), with its strophic structure, refers to the Siberian exile of political prisoners during the pre–Soviet era Czarist regime. There is apparently an intentional paradox in the musical interpretation here, for on the surface the song seems simple, with a rather angular melody and a conventional flowing piano part. But it is as if that simplicity understates—perhaps masks—the intrinsic pathos of the poem and, by so doing, intensifies the tragic nature of the exile.
Editor's note by Neil W. Levin:
There are also layers of meaning in this poem that explore aspects of inner loneliness, suffering, and yearning inherent in the human condition. H. Leivick wrote the poem in 1914–15 in Philadelphia, where he was working as an apprentice cutter in a garment shop while writing poetry on his own time. He is said to have considered Ergets vayt his first authentic poem, which he therefore placed in the opening pages of his first published collection (1918). His biography describes his subsequent recollection of the circumstances surrounding the poem’s genesis—on a cold, wintry night in his tiny attic room, where, after a long day’s work in the shop, he lay in bed by the light of a small gas lamp. Looking through the window at a snowstorm, he felt “lonely, foreign, and forlorn in this big new world.” He is quoted as reflecting:
All of a sudden, something lights up inside you. You realize that you really are in America. You lie inside in an attic, but outside a blizzard howls, and before your eyes you see the Siberian landscape from which you just escaped: the distant white hills of immense Siberia, the snow-covered roads and rivers and forests and mountains, the full, absolute, and dazzling whiteness—the “dazzling of the world,” one might say. And you feel part of this whiteness...I felt a yearning for something emerging within me—a fresh start, going to that whiteness as to an untrodden forbidden land.
Upon further reflection, Leivick noted in this poem a shift in emphasis from the forbidden land, with its unreachable covered treasures, to suffering humanity:
To be the justified and chosen partner of suffering mankind, who can never reach the forbidden treasures: perhaps herein lies the secret of true human yearning, the fate of man both in his search for a link to that which we call Creator-God, as well as in his connection to the entire world of human life and death. Thus it is insufficient to say that there are forbidden and covered treasures. An additional observation is necessary: “Somewhere far away a prisoner lies alone.”