One of the greatest scholars of the twentieth century, Gershom Scholem virtually created the subject of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism as a serious area of study. His influence, however, has been felt far beyond the confines of the academy and to this day extends into the realm of literature and the arts. (Borges, for one, rhymed “Golem” with “Scholem.”) Literature played a critical part in Scholem’s own life, especially in his formative years, and he wrote poems from his teens on.
This bilingual volume gathers together the best of them for the first time in any language. It contains dark, shockingly prescient political poems about Zionism and assimilation, parodies of German and Jewish philosophers, religious lyrics of a gnostic bent, and poems to other writers and friends such as Walter Benjamin, Hans Jonas, Ingeborg Bachmann, S. Y. Agnon, and others.
Richard Sieburth, among the very finest contemporary American translators, takes on the challenge of translating the verse of a man who was not primarily a poet, but who possessed both a superior mind and a strong, informed feel for poetry: the results are startling, and strangely moving. The collection is edited and introduced by Steven M. Wasserstrom, whose latest book, Religion after Religion, is a fascinating study of the great makers of the modern myth of religion: Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin. Wasserstrom has selected the poems and places them in the context of Scholem’s scholarly work, in the process giving readers a sense of the intellectual and social atmosphere surrounding these poems in Scholem’s charged Jerusalem circles of scholarship.
“Alternately humorous and grave, civic and private, lyrical and doggerel, Scholem’s acts of poetry still speak to us (and against us) to this very day, simultaneously grounded as they are in the impossibly eternal and profoundly occasional.”
from the Translator’s Note
“An excellent bilingual selection. Richard Sieburth’s versions are lucid, sensitive, forceful, and always attentive to the originals. Steven Wasserstrom’s incisive commentary provides the ideal context…. Given the complexities that it resolves-historical, biographical, theological, literary-this edition is a model of its kind.”
Jeremy Adler, The Times Literary Supplement
“Abrupt, magisterial, quizzical, sometimes acidulous, and at moments poignantly wistful…. Scholem’s verses return to an authentic Hasidic tradition of indicting God.”
GERSHOM SCHOLEM was born in Berlin in 1897 and settled in Jerusalem in 1923. For years he was Professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Hebrew University. His many books include Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, and Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship. He died in 1982.
RICHARD SIEBURTH teaches Comparative Literature at New York University. His translations include Friedrich Hölderlin’s Hymns and Fragments, Michel Leiris’s Nights as Day, Walter Benjamin’s Moscow Diary, Gérard de Nerval’s Selected Writings, and Maurice Scève’s Delie. His English edition of Nerval won the 2000 PEN Book-of- the-Month-Club Translation Prize.
STEVEN M. WASSERSTROM is Moe and Izetta Tonkon Professor of Judaic Studies and the Humanities at Reed College. He is the author of Between Muslim and Jew: The Problem of Symbiosis under Early Islam, which received the Award for Excellence in Historical Studies from the American Academy of Religion, and Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos.