At the Stone of Losses

At the Stone of Losses

At the Stone of Losses

At the Stone of Losses

Excerpt

T. Carmi is a poet whose vision is at once historical and miraculous. He has, like others of his time and place, an acute awareness of human suffering, and he recognizes the absurdity of individual lives in the context of social and political events. At the same time, his focus is intensely personal, and in many ways close to the surrealist mode of pursuing the marvelous in everyday life by discovering and using strange images close to subconscious thought.

Carmi has an international background and has absorbed French and English, as well as Hebrew literary traditions. He was born in New York City, in 1925, into a family that spoke only Hebrew at home. When he began composing poetry in his early years, he had the bilingual aptitude of one whose first language--his writing language--was Hebrew, and his second the English of city streets. Carmi was graduated from Yeshiva University and began working toward an M.A. at Columbia University before leaving for Parts in 1946, where many of the major surrealists, including Breton and Eluard, lived and wrote. After a year in Paris, he emigrated to Israel, where he served in the Defense Forces and fought in the War of Liberation.

In Israel, the poet's utterance became at once literary and directly contemporary; he expressed formal ideas in language he heard in parks and cafés, from bartenders and taxicab drivers. He was familiar not only with biblical and midrashic tradition, but with the full range of Hebrew poetry. As editor of The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, Carmi read those texts for years to represent, in the anthology, an uninterrupted tradition in Hebrew poetry from biblical times to the present. With his knowledge of Hebrew poetry, there was, in fact, no need to go to English literature for medieval and Renaissance forms: the sonnet, for example, was written in Hebrew at least two centuries before it was used in English; terza rima and ottava rima were rhyme schemes common to Renaissance Hebrew writing. As for surrealist imagery, the poems of Yannal, for example, of the sixth century, predict the igneous, clarifying vision of twentieth-century surrealist poetry.

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