Sanctuary in the Wilderness: A Critical Introduction to American Hebrew Poetry

By Daniel, Dalia R. | World Literature Today, September/October 2012 | Go to article overview

Sanctuary in the Wilderness: A Critical Introduction to American Hebrew Poetry


Daniel, Dalia R., World Literature Today


Alan Mintz. Sanctuary in the Wilderness: A Critical Introduction to American Hebrew Poetry. Stanford, California. Stanford University Press. 2012. isbn 9780804762939

Alan Mintz's Sanctuary in the Wilderness represents a grand undertaking of the emergence and development of Hebrew poetry in America. Only with language, the magical vehicle of human expression, is it possible to tell such a story-all at once a group story, a personal story, and a national story. Robert Graves writes in "To Juan at the Winter Solstice" that "there is one story and one story only that will prove worth your telling, whether as learned bard or gifted child." Rainer Maria Rilke tells us that objects come to us to be named; one sits and waits for the words to come. Writers and poets anywhere sit and wait for the tale to unfold. Indeed, there is one story and one story only that will prove worthy of the telling.

And so it is also with Sanctuary in the Wilderness. But this story is a story with a clear imperative: One State, One Language! Hebrew was always the one language of its people; so deep run the roots that there was never the question or clash of a national language atop or below the official one. Language is an ever-entrenched form of a nation's behavior. Governments are known to change societal attitudes, or political trends, but the government of any society, particularly a free society, cannot change the linguistic culture so interwoven with a people's identity.

Hebrew was ordained in biblical times, representing a clear historical sanction. Alan Mintz writes, "Hebrew poetry had to be engaged, militant, and public for it to remain not only relevant, but to lead the struggle. All aspects indeed of this poetic stream were mobilized in order to give expression to the transformation of lives and the electrifying consciousness of this 'hour of becoming' an intimate human visibility." The young poets in early Palestine produced "convulsive realities of the moment" by composing shir parua (wild poems), "making the Wilderness intelligible." The Russian epic (poema) emerged later and became popular. …

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