Quintessential Yiddish Poet
In 1902, Reyzen was a founder of the Central Publishing House in Warsaw, which published his collection of poetry, צייַט לידער (Period Poems), and his first collection of stories, ערציילונגען און בילדער (Stories and Scenes). He also regularly contributed to popular newspapers such as דער פרייַנד and דער טאָג in Saint Petersburg. In 1908, he published two textbooks in Yiddish, as well as the first collection of קונסט און לעבן (Art and Life).
In the same year, Reyzen took a forceful stand in support of Yiddish at the Czernowitz Conference (that’s Reyzen on the far left in the picture above, with — from left to right — Peretz, Asch, Zhitlovsky, and H.D. Nomberg). In 1910, Reyzen initiated and edited the new Warsaw literary weekly אַייראָפּעיִשע ליטעראַטורע (European Literature), which published translations of world literature as well as original works of Yiddish writers. In 1911, Reyzen edited a similar collection of translations titled פֿרייַע ערד (Free Land).
Listen to tenor Louis Danto sing Reyzen’s famous lament of a yeshiva-bokher “מאי-קאָ משמע לן (May-ko Mashme Lon),” now a Yiddish classic.
In early 1911, Reyzen moved to New York, where he contributed regularly to the Forverts and Tsukunft. Most editions of his collected works first appeared in New York. Especially noteworthy are Reyzen’s three volumes of memoirs, titled עפּיזאָדן פֿון מייַן לעבן (Episodes of my Life). Reyzen was also known for his flowing language and as the creator of a wide range of characters from all layers of Jewish society, both traditional and rebellious. He also wrote about immigrants and their difficulties adapting to their new homes. In his writing, he focused on the details of daily life and on characters living at the margins of society. The seeming instant adaptability of his poetry to music gained his writing a popular following.
Reyzen died in New York on March 3, 1953.