Morris Rosenfeld was born in Russian Poland in 1862. He was a tailor in London and New York, and settled in New York in 1886. He was a Yiddish poet, his Yiddische name was Moshe Jacob Alter.
In New York he wrote for and edited several Yiddish papers and periodicals. He also published three books of poetry.
He wrote, and was published, in Yiddish.
During the 1890s, along with Morris Winchevsky (1856-1932), David Edelshtat (1866-1892), and Joseph Bovshover (1873-1915), he became known as one of the ‘sweatshop poets’. All were workers in the tailoring sweatshops of New York and expressed the plight of the working masses in their poetry, as well as an urge for revolution.
Rosenfeld was the least strident politically but became the most well known after after Harvard professor, Leo Weiner, translated his poems into English in 1898, these were published in a book entitled, Songs from the Ghetto.
Rosenfled died in New York, aged 60 in 1923.
In The Factory
Oh, here in the shop the machines roar so wildly,
That oft, unaware that I am, or have been,
I sink and am lost in the terrible tumult;
And void is my soul… I am but a machine.
I work and I work and I work, never ceasing;
Create and create things from morning till e’en;
For what? –and for whom– Oh, I know not! Oh, ask not!
Who ever has heard of a conscious machine?
No, here is no feeling, no thought and no reason;
This life-crushing labor has ever supprest
The noblest and finest, the truest and richest,
The deepest, the highest and humanly best.
The seconds, the minutes, they pass out forever,
They vanish, swift fleeting like straws in a gale.
I drive the wheel madly as tho’ to o’ertake them, —
Give chase without wisdom, or wit, or avail.
The clock in the workshop,–it rests not a moment;
It points on, and ticks on: Eternity–Time;
And once someone told me the clock had a meaning, —
Its pointing and ticking had reason and rhyme.
And this too he told me,–or had I been dreaming, —
The clock wakened life in one, forces unseen,
And something besides;… I forget what; Oh, ask not!
I know not, I know not, I am a machine.
At times, when I listen, I hear the clock plainly; —
The reason of old–the old meaning — is gone!
The maddening pendulum urges me forward
To labor and labor and still labor on.
The tick of the clock is the Boss in his anger!
The face of the clock has the eyes of a foe;
The clock — Oh, I shudder — dost hear how it drives me?
It calls me ‘Machine!’ and it cries to me ‘Sew!’
At noon, when about me the wild tumult ceases,
And gone is the master, and I sit apart,
And dawn in my brain is beginning to glimmer,
The wound comes agape at the core of my heart;
And tears, bitter tears flow; ay, tears that are scalding;
They moisten my dinner — my dry crust of bread;
They choke me, — I cannot eat; — no, no, I cannot!
Oh, horrible toil I born of Need and of Dread.
The sweatshop at mid-day — I’ll draw you the picture:
A battlefield bloody; the conflict at rest;
Around and about me the corpses are lying;
The blood cries aloud from the earth’s gory breast.
A moment… and hark! The loud signal is sounded,
The dead rise again and renewed is the fight…
They struggle, these corpses; for strangers, for strangers!
They struggle, they fall, and they sink into night.
I gaze on the battle in bitterest anger,
And pain, hellish pain wakes the rebel in me!
The clock — now I hear it aright! — It is crying:
‘An end to this bondage! An end there must be!’
It quickens my reason, each feeling within me;
It shows me how precious the moments that fly.
Oh, worthless my life if I longer am silent,
And lost to the world if in silence I die.
The man in me sleeping begins to awaken;
The thing that was slave into slumber has passed:
Now; up with the man in me! Up and be doing!
No misery more! Here is freedom at last!
When sudden: a whistle! — the Boss — an alarum!–
I sink in the slime of the stagnant routine; —
There’s tumult, they struggle, oh, lost is my ego; —
I know not, I care not, I am a machine!…