Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Opening and Closing with Qohelet: The Late Work of Yehuda Amichai: A Discussion of Patuah Sagur Patuah (Open Closed Open)

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Opening and Closing with Qohelet: The Late Work of Yehuda Amichai: A Discussion of Patuah Sagur Patuah (Open Closed Open)

Article excerpt

1. THE UNITY OF PATUAH SAGUR PATUAH THROUGH QOHELET

Patuah Sagur Patuah was Yehuda Amichai's final project, a "late work" in chronological and spiritual terms, in thematic interest, and in the richness of poetic technique. In this essay, we argue that Amichai's cosmos of both thematic and aesthetic coherence in Patuah. Sagur Patuah. is enhanced by an elaborate network of biblical citations and less direct allusions that reveal greater significance in their totality than might appear from examining the separate parts. Patuah. Sagur Patuah. is a collection of over 300 short stanzas, each of which can also stand alone. Several features in the total work add to its coherence--including a recurrence of themes, some interesting progressions from theme to theme and knitting of aesthetic genres into a heterocosm of mixed but related instances of prosody and style. But the biblical material plays a particularly important part in the collection's imaginative unity, and it sets off a constant interplay between contemporary and biblical sensibilities. (1)

Patuah Sagur Patuah draws on numerous and separate biblical passages and ideas, some as subjects of the individual stanzas, others as sly allusions within stanzas of more general themes, and some intended to create a resonance between old and new themes. But the most salient of these biblical ideas and passages come from the book we know (in Hebrew) as "Qohelet," "Ecclesiastes" in English. Allusions to Ecclesiastes dominate Patuah Sagur Patuah and turn the collection into a kind of conversation with Qohelet, the preacher's, ruminations about time, recurrence, doubt-skepticism, human agency, and memory, resulting in a melancholy acceptance and appreciation of the human condition. (2) These are indeed appropriate themes and attitudes for the Israeli laureate's "late work" and in themselves establish a strong association with the biblical scroll Qohelet. The task of our paper is to demonstrate how the thematic tone of the work is supported by intertextual strategies and to discuss the significance and range of those strategies.

2. INTERTEXTUALITY IN HEBREW POETRY

The intertextual element in Modern Hebrew poetry has complicated and enriched contemporary poetic texts far beyond the point of reference or allusion. While Clayton and Rothstein in their anthology: Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History (3) have already presented numerous faces to the business of intertextuality, the practice has special meaning for Jews, and especially for poets in Israel. In Israeli cultural life the use of biblical material extends a dialogue with a Jewish past in an encounter between secular modernity and spiritual classicism; and it is also a way of claiming a national heritage in aesthetic terms. Such usage is another form of what Anita Shapira called "restoring the Bible to the focus of Hebrew culture," in her English article on the place of Tanak in contemporary Israeli culture, (4) and relates to the history of "mikra" in modern Hebrew poetry as amply discussed in Malka Shaked's recent two volume anthology and lengthy introduction. (5) The issue of The AJS Review in which Shapira's article is published includes articles on related aspects of biblical intertextuality by Gershon Shaked, Glenda Abramson, and Malka Shaked, which should be added to a discourse which has been fostered by the American scholar David Jacobson, and the work in Israel and America of Ruth Karton Blum. (6) But Kronfeld's studies draw the discussion closer than any other to the theoretical work of the schools of Tel Aviv poetics which have given rise to the most critical questions in the intertextual enterprise, and have also emphasized the place of Tanak as critical to the socio-linguistic environment of modern Israel. In all of these scholars and critics, the notion of modern midrash hovers, and Amichai gives expression to the practice of midrash in his title to the third poem: "Tanakh Tanakh, itakh itakh, umidrashim aherim. …

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