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The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition

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The first ever English-language collection of poetry from the Kabbalistic tradition, masterfully translated by MacArthur-winning poet Peter Cole This groundbreaking collection presents for the first time in English a substantial body of poetry that emerges directly from the sublime and often startling world of Jewish mysticism. Taking up Gershom Scholem’s call to plumb the The first ever English-language collection of poetry from the Kabbalistic tradition, masterfully translated by MacArthur-winning poet Peter Cole This groundbreaking collection presents for the first time in English a substantial body of poetry that emerges directly from the sublime and often startling world of Jewish mysticism. Taking up Gershom Scholem’s call to plumb the “tremendous poetic potential” concealed in the Kabbalistic tradition, Peter Cole provides dazzling renderings of work composed on three continents over a period of some fifteen hundred years. In addition to the translations and the texts in their original languages, Cole supplies a lively and insightful introduction, along with accessible commentaries to the poems. Aminadav Dykman adds an elegant afterword that places the work in the context of world literature. As a whole, the collection brings readers into the fascinating force field of Kabbalistic verse, where the building blocks of both language and existence itself are unveiled. Excerpts from The Poetry of Kabbalah have been featured in the Paris Review, Poetry, and Conjunctions.


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The first ever English-language collection of poetry from the Kabbalistic tradition, masterfully translated by MacArthur-winning poet Peter Cole This groundbreaking collection presents for the first time in English a substantial body of poetry that emerges directly from the sublime and often startling world of Jewish mysticism. Taking up Gershom Scholem’s call to plumb the The first ever English-language collection of poetry from the Kabbalistic tradition, masterfully translated by MacArthur-winning poet Peter Cole This groundbreaking collection presents for the first time in English a substantial body of poetry that emerges directly from the sublime and often startling world of Jewish mysticism. Taking up Gershom Scholem’s call to plumb the “tremendous poetic potential” concealed in the Kabbalistic tradition, Peter Cole provides dazzling renderings of work composed on three continents over a period of some fifteen hundred years. In addition to the translations and the texts in their original languages, Cole supplies a lively and insightful introduction, along with accessible commentaries to the poems. Aminadav Dykman adds an elegant afterword that places the work in the context of world literature. As a whole, the collection brings readers into the fascinating force field of Kabbalistic verse, where the building blocks of both language and existence itself are unveiled. Excerpts from The Poetry of Kabbalah have been featured in the Paris Review, Poetry, and Conjunctions.

30 review for The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Call To Nothing All poetry strains language. The poetry of Kabbalah breaks language into pieces and reconstructs it. Kabbalah does this by treating language as holy, as an emanation of the divine, indeed as infinite variations of the Names of God. By using language properly, that is by allowing it to overwhelm oneself in abject submission, language breaks the bonds we place on it. Meanings are unmoored; words float about forming a new context; language no longer communicates, it removes itsel The Call To Nothing All poetry strains language. The poetry of Kabbalah breaks language into pieces and reconstructs it. Kabbalah does this by treating language as holy, as an emanation of the divine, indeed as infinite variations of the Names of God. By using language properly, that is by allowing it to overwhelm oneself in abject submission, language breaks the bonds we place on it. Meanings are unmoored; words float about forming a new context; language no longer communicates, it removes itself and becomes angelic in order to reveal. Cole claims (rightly I think) that Kabbalah is the real progenitor of modern literary techniques like deconstruction: “... long before Frenchified notions of trace and erasure took hold, a Kabbalistic poetics was drawing attention to aspects of language-in-action that slip readers into (as D. H. Lawrence put it in a wholly different context) a “dawn-kaleidoscopic” world of ramifying meaning where absence and presence evoke one another.” But these secular techniques are limited since they can only produce further interpretations and not glimpses of reality. One way in which Kabbalah evokes reality is by hiding the Name of God within a poem (for example in the cumulative first letters of each line). The one who recites it is unaware, therefore, of his linguistic capture by the divine. Kabbalah also frequently uses litany towards the same end, as in the piece Windows of Worship: “And Moses asked Metatron . . . What are these windows [of the first heaven]? And he said to him, These windows are: Windows of worship Windows of beckoning Windows of weeping Windows of joy Windows of satiety Windows of hunger Windows of penury Windows of wealth Windows of peace Windows of war Windows of bearing Windows of birth and he saw— windows without number and end” Unlike typical Christian litanies, it may be noted that Kabbalah is not full of unremitting positivity. For example, the ‘windows’ above are of unpleasantness, even horrors, as well as of joyful things. Contraries and contradictions are embedded within almost everyone of these poems. This culminates in what Cole (and D.H. Lawrence) calls “theoeroticism,” the divine sex life in which the eternal masculine and feminine aspects of the divine are continually ‘at it’ creating the world. Ultimately Kabbalah tells us what modern linguistic, philosophical and psychological research has only begun to understand, namely that we are trapped in the language that we thought we merely used. Cole quotes a fourth or fifth century text which is typical: [The angel] Metatron said to me: Come and I will show you the letters by which heaven and earth were created; the letters by which seas and rivers were created; the letters by which mountains and hills were created; the letters by which trees and grasses were created; the letters by which stars and constellations were created . . . the letters by which the throne of glory and the wheels of the chariot were created . . . the letters by which wisdom and understanding, knowledge and intelligence, humility and rectitude were created, by which the whole world is sustained.” The poetry of Kabbalah provides a sort of spiritual theory of the world, a theory which I find more inspiring as well as more accurate than the scientific theories of the Big Bang. In this spiritual theory, creation is shown to be what it has always been, a product of our ability to speak and write: “He called to Nothing—which split; to existence—pitched like a tent; to the world—as it spread beneath sky.” With desire’s span He established the heavens, as His hand coupled the tent of the planets with loops of skill, weaving creation’s pavilion, the links of His will reaching the lowest rung of creation— the curtain at the outermost edge of the spheres . . . Who could make sense of creation’s secrets, of your raising up over the ninth sphere the circle of mind, the sphere of the innermost chamber? The tenth to the Lord is always sacred: This is the highest ring, transcending all elevation and beyond all ideation.” That tenth ring is there but always just out of reach, always the object of search, but never attained. It is after all Nothing, Ein Sof, the Void - more commonly known as Reality. Nevertheless, the call to nothing gets a generally better response in literature than in science.* * I realise that it an overstatement. Nevertheless it is frequently the case that scientists do not recognise the ultimate hopelessness of their purported task to ‘find reality.’ The Spanish-American philosopher Miguel de Unamuno summarised the situation metaphorically for mathematics: “I believe that if the geometrician were to be conscious of this hopeless and desperate striving of the hyperbola to unite with its asymptotes, he would represent the hyperbola to us as a living being and a tragic one!” This appears to me to be the universal human tragedy, the very Original Sin wherein, according to biblical sources, God allowed mankind the power of language which He did not create.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Granger

    Finally we have a truly excellent collection of sacred Jewish poetry. While T. Carmi's Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse is more comprehensive, Cole's The Poetry of Kabbalah has more of a poet's sense of language and even catches of few sparks from the mystic's fire. This is poetry that startles and transports. The Poetry of Kabbalah has become my favorite source for Jewish mystical poetry in English. Very highly recommended. Finally we have a truly excellent collection of sacred Jewish poetry. While T. Carmi's Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse is more comprehensive, Cole's The Poetry of Kabbalah has more of a poet's sense of language and even catches of few sparks from the mystic's fire. This is poetry that startles and transports. The Poetry of Kabbalah has become my favorite source for Jewish mystical poetry in English. Very highly recommended.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Read it on my iPad which is a tough go for poetry, but doable. Beautiful prayers and translations and rich background info. I will be purchasing the book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Wonderful, fascinating, makes me want to read more and write more. Love it. Should come back and reread, and I now have a longer reading list.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey (Akiva) Savett

    This is good; it's not GREAT. Cole's introduction and notes between sections are very interesting. But the selections of poetry themselves are incredibly repetitive, and from a purely poetic perspective, rather banal. You can find more mysticism in Whitman; you can find more JEWISH mysticism in Ginsberg or Dylan; and best of all, you can find more poetic and inspiring Kabbalistic passages in other places…either in their original sources or in Norman Lamm's fabulous The Religious Thought of Hasid This is good; it's not GREAT. Cole's introduction and notes between sections are very interesting. But the selections of poetry themselves are incredibly repetitive, and from a purely poetic perspective, rather banal. You can find more mysticism in Whitman; you can find more JEWISH mysticism in Ginsberg or Dylan; and best of all, you can find more poetic and inspiring Kabbalistic passages in other places…either in their original sources or in Norman Lamm's fabulous The Religious Thought of Hasidism (though not POETRY by name, the passages ARE poetic in impact).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ahad Majeed

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emily Steffel

  8. 5 out of 5

    Don Hackett

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    Alan

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sequoia

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

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    Abigail Goldman

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    Sem

  14. 4 out of 5

    A. B.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ian Slater

  16. 4 out of 5

    MYOB

  17. 5 out of 5

    Justanotheralias

  18. 4 out of 5

    Emmy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Calandrella

  20. 4 out of 5

    Omar

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    Tina Marlow

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    Beverly Bentley

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    Shuli

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    Ruben

  25. 5 out of 5

    Xianna Michaels

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    Tara Humphries

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carla

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mariuszek

  29. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eliot Cohen

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