“Not to See By but to Look At”: Hanukkah and the Objectivists

At the beginning of the twentieth-century, modernist poets such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams revolutionized English and American poetry under the banner of “make it new.” For Pound in particular, poetry needed to be emancipated from traditional forms, excess verbiage and hackneyed thought patterns. Unlike the Romantic poet-prophets, for whom the vastness of nature was a reflection of their own inner emotions, modernist poets sought to develop new poetic forms and language to reflect the world in clear, concrete terms.  The new poetic ideal was, at least in theory, to “go in fear of abstractions,” or to “show” rather than to “tell.” In practice, however, both Pound and Eliot inherited many hackneyed tropes from their literary forebears, including a distinct anti-semitic strain that is apparent in both their poetry and other statements.

One offshoot of this initial wave of modernist innovators was a group of American, mostly Jewish, poets with secular inclinations who are sometimes referred to as the “objectivists.” These poets were inspired by Pound and Eliot but also rejected their heavy use of mythology and symbolism, and of course, their anti-semitism. Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen and Charles Reznikoff, among others, found themselves composing verse-libre, free verse, poems with a clear, concrete and also distinctly moral sensibility.

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“In my end is my beginning”: T.S. Eliot, Kate Atkinson, and the Yearly Torah Cycle

This year on Simchat Torah we experienced that wonderful transition, repeated every year, when we conclude the Torah and then start over again with the creation of the world out of chaos and void. While the book of Deuteronomy, set as the Jews prepare to enter the land of Israel, may itself be read as a kind of beginning rather than an ending, it also functions as a tragic denouement for Moses. Moses is, of course, prevented from entering the Promised Land he spent his whole life moving toward, as God tells him, “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross there.” This line, as well as the moment we learn that Moses will buried in an anonymous burial place somewhere in the land of Moab, never fails to move me. Deuteronomy may partly be intended to capture the rousing national entry to the land of Israel, but the very end of it is pure tragedy. It is the human story of Moses, the greatest prophet to ever arise in Israel, who nevertheless succumbed to human frailty and human limitations.


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