During the Second World War, Klein published two more books, Poems and The Hitleriad, both in 1944. Poems developed ideas forecasted in Hath Not a Jew but also reflected Klein's anxieties over current events and the plight of Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. Poems such as "
Klein's greatest achievement as a poet came in 1948 with the publication of The Rocking Chair and Other Poems. The book earned Klein a Governor General's Award in poetry and sold in numbers far exceeding the norm for a book of Canadian poetry. The success of the book owed much to Klein's new-found focus on domestic Canadian subjects, particularly the culture of French Canada, which Klein, fluent in French and sympathetic to their minority status in
But while much of Klein’s writing did, in fact, take Jewish themes as its subject, his quest for general literary acceptance was also fulfilled. As delegates at a recent international conference on Klein indicated, his contributions to Canadian and modernist literature went beyond the Jewish content of his poetry.
The most enduring part of Klein’s legacy is undoubtedly his 1948 collection, “The Rocking Chair and Other Poems,” which received
Though Klein is celebrated today primarily for his foundational role in Canadian letters (The Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Poetry is named in his honor), he was a man of many talents, many interests and many occupations. By profession he was a lawyer, having studied law at the Université de Montréal, and for a few years he lived in the small
While for the most part, Klein was able to reconcile his multiple activities and obligations, they eventually took a toll on his personal life as well as on his artistic sensibilities. In addition to his literary work, Klein was a longtime speechwriter and public relations consultant for business magnate Samuel Bronfman, head of the Seagram Company, and president of the Canadian Jewish Congress from 1939 to
As a socialist candidate he believed in the power of the people, and as a young rabbinical student in the power of God. But it was the power of language that fascinated him most of all, a power to which he gave lasting expression through his true vocation — poetry.
In "Political Meeting" A. M. Klein describes an orator addressing an anti-conscription rally in
Klein's ambivalent attitude to the Orator, deep distrust mixed with fascination, even with a kind of admiration, comes through especially in the detail of the sunflower seeds.
The poetry of Abraham Moses Klein springs from the roots of a consciousness where Hebrew and legal lore have become strangely and exotically intermingled with Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot. Klein's passion for English literature was second only to his love for Judaism, and in each the feeling was supported by a refined and extensive scholarship. His early work is thronged with Elizabethan locutions, some appropriate in that they fit in with the rhetorical Jewish tradition, others embarrassing or painful. Shelley was an influence on the tone of his radical verse, Eliot and then Auden on its phrasing. Klein was a peculiarly conscious writer, and there can be few indeliberate or accidental reminiscences in his writing. He was for many years fascinated by Joyce, whose medieval mind was in some ways similar to his own; and Joyce's linguistic psychiatry—and pedantry—have certainly influenced Klein's autobiographical-mythical novel The Second Scroll. Certainly the finest poem in his Poems (1944), "In re Solomon Warshawer," owes much of its form and manner to Browning; and it is in no respect inferior to the liveliest of Browning's production in this mode. Lengths of time and spans of experience are condensed in the poem's two hundred lines, and the whole tradition of the persecuted is concentrated in the single figure of Solomon Warshawer…. Solomon is seen to represent not simply the Jewish but, in his striving and imperfection, the human race.
And, further, the desperation which screams through the poem is not just for intolerable suffering, but for the horror that it is his merely human life that has been selected for destruction, so that what should have above all been preserved by man is precisely what is selected for abolition. The fear and the horror, in fact, are for a universe revealing itself as fundamentally irrational. It is this fear of an insane world—something unspeakably horrible to a mind like Klein's … which agitates the poem most deeply.
Klein is a product of three rich and distinct traditions, all of which formed his mind and imagination, determined his response to time past and present, to place, and to religious and literary forms and values. As a consequence, his contribution to the Canadian mosaic reflects the same elements. His major contribution stems primarily from his presentation of Jewish experience, historic and present, with its inherent ideas and values. It is a unique contribution, reflecting the religio-cultural heritage of his people and his own deep, passionate attachment, his on-going concern.