THE PENGUIN BOOK OF HEBREW VERSE by T.--Ed. Carmi

THE PENGUIN BOOK OF HEBREW VERSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Considering the ground-breaking comprehensiveness of this long-awaited anthology, Carmi is quite spare in giving examples of Biblical Hebrew verse: a few Psalms, some Isaiah and Job, a few sections from the Song of Songs, etc. But if this parsimony seems odd, it quickly becomes clear as you read on, realizing that Hebrew liturgical tradition has been an ever-changing, incorporative one. (For example, the akeda story of Abraham and Isaac, told in Genesis, appears again in the 12th century--where it functions as a metaphor for the terror of the Second Crusade-and countless times thereafter, through the Holocaust and up to modern Israeli work.) So what Carmi has chosen to focus on is the piyut--the often cantorial, often anonymous post-Biblical liturgical poem which has provided the chief continuity in this back-and-forth stitching from Biblical themes. Thus, Biblical parallelism gives over to the Talmud and Kabbalistic hymns; Yose ben Yose, a 4th- or 5th-century Palestinian paytan writes an almost documentary avodat for Yom Kippur, detailing the day of the High Priest in the original Temple; in a newly-found anonymous narrative the Angel of Death goes searching for a very slippery Moses; and the Biblical rhythms are unmistakable in such poems as a 6th-century piyut by Yannai (""But not every loved one is loved, nor every hated one hated: there are some who are hated below, yet loved above. Those whom You hate are hated; those whom You love are loved. We are hated because we love You, O Holy One!""). For poetry of more secular intent, however, 10th-century Andalusian Spain is the golden age--Samuel Hanagid, Solomon Ibn Gabriol, Moses Ibn Ezra, Judah Halevi; the focus later shifts to Italy (Tsarfati and others), with offshoots in Salonika, Provence, Safed, and the Ashkenazic north (where the pronunciation of Hebrew dampened rhyme considerably). And although the moderns that Carmi represents are the standard names--Bialik, Shlonsky, Alterman, Amichai--his selections always keep the impression of seamlessness. Born of the beautiful Bible and thus originally invested with a tradition of prophecy, imagery, ritual, eroticism, violence, and elegant lyric, Hebrew poetry reads as astonishing whole cloth. And Carmi's scholarly yet nimble sampler--offering the poems in good prose translations, with detailed annotations on prosody and individual poets--is one of high achievement.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1981
ISBN: 0140424679
Publisher: Viking