Gabriel Preil (Hebrew: גבריאל פרייל; August 21, 1911 – June 5, 1993) was a modern Hebrew poet active in the United States, who wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish. He was the last of the Haskala poets. The critic Yael Feldman has done significant work on Preil, focusing on the Yiddish influences in his Hebrew poetry. Preil translated Robert Frost and Walt Whitman into Hebrew.
Gabriel (Yehoshua) Preil was born in Tartu, Livonia, Russian Empire in 1911, but was raised in Krakės, Kovno until his father died. He then moved with his mother to the United States in 1922. Though primarily influenced by Yiddish poets of the Inzikh (Introspective) movement, Preil's influence extends to younger Israeli poets (Dan Pagis nicknamed him "The Duke of New York"), and Israelis were his primary audience. Preil lived with his mother and step-father in the Bronx, NY, until their deaths. In 1975, he received on honorary Doctorate of Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College. Preil died in Jerusalem on June 5, 1993 while visiting on a book tour.
Many of Preil's poems focus on New York city, Maine, and his grandfather, a rabbi, who lived in Lithuania and wrote for Hamelitz. One of his poems is dedicated to the Israeli poet Leah Goldberg: "Leah's Absence". Another references Abraham Mapu; others, Jacob Glatstein and Mendele Mocher Sforim.
Feldman writes of Preil's Yiddish and American atmosphere, "One could say that Preil's life and art are a manifestation of two diametrically opposite movements: His physical biography led him further away from Israeli soil, but, through his artistic activity, he tenaciously bridged the distance and successfully approached the contemporary sources of his poetic medium. In order to do this, he had to cross two language barriers: Yiddish, his European mother tongue, which continued to be the language spoken at home throughout his life, and English, the language he acquired in his new home-country and which soon became a rich literary source for young Preil, the avid reader."
The following is a translation of a Preil poem that appeared in Hebrew in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronoth in 1981:
years plucked like feathers
but I won't exaggerate:
the romantic houses
the intoxicating image from hovering
were only made
cool headed thinkers
in the course of a lengthy conversation
without superfluous surprises
you're not piping the flute
the modern painting
slides into old hues
the modern structure
designs the old form
and you yourself –
a man pallid as paper
naked as snow
breathing very summerly
(translated from the Hebrew by David Cooper with the late author's permission and approval)
- Pagis, Dan. "The Grand Duke of New York". Poetry International Rotterdam. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. Retrieved 2016-04-18.
- Friend, Robert (1985). Sunset Possibilities and Other Poems. JPS. pp. xvii.
- Chametzky, Jules (2000). Norton Anthology of Jewish American Literature. pp. 678–679.
- Feldman, Yael (1986). Modernism and Cultural Transfer: Gabriel Preil and the Tradition of Jewish Literary Bilingualism. Hebrew Union College Press. p. 33.
- The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself, T. Carmi, ed. (2003), ISBN 0-8143-2485-1
- Sunset Possibilities and Other Poems (Jewish Poetry Series), Trans. Robert Friend. (1986-02) ISBN 0-8276-0240-5
- To Be Recorded (1994-04) ISBN 0-89304-306-0
- Modernism and Cultural Transfer: Gabriel Preil and the Tradition of Jewish Literary Bilingualism. Yael S. Feldman. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1986.