[I saw him walking along slowly at night]

By Charles Reznikoff 1894–1976 Charles Reznikoff
I saw him walking along slowly at night
holding a tray of candy and chewing-gum:
a Jewish boy of fifteen or sixteen
with large black eyes and a gentle face.
He sidled into a saloon
and must have been ordered away
because he came out promptly
through the swinging doors.

I wondered what he was doing
far from a Jewish neighborhood.
(I knew the side streets
and the roughs standing about on the corners and stoops.)
What a prize this shambling boy with his tray!
I stepped up to warn him
against leaving the brightly-lit avenue.
He listened, eyed me steadily, and walked on calmly.
I looked at him in astonishment
and thought: has nothing frightened you?

Neither the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, by the
    Romans, by the Crusaders?
No pogrom in Russia;
no Nazi death-camp in Germany?
How can you still go about so calmly?

From The Poems of Charles Reznikoff by Charles Reznikoff, edited by Seamus Cooney. Reprinted by permission of Black Sparrow Books, an imprint of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. Copyright 2005 by Charles Reznikoff.

Source: Poems 1918-1975: The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff (Black Sparrow Press, 1977)

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Poet Charles Reznikoff 1894–1976

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Subjects Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Cities & Urban Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Charles  Reznikoff


Emerson remarked that the best writers often have the shortest biographies. The genius “draws up the ladder after him,” and the world, which had consigned him to obscurity during his lifetime, “sees the works and asks in vain for a history.”
Whatever judgment may ultimately be passed upon him, not much more than his works is ever likely to be known of Charles Reznikoff. He left no fervent disciples. The record he wished to . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, Cities & Urban Life

SCHOOL / PERIOD Objectivist

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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