Jewish Studies Yankev Glatshteyn/Jacob Glatstein
Saul Noam Zaritt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0172


Jacob Glatstein (b. 1896–d. 1971; also known as Yankev Glatshteyn or Gladstone) was born in Lublin, Poland, to a religious family, yet one open to Jewish enlightenment ideas, where he received both a traditional and secular education. He immigrated to New York in 1914 where, after a few years of acclimation, he abandoned sweatshop work to begin studying law. At the same time, he started to publish poetry and fiction in Yiddish and soon left a potential career in jurisprudence for a literary one. In 1920, Glatstein was among the founding members of the Yiddish modernist group In zikh (Introspectivism), a collection of diverse Yiddish poets influenced by European expressionism, Russian symbolism, and Anglo-American modernism, in particular the imagism of contemporaries T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Glatstein, along with his peers, produced a flexible form of literary modernism, attendant to the poetic self (the “zikh”) while promoting a “kaleidoscopic” vision of the world refracted through the multiple vocabularies, identities, and textual traditions of Jewish modernity. In his early work of the 1920s and 1930s, Glatstein experimented extensively with the Yiddish language, testing its very limits through neologisms, free verse forms, and surprising intertextuality and vernacularity. One of the crowning achievements of this period is Glatstein’s prose works, notably the linked novels Ven Yash iz geforn and Ven Yash iz gekumen (translated together most recently as The Glatstein Chronicles [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010]), a pseudo-autobiographical account of the author’s 1934 visit to Poland that weaves stream of conscious memoir with conversational encounters with fellow travelers. Glatstein’s later work, during and following the Holocaust, often took up a more elegiac tone with an overtly collective purview, at times harshly critiquing modernism and the very project of Western modernity and preferring a commemorative approach to a lost Jewish civilization. Even in this more somber mode, Glatstein’s poetry remained playful, continuing to demonstrate the poet’s creative mastery of the Yiddish language and an enduring employment of modernist sensibilities. In addition to thirteen books of poetry and three novels, Glatstein was a prolific critic, as a regular columnist for the daily Der tog-morgn zhurnal and as an editor and contributor for a variety of literary publications. Glatstein became an authoritative voice in the debates of Yiddish literature while also commenting broadly on Jewish culture and contemporary politics. A portion of this work was anthologized in the postwar period, but the vast majority, some of it written under pseudonyms, remains uncollected.

General Studies

Though Glatstein is considered one of the most important figures of Yiddish literature in the 20th century, there remains only one single scholarly monograph entirely devoted to his work (Hadda 1980). Many broad studies, notably Norich 2013 (cited under Glatstein as Poet), Zutra 2010 (cited under Background Materials on Yiddish Modernism), and others, devote large sections of their work to Glatstein but often only take up a single genre or theme of his diverse literary output. Even Hadda 1980 concentrates almost entirely on Glatstein’s poetry. Sadan 1964 and Whitman 1972 provide brief introductions to Glatstein’s work as a way to present the writer to new audiences in translation.

  • Hadda, Janet. Yankev Glatshteyn. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

    The first and only scholarly monograph devoted exclusively to Glatstein in English, focusing primarily on the development of Glatstein’s poetry from prewar to postwar periods. Hadda demonstrates the diversity of Glatstein’s poetic output while also identifying a consistent devotion to flexible and dynamic Yiddish artistry. Hadda follows Glatstein’s early contestations with the self to mid-century confrontations with collective tragedy and finally to late reflections on Yiddish art after disaster.

  • Sadan, Dov, ed. “Introduction.” In Mikol amali. By Yankev Glatshteyn, v–xxxii. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1964.

    Sadan produces a succinct account of Glatstein’s place within the various groupings of Yiddish literature, exploring his achievements in poetry, prose, and criticism. Also includes a bibliography of critical evaluations of Glatstein, containing works in Hebrew not found in other bibliographies.

  • Whitman, Ruth, trans. “The Man and His Work.” In The Selected Poems of Jacob Glatstein. By Jacob Glatstein, 11–23. New York: October House, 1972.

    A brief, biographical essay on Glatstein, with anecdotal material alongside literary analysis. Whitman charts the events of Glatstein’s life in parallel with his poems.

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