Sunday, January 07, 2007

Happy Hannukah, a Commentary (part 2)

Here again is the passage from Track that Norman posted for Hannukah:
First night
first light
a gift
to the

an o
pen gift
for you
to re
As we reach the second stanza, the two-syllable prosody of the passage grows more visible; after all, for the first time, words begin to break across the line. Break? Division begins creation here, as each line invites its own reflections:

an o: An "Oh," of wonder or delight, as the light is lit; an "o," or circle, as the year swings round to this holiday once more (hence the pun on "ano"); the "o" is without beginning, without end, a figure, if we linger on it long enough, for the prolific, fertile void itself, perhaps.

pen gift: a delightful twist! The "o" of delight turns out to be the pleasure of opening a gift--in this context a Hannukah gift, I suppose, although the light itself has been the first gift, according to that first stanza. That the gift should be a pen seems multiply appropriate: a pen to write with, naturally; the pen as straight line (penis, natch, Dr. Freud) answering the circle (ahem!) of the o. "Pen gift" might also be an imperative, as though calling for something--this poem, perhaps--to be "penned" as a "gift" in response to the "gift / to the / shammes" in the first stanza.

for you: the "you" who receives the poem now (the reader); the "you" within the fiction of the poem, whoever that might be; the self of the poet, addressed here as in the imperative reading of the previous line.

to re: the second broken word in the poem, or a "torn" one (given how "to re" suggests "tore"), again in the second stanza. The poem starts with unities in pairs, we note, and then multiplies by division--and has now multiplied to produce a near match for "toyre," or "torah." Or, at least, a visual match; to the ear it remains "too ree." More could be done with this division between the aural and the visual, but time is short!

member: The division between "re" and "member" calls our attention to the true etymology of the word, and the folk etymology that accompanies it. In truth, the word derives from re + memor, to be mindful of something. By sight, in English, it would derive from re + member, thus "to supply with a new member." The phallic pun is both obvious and subtle. Obvious, in that the gift of a pen is a phallic one, suggesting new male agency--creative in whatever sense--on the part of the shammes, and linking him to Yesod, or Foundation, the Kabbalistic sephira associated with the phallus, among other things. (For a quick sketch of this sephira, check here, although I cannot vouch for the scholarship behind the site. It's suggestive, in any case, of where a deeper reading might head.)

The subtler phallic pun emerges when we think of the task of "re-membering," of putting severed body parts together, faced by Isis as she gathered the limbs of Osiris. ("I Gather the Limbs of Osiris" is, of course, a famous essay on poetics by Ezra Pound.) Is the shammes, the Jewish poet, lit by a gift and task that echoes hers? Is he--and it seems a "he" in this context--now blessed with the one piece of Osiris that Isis could not find, but had to fashion herself from clay? (Oh dreydl, dreydl, indeed!) The syncretism seems particularly delicious in a Hannukah poem, and will certainly infiltrate my celebration next year.

Thanks for this opportunity, cher Norman! Let's do it again some time.

No comments: