Monday, June 13, 2005

Shavuot Poetics

A long post over at the Velveteen Rabbi today about her Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, which included a study session on praise poems, gathered from the psalms and elsewhere. I ended up attending a fascinating session over at Beth Emet in Evanston, IL, that focused on newly translated Yiddish poems by a very young Abraham Joshua Heschel. They're just out in a book called The Ineffable Name of God: Man, which you can find here. I'll post more on them when I'm more awake; for now, let me simply quote this little poem, which starts out quite pious but ends with a quip that a few of the Evanston faithful found nicely unsettling, like a scrap of the Sermon on the Mount that got left on the cutting-room floor:
God's Tears

God's tears like on the cheeks
of shamed, weak people.
Let me wipe away His lament.

He in whose veins there whirls
a quiet shudder before God,
let him kiss the nails of a pauper.

To the worm crushed under-foot,
God calls out "My holy martyr!"

The sins of the poor are more beautiful
than the good deeds of the rich.
("Good deeds" here is "ma'asim tovim," which is a pretty low-grade sort of good deed--not "mitzvot" or "tzedakah" or "g'milut chasadim." I wonder whether the translator should have gone with something like "handouts"? Lots of vexing issues in translation with these poems, which have the Yiddish on the facing pages; I'll take them up when I have a copy of the whole book in hand.)

It might be interesting to compare these poems, by the way, to the poems of Gershom Scholem, written in Jerusalem, in Hebrew, around the same time as Heschel was chugging away in Yiddish in Berlin. I'll be getting my copy of that one shortly, too. More then on the two of them! --E

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Wow -- I had no idea that Heschel wrote Yiddish poems. Nor, for that matter, that Scholem wrote poems in Hebrew! Fascinating stuff.

By the way, I ordered "From Jerusalem to the Edge of Heaven," and my copy arrived today -- I'm looking v. forward to reading it. Thanks for the rec!