views updated Jun 27 2018


This article is arranged according to the following outline (for modern poetry, see *Hebrew Literature, Modern; see also *Prosody):

biblical poetry
    The Search for Identifiable Indicators of Biblical Poetry
    The Presence of Poetry in the Tanakh: An Overview
    Meter and Rhythm
    Imagery, Metaphor, and Simile
    Repetition and Patterning
    Other Poetic Devices
medieval hebrew secular poetry
    Al-Andalus and Provence
        secular poetry in al-andalus (c. 950–1150)
            Philology and Poetry
            Rhetorics and General Poetics
            Trends in Secular Poetry in Al-Andalus
        secular poetry in christian spain
            Trends in Secular Poetry in Christian Northern Iberia
    France and Germany
    Research on Hebrew Poetry in the 1970s
        spain and provence
    Developments in the 1980s
        editions – poetry
        editions – texts
            Prose and Rhymed Prose
            Monographs and Studies
            Edited Texts
            Interpretive Works
            Additional Bibliography on Individual Subjects
            Jubilee and Memorial Volumes
            Anthologies and Collections
        facsimiles and bibliographies
    Developments from 1990 to 2005
        editions, hebrew texts
        studies, history, criticism

biblical poetry


The Bible preserves several versions of the first plague upon the Egyptians. The account in the book of Exodus is commonly classified as prose, while the retellings in the Psalms are categorized as poetry:

Moses and Aaron did just as yhwh commanded: he raised the rod and struck the water that was in the Nile in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile turned to blood, and the fish that were in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, and the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile, and the blood was all over the land of Egypt (Ex. 7:20–21).

He turned their rivers into blood;
and their streams they could not drink (Ps. 78:44).
He turned their waters into blood
and killed their fish (Ps. 105:29).

What qualifies the Exodus passages as "prose" and the Psalms passages as "poetry"? What are the distinguishing features of biblical poetry?

These questions are not easily answered, in part because of a lack of scholarly consensus about many aspects of biblical poetry and in part because there are not always sharp distinctions between poetry and prose. Nevertheless, in spite of uncertainties in our understanding of this ancient, sacred literature, it is possible to delineate those sections of the Bible widely considered poetry and to outline the key stylistic features of biblical poetry.

The Search for Identifiable Indicators of Biblical Poetry

In theory, there are a number of potential ways to identify poetry in a given body of literature. We might expect to identify the poetic sections of the Bible by turning to discussions of biblical poetics, by terminology used to label a passage as poetry, or by the distinctive layout of a page. In practice, however, none of these avenues leads to a clear, consistent determination of what constitutes biblical poetry.

In the classical period, thinkers like Aristotle and Horace penned theories about the nature, mechanics, and effects of poetry. In contrast, in the Bible we do not find definitions of poetry or discussions of how biblical poetry operates. In fact, biblical Hebrew does not have a general term for "poetry," though various terms do seem to signal the presence of a poetic passage. For instance, the passage known as the "Song of Moses" is introduced with the statement: "Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song (שירה)" (Ex. 15:1). David's eulogy for Saul and Jonathan is labeled as a "dirge" (קינה) (ii Sam. 1:17). Many compositions in the book of Psalms begin with the word מזמור which is translated as a "psalm" and likely indicates a song accompanied by a stringed instrument. Such terms suggest that a number of labels were used to classify certain types of compositions; yet these titles are not used consistently throughout the Bible, nor are they affixed to every text that a contemporary scholar would consider a poetic passage.

Since these internal indicators do not point conclusively or consistently to the presence of biblical poetry, we might look to visual means in order to identify biblical poetry. When opening selected Hebrew editions or translations of the Bible, one can determine the poetic sections by the distinctive layout of the verses. For example, in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, in Genesis 4:23–24 the prose format gives way to poetic verse, signaling a shift in discourse. However, in Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia or the Koren Holy Scriptures, no graphic distinction is made between poetry and prose. A comparison of Bibles that use stichography shows that the delineation into cola is not universally agreed upon, but instead is an interpretative act determined by the scholars preparing a given edition or translation (compare, for instance, the different colon boundaries in the presentation of Jeremiah 6:14 bhs and jps).

The convention of visually distinguishing poetic passages through stichography evolved over time. In Qumran texts versification is found sporadically (e.g., 4qpsb and 4qpsa). In talmudic times, spacing was used widely in certain books, but it was not required. The Talmud established special writing for only four sections: Ex. 15:1–18; Josh. 12:9–24; Judg. 5; Est. 9:7–9 (tb, Meg. 16b; tj Meg. 3:7); the late tractate Soferim added Deuteronomy 32 to the list (Sof. 12:8–12). Three of these are poetic passages (Ex. 15; Judg. 5; Deut. 32); others are prose. The Talmud describes two stichographic patterns. In the first pattern, "small brick over small brick, large over large," each line contains two columns of writing separated by a blank space in between; in the second, "small brick over large brick, large over small," the lines alternate between one line consisting of two columns with a space in the middle, and then the next line with one column with blank spaces on both sides.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Jewish scribes commonly incorporated some type of special spacing, not only for the sections mentioned in talmudic sources, but also for other parts of the Bible, such as Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Lamentations, the Song of Asaph (i Chr. 16:8–35), and selected lists. After the advent of the printing press, most printed masoretic Bibles abandoned stichographic arrangement of all but those passages mandated by the Talmud. Most modern scholarly editions reversed this trend, employing stichography for everything considered poetry, including many of the prophetic books.

The Presence of Poetry in the Tanakh: An Overview

Lacking conclusive indicators of the presence of biblical poetry, one must rely on stylistic features to identify biblical poetry. Though some scholars caution against drawing sharp distinctions between poetry and prose (e.g., Kugel 1981, 83), a general consensus exists about which parts of the Bible contain poetry. Although prose dominates, poetry permeates every part of the Bible, totaling approximately one-third of the corpus.

Ketuvim or Writings contains the most poetic material, including Psalms, Proverbs, Job 3:3–42:6, Song of Songs, and Lamentations, along with scattered poetic selections in Ecclesiastes (e.g., 1:2–9; 3:1–8) and other books (e.g., i Chron. 16:8–35). Poetry overshadows prose in the Latter Prophets, for most of the prophetic books contain poetic verse exclusively or predominately; Jonah and Ezekiel stand out as exceptions. In the Former Prophets, poems punctuate the narrative account of Israel's history in Judges 5 (Song of Deborah), i Sam. 2:1–10 (Hannah's Prayer), ii Sam. 1:19–27 (David's eulogy for Saul and Jonathan), ii Sam. 22 (David's Song), and ii Sam. 23:1–7 (David's last words). Some of the smaller poetic passages include Jotham's fable (Josh. 10:12–13) and Solomon's declaration to God (i Kings 8:12–13).

The Torah preserves several lengthy poems, including the Testament of Jacob (Gen. 49:2–27), the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15:1–18), the Song of Moses (Deut. 32), and Moses' Blessing (Deut. 33). We also find a number of shorter poetic compositions or fragments, such as the Song of Lamech (Gen. 4:23–24), Miriam's Song at the Sea (Ex. 15:21), the Song of the Ark (Num. 10:35–36); the Song at the Well (Num. 21:17–18), the Victory Song over Moab (Num. 21:27–30), and the Oracles of Balaam (Num. 23:7–10, 18–24; 24:3–9, 15–24). In some instances, often in the course of a dialogue, a few poetic verses interrupt the surrounding prose narrative, as when the man names the woman (Gen. 2:23), God speaks to Cain (Gen. 4:6–7), or Rebekah's family bids her farewell (Gen. 24:60).

In each part of the Bible, the poetic material displays a notable degree of diversity in content. Note the range of poetic expression in Ketuvim, with aphorisms in Proverbs, passionate diatribes on human suffering in Job, sensual love songs in the Song of Songs, and mournful laments for the destruction of Jerusalem in Lamentations. Within the book of Psalms itself, in certain texts the speaker joyfully sings God's praises, while in others, the psalmist cries out in pain and calls upon God's help. Likewise, the poetry of the prophets contains many passages in which the prophets rail against the people for their moral and religious failings, and others in which they exhort their listeners to repent or entice them with visions of a glorious future. The Torah contains a similar poetic panoply, with songs of victory, deathbed blessings, oracles, and other assorted passages. Nevertheless, for all this variety in genre and subject matter, the poetic sections of the Bible exhibit considerable stylistic similarities. Understanding biblical poetry requires a familiarity with the literary devices adeptly wielded by the writers of biblical poetry, namely parallelism, rhythm, terseness, imagery, metaphor, repetition, patterning, and other tropes.


The identification of parallelism as a central defining feature of biblical poetry traces back to the Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of The Hebrews delivered by Bishop Robert Lowth in 1753. In the context of a lecture entitled "The Prophetic Poetry is Sententious," he endeavors to illustrate that the literature of the Prophets deserves to be classified as poetry, just like Psalms and other poetic parts of the Bible. In order to prove that "the Prophetic Muse is no less elegant and correct" (Lowth, 210), Lowth marshals a host of citations intended to demonstrate that parallelism operates the same in the Prophets as in the Psalms. Explaining what he means by the term "parallelism," Lowth states: "The poetical conformation of the sentences, which has been so often alluded to as characteristic of the Hebrew poetry, consists chiefly in a certain equality, resemblance, or parallelism, between the members of each period" (Lowth, 210). While he acknowledges that parallelism exhibits significant variety, nonetheless he groups his examples into three "species": synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic parallelism.

Lowth explains that in the most frequent variety, synonymous parallelism, "the same sentiment is repeated in different, but equivalent terms" (Lowth, 210). He cites a number of examples:

When Israel went forth from Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange speech (Ps. 114:1).
And nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance (Isa. 60:3).

In antithetic parallelism, which is most prevalent in Proverbs, "a thing is illustrated by its contrary being opposed to it" (Lowth, 215), as seen in Proverbs 27:6 (Lowth's translation):

The blows of a friend are faithful;
But the kisses of an enemy are treacherous.

Lowth's third category, called 'synthetic' or 'constructive' parallelism, consists of "all such as do not come within the two former classes" (Lowth, 216–17). Lowth provides a number of examples to illustrate this rather amorphous category, including the following:

I will be like the dew to Israel;
He shall blossom like the lily,
and he shall strike root like a Lebanon tree (Hos. 14:6).
Nations rage, kingdoms totter,
He raises his voice, the earth melts (Ps. 46:7).

Lowth recognizes that the degrees of resemblance in this third category are nearly infinite and that the workings of the parallelism can sometimes be subtle and obscure. He concludes his lecture with the caveat that lest the topic "appear light and trifling to some persons, and utterly undeserving any labour or attention," he promises that the study of parallelism will yield copious rewards (Lowth, 220).

For over 200 years, Lowth's tripartite understanding of parallelism dominated the discussion of biblical poetry. As subsequent scholars sought to refine Lowth's work, they added additional categories like "incomplete parallelism," "staircase parallelism," and "janus parallelism." Then, starting the in late 1970s and 1980s, a number of studies were published that challenged Lowth's perception of parallelism and expanded our understanding of the nuances and complexities of biblical verse.

In the 1981 book, The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History, James Kugel contends that the ways of parallelism are numerous and varied, far exceeding Lowth's limited three categories. He observes that the degree of connection between two parallel clauses may range anywhere from no perceivable correspondence to just short of a word-for-word repetition. He insists that the second, "B" clause does not simply restate the first, "A" clause. Instead, the B-line expands upon the A-line in a multitude of ways: reasserting, supporting, particularizing, defining, completing, or going beyond the first line. He illustrates his approach as he interprets Psalm 145:10 (Kugel's translation):

All your works praise you, Lord
and your faithful ones bless you.

Instead of focusing on the similarities between these two clauses, Kugel draws attention to the differences. He points out that "faithful ones" is more specific than "all your works," just as "bless" differs from the more general term "praise." Kugel captures the various ways in which the second line differs from and develops the first with the phrase, "A is so, and what's more, B is so" (Kugel 1981, 8).

In the 1985 work, The Art of Biblical Poetry, Robert *Alter highlights what he terms the "impulse to intensification" in biblical poetry. He argues that even in lines that appear at first glance to be nearly synonymous, a closer reading often reveals a "dynamic progression" from one half of the line to the next. He points out that many parallel lines move from a common word in the first line to a more poetic term in the second, a pattern that can be seen in Psalms 114:1 above, where the unique phrase "a people of strange speech" follows the common term "Egypt." According to Alter, the treatment of numbers in poetic parallelism exemplifies this pattern of intensification, for a number in the first clause usually is increased in the second clause by one, a decimal, or a decimal added to the number. For example, in Genesis 4:24, "sevenfold" is paired with "seventy and seven," and in Amos 1–2, "three" parallels "four." He asserts that in biblical poetry "the characteristic movement of meaning is one of heightening or intensification…of focusing, specification, concretization, even what can be called dramatization" (Alter 1985, 19).

During this same time period, a number of scholars turned away from Lowth's three-fold model of poetic parallelism by shifting the focus of the discussion from semantics to grammar (see Collins 1979; Geller 1979; O'Connor 1980; Greenstein 1982). In the 1985 study, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, Adele Berlin applies the study of linguistics to the topic of parallelism, but she does so in a more expansive manner, one that helps the reader to uncover and appreciate the intricacies of biblical parallelism. She sees parallelism as a multifaceted phenomenon, one that involves grammatical, lexical-semantic, and phonological aspects on the level of individual words, as well as clauses and larger expanses of a text. Instead of drawing a stark contrast between synonymous and antithetical elements, she asserts that parallelism achieves its effectiveness from the interplay of equivalence and contrast along these various aspects and levels.

Isaiah 1:10 provides a good example of the dynamic nature of poetic parallelism:

Hear the word of YHWH, leaders of Sodom,
Give ear to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah.

The two cola in this verse certainly meet Lowth's definition of synonymous parallelism, for the same sentiment appears to be repeated in "different, but equivalent terms." However, further investigation reveals varying degrees of equivalence and contrast. Looking first at the lexical aspect of this bi-colon, the correspondence between the words in the two cola may range from exact equivalence to complete contrast. In this case, we find a number of word pairs that exhibit a high degree of semantic similarity. The divine names "yhwh" and "God" belong at the far end of the scale, for the two names point to the same referent. The verbs "hear" and "give ear" are frequently paired terms that both call upon the audience to listen, though the first verb is more standard and the second more poetic. Similarly, the nouns "word" and "instruction" are both used to designate God's teaching, though the first term is more general and the second more specific. With the last two words in each colon, we move more toward the contrast side of the scale. The nouns "leaders" and "people" cannot be considered synonymous, for the first word refers specifically to the ruling class, whereas the second denotes the population as a whole. The place names "Sodom" and "Gomorrah" identify two different cities, though often the nouns appear as a consecutive, fixed phrase ("Sodom and Gomorrah"); the two cities symbolize a place of debauchery and sin.

Expanding the scope of the examination from the relationships between the individual words to the connections between the two cola as a whole, on a semantic level, the two lines appear fairly synonymous: the second colon echoes the basic sentiment of the first. In both sentences, the prophet calls the intended audience to listen to God's message. By invoking the place names Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaiah metaphorically maligns his listeners, a fitting prelude to the divine diatribe that follows.

Applying the same approach to the grammatical aspects of the verse reveals a similar amalgam of relationships of equivalence and contrast. Syntactically, the two sentences are identical:

Verb + Direct Object (noun + divine name) + Subject (noun + place name)

However, when we unpack each colon grammatically, we discover a number of contrasting elements. While the verbs are both second person plural imperatives, they differ in conjugation: qal and hif 'il. The masculine noun דבר ("word") contrasts with the feminine תורה ("instruction"). This difference in gender is supplemented by the place names, for while names of cities are usually regarded as feminine, the masculine looking סדם ("Sodom") contrasts with the feminine looking עמרה ("Gomorrah"). Likewise, the plural noun קצינים ("leaders") and the singular עם ("people") introduce a contrast in number. The two divine names also differ in several respects: unlike the unmarked, singular yhwh, the word אלהינו ("our God") is grammatically plural and marked with the addition of the first person plural suffix.

These various types of grammatical variation stand in opposition to the more pervasive sense of semantic and syntax similarity. What sort of exegetical insights can this sort of analysis yield? In this case, the interplay of equivalence and contrast on these different levels animates the verse. In addition, the grammar reinforces the prophet's message. By addressing both the leaders and the people as a whole, Isaiah implies that all strata of society are guilty and thus fitting recipients of his words. In a more subtle manner, the grammatical contrast supplements this inclusive message: masculine and feminine, singular and plural, all need to heed God's charge to "cease to do evil and learn to do good" (Isa. 1:16–17).

Berlin also contributes to the study of biblical parallelism by introducing the linguistic concepts of paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations to describe the connections between isolated words and entire cola. Compare the relationship between the two cola in Isaiah 1:10 to the two cola in Hosea 14:2:

Return, O Israel, to YHWH your God,
for you have stumbled because of your sins.

In this case, the two halves of the verse do not mirror each other syntactically or echo each other semantically. Instead, the second colon continues the topic introduced in the first colon, providing a justification for the prophet's call to return. The relationship between the two cola in Hosea 14:2 can be termed "syntagmatic," whereas the connection between the two parts of Isaiah 1:10 can be labeled "paradigmatic," concepts introduced by the influential linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure. "Syntagmatic" refers to the linear relationships between the signs in a sentence, the way the words and sentences connect to one another and form a sequence. "Paradigmatic" refers to the way words and phrases can substitute for one another. Applying these concepts to the level of words helps us to differentiate the paradigmatic connection between a word pair like "hear" and "give ear" in Isaiah 1:10, where one word substitutes grammatically and semantically for the other, and the syntagmatic link between Sodom and Gomorrah, where the parallel terms constitute the break up of a continuous or fixed phrase. A good example of a syntagmatic word pair is found in Judges 5:12, where "Barak" parallels "son of Abinoam."

Often, the nature of the relationship is not as clear as in Isaiah 1:10 and Hosea 14:2, or a passage may combine paradigmatic and syntagmatic elements. In some cases, how one views the relationships between isolated words and the cola as a whole can influence how one interprets a given passage. For example, Hosea 14:3 reads:

Take with you words
And return to YHWH.

If we consider "taking words" and returning to God as paradigmatic phrases, meaning that the two cola can be substituted for or equated with one another, that implies that repentance involves a verbal confession or declaration of the sort provided by Hosea in the subsequent verses. In contrast, if we understand the two phrases as syntagmatic, or as two parts of a consecutive sequence, that suggests that one must speak words of contrition before one can reconcile with God.

Scholars like Berlin, Alter, Kugel, and others have helped to refine our reading of biblical poetry. Their work encourages us to look at poetic parallelism not simply as a mirror, whereby one poetic line tends to reflect the other in a fairly synonymous manner. Instead, like a kaleidoscope, parallelism creates multifaceted, shifting patterns of equivalence and contrast, substitution, and continuity. By analyzing the various aspects and levels of a poetic passage, we gain a keener appreciation of the artistry and interpretative possibilities of this aspect of biblical poetry.

Meter and Rhythm

Interestingly, although Lowth's discussion of parallelism stands out as the most influential aspect of his writings on biblical poetry, he did not dedicate a lecture specifically to this topic; instead, he introduced the subject in lecture 19, as part of a series of talks on the Prophets. In contrast, Lowth devoted his third lecture entirely to the topic of meter. The title of this speech summarizes his stance on the subject: "The Hebrew Poetry is Metrical."

The question of whether or not biblical poetry displays some sort metrical system has vexed scholars from antiquity to the present day. The word 'meter' derives from the Greek term 'measure' and refers to the counting and organization of various aspects of spoken discourse. Some metrical systems measure syllables, accents, or both, as seen in the following poem by Jonathan Swift, which contains four accents and eight syllables per line (the following two selections are taken from Fussel, 11):

Creatures of ev'ry Kind but ours
Well comprehend their nat'ral Powers;
While We, whom Reason ought to sway,
Mistake our Talents ev'ry Day.

The system called quantitative meter counts durational units, meaning that each unit consists of 'long' and 'short' rather than 'accented' and 'unaccented' syllables. In the poem 'Iambicum Trimetrum,' Edmund Spenser imitates this type of meter, which was used in most Greek and Roman poetry:

Unhappy verse, the witness of my unhappy state,
Make thyself flutt'ring wings of thy fast flying
Thought, and fly forth unto my love, wheresoever she be.

Over the centuries, scholars have scoured the poetic sections of the Bible, looking for signs of these various forms of meter. One factor that complicates the matter is that, unlike the case regarding other ancient languages like Akkadian or Greek, we are not certain as to precisely how biblical Hebrew was pronounced. Largely influenced by contemporary poetic aesthetics – be that Greek, Arabic, Renaissance, or other types of poetry – some ancient, medieval, and modern scholars have insisted on the existence, biblical meter while others have rejected such a conclusion. Among the more recent studies of biblical poetry, the consensus has shifted toward the latter perspective. Kugel insists: "There is indeed an answer to this age-old riddle: no meter has been found because none exists" (Kugel, 301). Given the deficits in all metrical theories of biblical poetry, Berlin concludes: "It seems best, therefore, to abandon the quest for meter in the poetry of the Bible" (Berlin, 1996, 308).

While biblical poetry may not contain conclusive evidence of meter, it does display a certain degree of symmetry and sound patterning. As a result, a number of scholars suggest that we shift the focus of the discussion from meter to the broader notion of rhythm, which refers to various forms of sound repetition and regularity (Berlin 1996, 308; Kuntz, 326; Miller, 102–3; Peterson and Richards, 37–47). The observation has been made that segments of biblical verse tend to be of similar length, often with the same number of stresses in the parallel lines. For instance, when David eulogizes Saul and Jonathan, he ends his dirge with the statement:

איך נפלו גבורים
ויאבדו כלי מלחמה
How have the mighty fallen;
and the weapons of war are lost (II Sam. 1:27).

Here, the cola each contain three stresses, though the number of syllables differs. As occurs frequently in biblical poetry, an element in the first line is absent, but assumed, in the second. The second colon compensates for the "gapped" interjection "how" by introducing a two word subject, the construct phrase "weapons of war." This type of compensation produces a sense of balance between the two lines, adding to the appearance of rhythmic balance in biblical poetry.


According to Berlin, the rhythm of biblical poetry results in part from the terseness of parallel lines, the fact that the lines of biblical poetry tend to be short and comprised of about the same number of words and stresses. She identifies terseness as one of the defining features of biblical poetry, explaining that since "poetry has a tendency to be more terse, more concise, than non-poetic discourse," this creates "the impression that in poetry each word or phrase is more loaded with meaning, since fewer words must bear the burden of the message" (Berlin 1996, 303). Paul Fussel refers to this quality of poetry as 'density': "Density of texture is attained by an interweaving of poetic elements…so firmly and tightly that, once interwoven, the separate strands resist unraveling" (Fussel, 90).

Several trends contribute to the terseness of biblical poetry. First, poetic verses frequently omit the definite article (ה), the accusative marker (את), and the relative pronoun (אשר). Compare, for instance, prose and poetic accounts of the first plague quoted earlier:

He raised the rod and struck the water (ויך את המים) that was in the Nile (אשר ביאר) and all the water that was in the Nile (כל המים אשר ביאר) turned to blood, and the fish that were in the Nile (והדגה אשר ביאר) died, and the Nile stank, and the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile, and the blood was all over the land of Egypt (Ex. 7:20–21).

ויהך יאריהם לדם
ונזליהם בל ישתיון
He turned their rivers into blood;
and their streams they could not drink (Ps 78:44).

The juxtaposition of the two passages highlights the terseness of the psalm in contrast to the wordier prose version. The Exodus quotation repeats "the Nile" five times, whereas the psalmist varies the language, invoking the more general terms "rivers" and "streams" as a synonymous, paradigmatic word pair. In the six-word, syntagmatic bi-colon, the Psalm summarizes the narrative told with 24 words in the Exodus account.

Secondly, biblical poetry abounds with parataxis, meaning that cola often are joined together without conjunctions. In prose, hypotaxis dominates, for dependent clauses are usually linked with conjunctions that specify how one clause relates to the other. Frequently, as in the preceding examples from Psalm 78, two cola appear one after another, merely connected by the conjunction vav (ו), which carries a range of meanings. As seen in the discussion of Hosea 14:3, the vague nature of the conjunction vav can produce ambiguity, thus requiring the interpreter to determine the nature of the connection. Does the vav indicate that the second line repeats the basic idea of the first: Take with you words and thus return to yhwh? Or does it imply a sequence of actions: Take with you words and then return to yhwh? In many other cases, two poetic lines are juxtaposed with no grammatical marker specifying the relationship between the statements, as seen in the following citations:

You turned my mourning into dancing for me,
You undid my sackcloth and girded me with joy (Ps. 30:12).
A garden locked is my sister, bride,
a fountain locked, a spring sealed-up (Song 4:12).

Imagery, Metaphor, and Simile

The quotes from Psalm 30 and Song of Songs highlight another defining feature of biblical poetry: the abundant use of imagery. The term 'imagery' is a complicated term that often is used to speak about figurative language in general or the more specific trope of metaphor. In fact, the terms 'imagery' and 'metaphor' designate two distinct, though frequently overlapping literary devices. In Psalms 30:12, the speaker paints a visual picture of a person in mourning who breaks out in dancing. In Song of Songs 4:12, the speaker also evokes a mental image, but in this case, the images of the garden, fountain, and spring function as part of a comparison, the key component of a metaphor.

Imagery involves the creation of a mental image, which can be visual (sight), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), tactile (touch), as well as organic or kinesthetic (awareness of bodily organs and muscles) (Friedman, 560). For instance, the prophet Joel depicts of a future time of judgment, the day of yhwh, when "the beasts groan" and "the waterways are dried up" (Joel 1:18, 20). The first comment involves an auditory element, while the second is primarily visual. Amos also speaks about the day of yhwh, warning that "it shall be darkness, and not light" (Amos 5:18). When Isaiah speaks about a very different type of time, he likewise relies upon imagery, creating a vision of a wolf dwelling with a lamb and a leopard stretching out alongside a young goat (Isa. 11:6).

In these examples, the speaker uses language to take a snapshot: a picture of predators reclining alongside their former prey, a vision of total darkness, a scene of parched streams and groaning bears. In each case, as the saying goes, one picture is worth a thousand words. Amos does not specify what will happen on the day of yhwh; instead, the image of darkness communicates the general impression that this will be a dreadful time. Similarly, Isaiah paints a series of mental pictures from which his audience can extrapolate the larger point that a glorious future will bring peace and harmony among all creatures. In doing so, he taps into a larger motif that signals a return to Eden. With imagery, the poet goes beyond the straightforward language on the page, delivering a more vivid, but less explicit message. Utilizing the listener's various senses, the writer employs a concrete image to convey a more abstract idea.

While a metaphor also evokes an image, what makes it distinct is the presence of an analogy, a comparison between a hypothetical situation and an actual situation. For example, in the extended metaphor in Isaiah 5:1–7 (the "Song of the Vineyard"), the prophet likens the actual situation, God's displeasure about Israel's immoral behavior, to a hypothetical situation, a gardener's disappointment about the way the vineyard he lovingly tended yielded wild grapes. At the end of the passage, Isaiah explicates the metaphor: "For the vineyard of yhwh of Hosts is the House of Israel" (Isa 5:7). Applying the frequently used terminology coined by I.A. Richards, the subject under discussion (here, the Israelites) would be considered the 'tenor' and that to which the subject is being compared (here, the vineyard) would be called the 'vehicle.'

In a metaphor, the analogy is implicit, whereas it is explicit in a simile, a closely related trope. Examples of similes abound in biblical poetry, as seen in the following passages from the book of Hosea. At several points, Hosea favorably compares God to dew or rain in order to send the message that God nourishes Israel and will bring about her revival and success:

And He will come like rain for us,
like latter rain that waters the earth (Hos. 6:3).
I will be like dew for Israel;
he will blossom like the lily (Hos. 14:6).

In both cases, the preposition כ ("like" or "as") signals the presence of an analogy. Other grammatical markers such as כאשר ,כמו, or כן are also used in biblical similes, though with less frequency.

Elsewhere, Hosea applies a similar simile to speak about Israel instead of God. In the process, he transforms this comparison from a compliment to a criticism, from a promise of Israel's prosperity to a depiction of her demise. In Hosea 6:4, directly after the positive comparison between God and rain quoted above, the hypothetical situation (the source of precipitation) is cast in a negative light when used to describe the actual situation (the fleeting nature of Israel's covenantal faithfulness):

What shall I do for you, Ephraim,
and what shall I do for you, Judah,
and your loyalty is like a morning cloud,
and like dew that early goes away?

Further on, Hosea incorporates nearly identical language as part of a string of similes compiled to convey a somewhat different message: a warning that Israel is destined for ruin as a result of her sins:

Therefore, they will be like a morning cloud,
and like dew that early goes away,
like chaff driven away from the threshing floor,
and like smoke from a window (Hos. 13:3).

This litany of similes, each of which is introduced with the marker כ, provides the prophet with a vivid, effective means of chastising his audience.

With a metaphor, the speaker crafts the comparison in a variety of ways. The most obvious type of metaphor takes the form of a predicative statement, as in "yhwh is my shepherd" (Ps. 23:1), "All flesh is grass" (Isa. 40:6), or "Israel is a ravaged vine" (Hos. 10:1). Each of these nominal sentences equates one object with another object, thus creating an anomaly. In other instances, the metaphor is introduced by weaving together words connected with the actual situation and vocabulary associated with the hypothetical situation. For example, in the previous citation from Isaiah 1:10, the prophet compares his audience to the archetypal sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah by linking the second person plural imperative verbs and the nouns "leaders" and "people" with the place names "Sodom" and "Gomorrah." The Israelites addressed are not, in fact, residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, but only metaphorically equated with them. In Amos 1:2, the metaphor is more subtle, created by pairing a divine subject with a verb primarily associated with the sound produced by lions:

YHWH roared from Zion,
and from Jerusalem he raised his voice.

The combination of "yhwh" and "roared" creates an incongruity that, in part, marks this statement as a metaphor.

In the following example, it is the larger context that exposes the anomalous nature of the analogy. In the beginning of the book of Isaiah, God states:

Children I reared and raised,
and they rebelled against Me (Isa. 1:2).

If a parent had spoken these words about his or her children, there would be nothing incongruous about the sentence; thus, it would not constitute a metaphor. Here, however, the larger context establishes that the speaker is God, the subject is Israel, and the comparison provides a means of expressing God's sense of anger and disappointment about the Israelites' actions. The pairing of a divine, first person subject with verbs typically associated with the actions of human parents generates a semantic incongruity that identifies this statement as a metaphor. As these examples demonstrate, a metaphor contains both an analogy and an anomaly. In contrast, a simile lacks any sort of anomalous element, for it explicitly compares two entities, without equating them.

Interpreting metaphors and similes involves unpacking the common features that motivate the analogy, what Max Black labels the 'associated commonplaces' (Black, 74). Imagine a Venn diagram, with "God" in one circle and "dew" in another. What qualities do the two have in common? What characteristics would fit in the overlapping section of the two circles? In the abstract, we might compile a list of various attributes shared by God and dew. However, when interpreting the simile as it appears in Hosea 14:6, the relevant question is: What specific qualities are focused upon in this particular verse? In Hosea 14, the larger context allows the interpreter to decipher the associated commonplaces, for the subsequent verses describe how Israel will flourish like a verdant plant. One can infer from the larger passage that just as dew nourishes trees and flowers, so God will sustain and support Israel so the nation can thrive. In a separate context, when the prophet applies the same analogy to Israel, different associated commonplaces drive the comparison. In Hosea 6:4, the clause "that early goes away" modifies the simile "like dew," thereby specifying what Israel has in common with dew: just as dew evaporates rather quickly, so Israel's loyalty to God is fleeting. When the same simile appears in Hos 13:3, the surrounding context confirms the accuracy of this reading. Morning clouds, dew, chaff, and smoke are all ephemeral, a characteristic that the prophet warns will be true for Israel as well. As these examples demonstrate, in many cases, the associated commonplaces are made clear by modifying phrases or the broader context; sometimes, however, analyzing the analogy requires a greater degree of conjecture and interpretative effort.

Note that many of these examples involve metaphors or similes for God. Speaking about the divine naturally demands the use of metaphor or simile, for human beings can only attempt to articulate ideas about God by applying the known and the familiar. For instance, in order to impress upon Israel God's commitment to comfort the exiles, God is pictured as a loving mother:

a person whose mother comforts him,
so I will comfort you (Isa. 66:13).

The wording of the simile makes it clear that comfort is the associated commonplace generating the comparison. The prophetic books in particular contain an array of analogies for God. In addition to those cited so far (dew, shepherd, lion, parent), we find an abundance of metaphors, some drawn from the sphere of human relationships and others from the natural world and from other semantic domains relevant to the ancient Israelites, such as husband (e.g., Hos. 2), warrior and woman in labor (Isa. 42:13–14), spring of living water (Jer. 2:13), light (Isa. 60:19), and traveler (Jer. 14:8), to name only a few.

Repetition and Patterning

David's tribute to Saul and Jonathan concludes with two phrases invoked to describe the deceased men:

How have the mighty fallen,
and the weapons of war are lost (II Sam. 1:27).

In the first colon, literal language is used to characterize Saul and Jonathan. In the second, David communicates through figurative language, employing the image of abandoned armor to speak of the loss of Israel's military leaders. The phrase "how have the mighty fallen" is repeated two other times in this passage: once at the end of the first verse (v. 19) and again toward the end of the unit (v. 25). When a word or phrase recurs at the beginning and end of a composition, it is called an inclusio or envelope structure. When a word or phrase repeats a number of times, particularly at marked intervals, it is called a refrain.

Repetition stands out as an important way to convey meaning in the Bible. In poetry as well as prose, repetition of key words allows the author to highlight and emphasize central themes. For instance, in Hosea 14:2–9, the root ש.ו.ב. ("to turn") appears five times. First, the prophet charges his listeners to return to God (vv. 2, 3); then he promises that God will "heal their turning back," for God's anger "has turned away" from them (v. 5; also see v. 8). Likewise, in Isaiah 60:1–3 the roots א.ו.ר. ("light") and ז.ר.ח. ("shine") each repeat three times in this short unit, amplifying the message that the light of Zion will illuminate the darkness:

Arise, give light, for your light has come
and the glory of YHWH has shone upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth
and thick clouds the peoples;
but upon you YHWH will shine
and His glory will be seen over you.
And nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by the brightness of your shining.

Additional types of repetition can be found in poetic compositions throughout the Bible. In Isaiah 40–66, reduplication, or the side-by-side repetition of the same word, punctuates numerous passages, including: "Comfort, comfort my people" (Isa. 40:1); "I, I am yhwh" (Isa. 43:11); "Pass through, pass through the gates" (Isa. 62:10). In certain psalms, the same phrase repeats at the beginning of several consecutive lines, such as "how long" in Psalm 13:2–3 or "bless" in Psalm 115:12–13. Even more prominently, in Psalms 148 and 150, "Hallelujah" (הללו יה) ("Praise Yah") frames each psalm, functioning as an inclusio; in between, the verb הללו ("praise") starts each of the subsequent lines, seven times in Psalm 148 and ten times in Psalm 150. In other cases, the repetition appears at the end of the line, as seen in Psalm 136, where the phrase "for His steadfast love is eternal" (כי לעולם חסדו) concludes each of the 26 verses. As these examples demonstrate, repetition not only conveys meaning, but also serves as a structuring device and enhances the aesthetic quality of the composition.

In biblical poetry, patterns are created though repetition as well as through other means. In various psalms and in the book of Lamentations, the verses are arranged alphabetically, in what is called an acrostic (Lam. 1–4; Ps. 111; 112; 119; 145). A prominent pattern in the Bible is a chiasm, where elements in a verse or over the larger expanse of a text are arranged in reverse order. Genesis 9:6 provides a good example: "The one who sheds [A] the blood [B] of a human [C], by a human [C'] shall his blood [B'] be shed [A']." Isaiah 1:18 contain a number of overlapping patterns. Note the chiastic arrangement of the similes in relation to the verbs in each bi-colon:

If your sins are [A] like scarlet [B],
like snow [B'], they will turn white [A'].
If they have turned red [C] like crimson [D],
like wool [D'] they will be [C'].

Looking at the two bi-cola together, a chiastic pattern emerges in the order of the verbs, with the verb "to be" alternating with causative, color-related verbs: "are [A]…will turn white [B]…have turned red [B']…will be [A']." Focusing just on the similes, the references to red and white appear in abab order: "like scarlet [A], like snow [B]…like crimson [A], like wool [B]. With its rich use of imagery and its precisely arranged elements, Isaiah 1:18 demonstrates the potential complexity and artistry of biblical verse.

Another form of repetition and patterning involves the use of sound. Alliteration entails the repetition of the same or similar sound; in the Bible, we find ample examples of consonance, the more specific category of the repetition of consonants. For instance, listen to the way Amos 5:5 incorporates several recurring sound patterns, which Shalom Paul attempts to capture in his English translation:

ואל תדרשו בית אל
והגלגל לא תבאו
ובאר שבע לא תעברו
כי הגלגל גלה יגלה
ובית אל יהיה לאון
But do not seek Beth-el!
Nor go to Gilgal!
Nor cross over to Beer-sheba!
For Gilgal shall go into galling exile,
And Beth-el shall become a nullity.

Isaiah 5:7 provides a good example of paranomasia, a play on words using similar sounding words with different meanings (jps translation):

ויקו למשפט
והנה משפח
והנה צעקה
And He hoped for justice,
But behold, injustice;
For equity,
But behold, iniquity!

Other Poetic Devices

Paranomasia is one of a host of literary devices found in biblical poetry. Classical Greek rhetoricians coined much of the terminology that is still used today to label the manifold ways language can be manipulated to produce various rhetorical effects. The few mentioned below reflect some of the more prominent tropes in biblical poetry.

In ii Samuel 1:27, David speaks of Jonathan and Saul as "weapons of war." He does not compare them to armor, which would constitute a metaphor. Instead, he metonymically speaks of them using the name of an object with which they are associated. Metonymy involves a connection between two entities related in some sort of a part/whole manner; synecdoche is considered either a subset of metonymy or a distinct trope. Amos creates a metonym when he refers to ruler of Ashkelon as "the one who grasps the scepter" (Amos 1:8), thus linking the king with an action and object associated with him.

The book of Amos contains examples of a number of other tropes. Amos employs hyperbole, or emphatic exaggeration, when he expresses the message that God rejects religious rituals if people do not act with justice and morality. The juxtaposition of two verbs in the first colon amplifies the tone of the passage:

I hate, I despise your festivals;
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies (Amos 5:21).

Earlier in the book, Amos effectively uses rhetorical questions, constructing a prophecy comprised of nine rhetorical questions. He begins by asking: "Can two walk together without having met?" (Amos 3:3). Then, question after question, he draws his audience in so that they eventually recognize his main point: "My Lord God has spoken, who can but prophesy?" (Amos 3:8). Deutero-Isaiah cleverly crafts a rhetorical question in order to respond to the Israelites' feeling of having been abandoned by God:

Can a woman forget her nursing baby,
have no compassion on the child of her womb?
Though these might forget, I will not forget you (Isa. 49:15).

This rhetorical question forms a metaphor that compares God to a mother in order to reassure the Israelites of God's enduring love and commitment. The expected answer to the rhetorical question is 'no'; but the prophet surprisingly suggests that, in certain cases, a mother might forget her child. This verse shows the limitations of a metaphor: God may be similar to a mother, but God's powers far exceed that of any human being. As Deutero-Isaiah repeatedly reminds his listeners: "To whom can you liken God?" (Isa. 40:18); ultimately, God is beyond compare.

This example demonstrates the way poetic devices often operate in conjunction with one another. In many cases, we can identify the specific type of trope found in a poetic passage. In other cases, a writer's creativity defies easy categorization. None of the stylistic features discussed in this article are restricted to biblical poetry. They all appear in biblical prose, though not with such frequency and intensity. As Berlin points out, it is not the mere presence of elements such as parallelism or terseness, but their predominance "which marks the poetic expression of the Bible" (Berlin 1985, 5). Appreciating the artistry of biblical poetry and the depth of its meaning requires being a skillful reader, one who can unpack the language, structure, and imagery of a poetic passage and then piece everything back together in a way that gives voice to the ideas conveyed in the elevated discourse of poetry.

[Andrea L. Weiss (2nd ed.)]

medieval hebrew secular poetry

Al-Andalus and Provence

Hebrew secular poetry flourished in Muslim Spain (Al-Andalus) from the middle of the 10th century to the middle of the 12th and in the Christian kingdoms of the North of the Iberian Peninsula and Provence from the middle of the 12th century to the end of the 15th (shortly before the expulsion). During these two eras, particularly the former, Spanish Jewry developed a versatile poetry of far-ranging scope which was rooted in the revival of the biblical tradition. At the same time it also evolved in the light of Muslim, and later of Christian, culture and poetry and in the spirit of contemporary rationalistic trends.

secular poetry in al-andalus (c. 950–1150)

A "golden era" was reached by the Hebrew poetry of Al-Andalus whose principal exponents were *Samuel ha-Nagid, Solomon ibn *Gabirol, Moses *Ibn Ezra, and *Judah Halevi; these three last poets attained artistic excellence both in secular and in devotional poetry, i.e., liturgical poetry incorporated in the prayer service (see *Piyyut). The most remarkable innovation of this period, however, was the creation of secular poetry which became a vehicle through which the poet could express his personal thoughts and feelings and his relation to man and society. The style and motifs of secular poetry came to influence devotional poetry, which, however, developed separately and was considered a distinct genre.

Prior to the rise of secular poetry in Spain, Hebrew poetry in the various centers (Ereẓ Israel, Babylon, Byzantine Italy, etc.) had been liturgical only, except for a few early texts. The earliest non-liturgical poems (works by *Saadiah Gaon (tenth century) and his contemporaries), dealing with public matters, stem from Babylonia; however, the firm religious tradition of the Babylonian Jewish community precluded any far-reaching innovations. Congenial conditions for secular poetry evolved in the new Jewish community in Muslim Spain, a community not bound by tradition and prospering in an environment of religious tolerance and great cultural and ethnic diversity. It absorbed the culture of its environment and developed rapidly under the Cordoba caliphate and the petty kingdoms that were formed after the caliphate disintegrated in the 11th century.

The patronage of the Jewish courtier, who was either a government official, a financier, or a landowner, created favorable conditions for the development of secular Hebrew poetry. The most eminent Jewish courtiers attracted scholars, artists, and poets to their courts, as did their Muslim counterparts. *Menahem b. Jacob ibn Saruq and *Dunash b.*Labrat, the earliest Hebrew poets in Spain, were the court poets of *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut, who was himself a courtier of Abd-al-Raḥman iii, caliph of Cordoba. Most of the later poets of the Andalusian period were also court poets; a few poets, however, made their living as physicians and dayyanim, etc. The institution of patronage in Muslim Spain began to decline in the middle of the 12th century but continued in the Christian North of the Iberian Peninsula for a long time, though not as prominently.

The court poet depended on his patron's favor and was closely connected with the latter's fate at the royal court. (Some patrons, such as Ibn Gabirol's Jekuthiel, were executed as a result of court intrigues.) From the literary point of view the main drawback of court poetry was the conventionality in creativity that necessarily prevailed in the most commonly used poetic genres. One of the poet's main social functions was to compose panegyrics for his patron and dirges on the death of the latter's relatives. Thus the same motifs, images, and conventional formulations constantly recurred.

On the other hand the status of the court poet had many advantages. Poetry was part of the cultural life at the court and added to the prestige of the patron since it was the far-reaching dissemination of the poetry written at his court and the popularity it gained which spread his fame. Poetry was also a weapon in the hand of the poet, mainly in the guise of satiric poems. The poet enjoyed economic security, respectability, and sometimes even friendship, since many patrons were erudite, and true lovers of poetry. Cultural life at the court also afforded the means for the extensive development of different poetic genres: wine and love songs for feasts, as well as other genres which did not have an immediate social function, e.g., universal wisdom poems and personal poetic complaints. The evolvement of a cultured and refined reading public at the numerous courts developed a keen critical sense both in the public and in the poet and stimulated the development of poetry into a highly refined art. The dependence of the court poet on his patron was considered natural, and the decline of the institution of patronage at the end of the Andalusian period was seen by poets as a direct cause of the decline of poetry.

Poetry was a very popular art. The works of Samuel ha-Nagid, for example, were already known during his lifetime, as testified to by Moses ibn Ezra in his poetics, "In all the regions of East and West… Babylon… Ereẓ Israel… Egypt… Ifriqiya (Tunis, etc.)… and Spain." Evidence from the Cairo Genizah shows that manuscripts of Spanish poems were brought from Spain to Egypt and thence to Yemen. The fact that after the decline of the Spanish center its poetry was preserved and copied in remote countries testifies to its wide distribution. In Spain itself there were many centers of poetry: Lucena, Seville, and other towns were called "cities of poetry," such as Cordoba, Granada, etc.


The language of the Bible had a glorious renascence in secular poetry and superseded other linguistic layers which had developed since the end of the biblical period, i.e., talmudic and especially paytanic Hebrew, which in Spain were considered arbitrary and chaotic. The opposition to these latter developments was at times extreme, as Abraham ibn Ezra's criticism (in his commentary on Eccles. 5:1) of the style and language of Eleazar *Kallir, the greatest of the early poets, who lived in Ereẓ Israel.

This return to the ancient source of the language was a great innovation. Biblical Hebrew, considered the only accurate form of Hebrew, was seen as a clear, precise, beautiful, and divine tongue, which was superior to all other languages. The view reflected the spiritual contest with the Arabs who set up the style of the Koran as a theological and aesthetic model and developed linguistic and poetic tools for its interpretation. An answer to this challenge could only be in the adoption of a biblical style which, because of its antiquity, diversity, poetry, and accuracy preserved by the masorah, was a formidable opponent. In his work on poetics, Kitāb al-Muḥāḍara wa al-Mudhākara (c. 1135), Moses Ibn Ezra illustrates each rhetorical figure by using both contemporary Arabic and Hebrew poetry, but he primarily refers to the Bible 'so that the Arabs will not discredit it and think… that the Hebrew tongue (i.e., biblical Hebrew) lacks aesthetic rules.' He also mentions the work Kitāb la-Badʿi (around 900) which discusses rhetorical figures in the Koran, but insists that, though contemporary poetry applies the Arabic poetic form and style, it is mainly rooted in the language of the Bible.

Philology and Poetry

The new approach not only developed out of internal apologetics and external rivalry, but was fostered by the spirit of rationalism expressed in the flourishing of sciences, including philology and philological exegesis – a prerequisite to a biblical renascence and to the development of a new poetic style. Already the earliest poets, Menahem ibn Saruq, Dunash b. Labrat, and Samuel ha-Nagid were also philologists, while all poets had a distinct inclination for philology.

An important innovation in form was the introduction into Hebrew of an exact quantitative poetic meter, as found in Arabic poetry. The metric system (establishing a new symmetry of sound which aroused admiration) was based on a grammatical (morphological) principle: the distinction between short and long metrical units according to the exact biblical vocalization of the words.

Since quantitative meter had from its inception in Hebrew poetry been accepted as an immutable law, a preoccupation with biblical grammar and a mastery of biblical style in general was a natural outcome. Hebrew poetry used not only biblical vocabulary but also biblical idioms or verses which were interwoven into the fabric of the poem among other ornaments of style. This style, called mussiv, was not a mechanical mosaic of quotations, but a peculiar and original combination in a new context, which often led to a surprising change in meaning whose effect sometimes was humorous. Readers brought up on the Bible studied these new effects, examined the poems in the light of the new linguistic and poetic norms, criticized them, and even corrected them.

In time, though poetry tended toward extreme biblical purism, both in vocabulary and in form (for later changes see below), semantic and syntactical changes were nevertheless introduced into biblical Hebrew. Syntax was at times determined by meter and biblical words consequently acquired a new meaning, either through the influence of similar Arabic words or through motifs drawn from Arabic poetry. The fusion of the biblical background with the new elements of stylized poetry followed clear aesthetic principles.

The poetics of the time, though formulated for Hebrew poetry by Moses ibn Ezra at the end of the Andalusian period (c. 1135), is found already in the early poetry of the period and reflects Arabic critical works and poetry. Normative and neoclassic in character, it considers secular poetry (it does not deal with devotional poetry) as an art which demands education and training even for the naturally talented. It calls for clear, formal, rhetorical, and thematic requirements.


Spanish Hebrew poetics thus demands that each poem be carefully rhymed and its meter be meticulous. Most of secular Hebrew poetry was written in the Arabic qaṣīda form (or in its abbreviated form, qit'a), i.e., it had to have one unchangeable rhyme throughout the poem and one quantitative meter dividing each verse (bayit) into two hemistichs. Poems in which homonyms replace the rhymes are a variation of this type of poem. The other type of secular poem was the 'girdle poem' (the muwashshaḥ) whose strophic pattern was a creation of Andalusian Arabs. While the monotony of the classical form was relieved in the "girdle poem," allowing for virtuosity in metrical schemes and rhyme patterns, it was based on a unique principle of form. The "girdle poem" combines fixed and variable rhyme elements. Each stanza has a different rhyme and is followed by a section of a varying number of verses which have the same rhyme. This rhyme recurs only in each of these sections.

In their imitation of complex and intricate forms of Arabic "girdle poems" (or of Hebrew ones by their predecessors), the Hebrew poets showed great skill in techniques of poetry. Some concluded their poems with an Arabic or Hispano-Roman jarya, which was frequently taken from a popular folk song. The muwashshaḥ form was mainly a vehicle for entertaining and encomiastic poetry; but in Hebrew it was also assimilated into devotional poetry.

Rhetorics and General Poetics

Poetry was mainly regarded as "ornamented speech" and the creative process as a conscious art. The poet chooses the subject and themes which he then "embellishes" with figures and tropes. This view which separates form and content is foreign to the modern conception of poetry. The approach, basic to the rationalistic exegesis of metaphorical language in the Koran and the Bible (in order to refute an anthropomorphic interpretation of descriptions of God), was adopted by the theory of poetry and was also used by poets.

The poet's art is revealed in the rhetorical weave of the poem and in the details of poetic diction. It, too, is bound by tradition: conventional phrases and images recur in new combinations, as in a colorful kaleidoscope of style which changes the patterns of its permanent elements. Originality is praised but its scope is limited and is usually expressed by subtle, though sometimes surprising, variations on conventional elements rather than by daring individualistic vent and outburst, or by a new sensibility.

The choice of themes is circumscribed and conventionally fixed. Many subjects were considered unsuitable for poetry, others were only conventionally treated. Some poetic genres employ the neo-classical style which is beyond the individual and the specific. In wine songs, for example, the scenery is conventional, reinforced by traditional images: the feast par excellence or the ideal qualities of wine. Similarly, love poetry usually centers on a beautiful but harsh mistress of the type of la belle dame sans merci. The unhappy rejected lover humiliates himself before the beloved (in front of others who watch him, or in front of a moralizer); but he draws supreme pleasure from his torment.

In general, this poetry posits an ideal world of opposites (absolute beauty or absolute ugliness, heights of joy and delight or abysses of grief, etc.). The imagery is also often based on real or fictitious antitheses (pearls of wisdom as against the mire of folly; flames of anguish as against rivers of weeping, etc.).

As many compositions are polythematic, it is also possible to overcome the limits of convention and to express more personal or realistic views, according to the wish of the poet. Even in the most classical period Hebrew poetry is not purely formal and conventional, but allows a distinctive and personal means of expression of high literary value.


Secular poetry includes panegyrics, dirges, poems of self-praise, satire, wine songs, love poems, wisdom poems, complaints, songs of friendship and separation, etc. Genres were considered to be defined mostly by theme and to some extent by tone. This type of division, however, is not exhaustive, since each genre also has in addition to theme a specific pattern reflected in many ways, e.g., in the attitude of the speaker (personal or universal), the specific use of motifs, imagery, and even recurring formula.

The autonomy of the genres is most striking in the long poems similar to the Arabic qasida, which are not one unit. Traditionally, these have an "introduction" (on any subject, e.g., a feast), the "body" of the poem (treating the actual theme, e.g., panegyrics), and between these a "transition verse." Many times, the author plays with contrasting descriptions of feelings in both parts of the poem, creating a very dynamic ambience. In these poems the division is also not exhaustive. There is often a further subdivision into many diverse secondary sections, each belonging to a different genre. Many of the long poems therefore resemble a series of short poems of different genres. Though the elements of stylization in secular poetry were highly conventionalized, poetry was not stifled; it is richer in themes than is usually thought; variations in rhetorical and descriptive usages or in combination of genres, etc., are exceedingly numerous; some important poems do not even belong to any of the set genres. The basic principles of theoretical and practical poetics, however, differed from the modern and appealed to a different type of sensibility.

Trends in Secular Poetry in Al-Andalus

The development of secular poetry testifies to a conscious and directed aim toward a continuous improvement of vehicles of expression and the increase of genres and themes within a normative framework. The character of secular poetry became defined in a relatively short period of time. Its inception was around 950 in Cordoba, under the patronage of Isaac ibn Shaprut, and particularly at the court of his son *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut. The earliest secular poet was apparently Menahem ibn Saruq; the novelty of his poems (of which only fragments are extant or merely the names) lay in their purpose and theme, but not as yet in the synthetic Hebrew-Arabic style which was to mark the school. That style was introduced as a deliberate novelty by Dunash b. Labrat, Menahem's rival at Ḥisdai's court. Dunash adapted the principle of the Arabic quantitative meter to Hebrew poetry and changed its whole outlook through the integration of images, figures of speech, motifs, and genres taken from Arabic poetry. His innovation in meter aroused a sharp controversy between his and Menahem's disciples, who claimed that he corrupted the Hebrew language (see Isaac *Ibn Kapron, Isaac ibn *Gikatilla). While Dunash's views prevailed and greatly influenced Spanish Hebrew poetry, he did not develop all these possibilities in his own poetry – encomiastic and polemical poems and a quasi wine song which remain poor in style. His innovations were developed and extended in the following generation by Isaac b. Levi *ibn Mar Saul, and particularly by Isaac *ibn Khalfun, who was the first professional poet to write secular poetry.

Secular poetry expanded with the appearance of Samuel ha-Nagid, who introduced (or fully developed for the first time) universal wisdom poems, encomiastic and derogatory poems, official and personal dirges, wine and love poems, ornamental epigrams, and most of the other genres of secular poetry, including a genre which was not taken up by his followers, i.e., war poems. Samuel ha-Nagid's achievement is spectacular not only in the diversity of genres and themes he used, but in the flexibility of his style, his glittering descriptiveness, and in some aspects of his poetic diction. His high status as Jewish leader, minister serving as one of the commanders of the army, halakhist, and philologist undoubtedly also contributed toward establishing secular poetry (which greatly developed in his generation) as a branch of literature. As stated by Abraham *Ibn Daud, "In the days of Ḥisdai they started chirping and in the days of Samuel ha-Nagid they gave voice" (see Moses b. Samuel ha-Kohen *Gikatilla, and Judah b. Samuel *Ibn Balam).

His younger contemporary, Solomon ibn Gabirol, famous as a philosopher and poet, added to secular poetry a dimension of introspective depth and complexity, particularly in his personal poems which express the poet's struggle against fate and his yearning for love. The paradox, which had served his predecessors as a rhetorical device, became in Gabirol's poems a means through which the poet expresses his divided soul. The change of mood from despair to joy, to boasting, in his secular poetry contrasts sharply with the tone of his excellent devotional poetry, which was written in a different style (see *Piyyut). Gabirol not only wrote personal secular poems which depart from conventions but modified existing genres by refining the diverse aspects of their conventions.

At the end of the 11th century the Spanish style had already become defined, and even minor poets, whose range was limited, produced commendable works and enriched the extensive background from which the great talents emerged. Literary activity in secular and devotional poetry increased greatly; "these groups of poets are as water, at first it flows slowly and then it gushes forth" (Moses ibn Ezra; see *Piyyut in Spain, Isaac ibn Ghayyat, Levi b. Jacob *Ibn Altabban, *Baḥya b. Joseph ibn Paquda, *Joseph b. Sheshet ibn Latimi, and Joseph b. Jacob *Ibn Sahl). The characteristics were defined and expressed in theory and in practice in the works of Moses ibn Ezra (c. 1055 to 1135) who, to some extent, represents the school. In Kitāb al-Muḥāḍara wa al-Mudhākara, his work on poetics, he states the school's views on poetry: its essence, function, sources, and its practical theory of ornamentation. In another essay Maqāla bi al-Hadīqa fi ma'anī al-majāz wa al-haqīqa, he introduces a theory of metaphor as related to biblical exegesis and to contemporary poetry. Among his diverse secular poems some are written in a very ornamental style, showing a preference for the metaphor over the simile and combining it with various figures of speech. He was the first to develop homonymic poems in Hebrew which he collected in his Sefer ha-Anak.

Secular poetry attained its classical peak with the works of the greatest Hebrew poet of the period, Judah Halevi. He gained fame not just through his personality and nationalistic sentiments, expressed in his poems and in his book Sefer ha-Kuzari, but for the quality of his poetry which aroused the admiration of his contemporaries. His talent found scope both in his extensive and excellent devotional poetry and in his secular poetry, expressed in its range, versatility, and perhaps most of all in its pleasing style, which the poet achieved by a very flexible use of rhetorical devices, surprising twists, and a personal tone accompanying well-known themes. Judah Halevi infused new life into the literary tradition of his time, even to the extent of deviating from convention, which he did with the freedom of the master. Through new combinations he modified and changed most of the poetic genres of his time. In dirges, for example, he not only used the classic form but innovated the genre with the strophic form, to which he gave a ballad-like quality by introducing a dialogue with the deceased. His poems are also marked by a change of tone, and his love poems range from lightness and humoristic brilliance to sensuality. Judah Halevi also created new genres: poems about Zion and sea poems. He developed the new possibilities that secular poetry afforded, yet none of the later poets reached his poetic excellence or versatility.

The Andalusian period of Hebrew poetry came to an end in Judah Halevi's generation (see Solomon ibn al-Mu'alem, *Joseph b. Ẓaddik, and Judah b. Isaac *Ibn Ghayyat) – a very short time after his death in Egypt or Palestine (1141) and that of Moses Ibn Ezra in northern Spain (1138?). The Almohads invaded Andalusia (1145) and wrought havoc among the Jewish communities, which were completely destroyed.

secular poetry in christian spain

From the mid-12th century (during the Reconquista), as Jews emigrated to the north and the Christians advanced southward, secular Hebrew poetry (and Hebrew poetry in general) passed into the Christian North of the Peninsula. Although the cultural environment was no longer Muslim and the Arabic language and poetry were superseded by the Romance languages and literatures, and to some extent by troubadour poetry, secular poetry deliberately and consciously carried on the tradition of the Andalusian period. The Hebrew poets of Christian Spain at times declared themselves to be the guardians of the Andalusian tradition or merely its epigones (e.g., Judah *al-Ḥarizi in Taḥkemoni). Sometimes they might evince an affinity for a particular Andalusian poet and his fate (e.g., Solomon b. Reuben *Bonafed for Solomon ibn Gabirol, who had lived about 400 years earlier). In reality, however, important changes occurred in secular Hebrew poetry in Christian Spain due both to external influence and to internal development, one of which was in the sphere of language. In theory the ideal of biblical Hebrew still prevailed. Many poets who wrote and translated maqāmāt stressed their intention to glorify biblical Hebrew and to prove its vigor. Al-Ḥarizi (in his introduction to Taḥkemoni) even presented an allegorical personification of biblical Hebrew as his muse. In practice, however, some poets by the middle of the 13th century no longer adhered to biblical purism and used more and more rabbinic (talmudic and midrashic) language, and even the contemporary scientific and philosophical language which had evolved in the late 12th century. At the same time translated literature developed to bring scientific and philosophic writings to the Jews of the Northern Christian kingdoms who could not understand the original Arabic. Speculative literature written in Hebrew also began to flourish during this period.

Though the vocabulary was expanded, poetic diction tended to a prose-like sparseness or, conversely, to a baroque-like elaborateness and to manneristic forms, i.e., the use of certain letters only, poems composed in a geometrical form, poems which could be read backward, vertically, mirror-poems, poems with echo, etc. Such devices appeared in some poetry only, but rarely allowed for genuine poetic expression. Humor and satire as poetic vehicles were already comparatively prominent in the 12th century. Parody was a popular device (e.g., parody of the marriage contract, the Mishnah, the prayer for the dead, etc.), especially in maqāmāt (*Judah b. Isaac ibn Shabbetai, Vidal Benveniste; see *Maqāma and *Parody), for entertainment and, even more, for pungent social satire.

In the sphere of genres, the most prominent innovation in the Christian period was the development of the maqāma, which was primarily an amusing story, written in rhymed prose with special emphasis on stylistic brilliance (sometimes at the expense of the plot), interlaced with poems that had both rhyme and meter. The plot at times was only a pretext for their introduction. The maqāma therefore may be classified as poetry, but it also contains prose narrative elements. Al-Ḥarizi's maqāmāt were patterned on the Arabic works of Al-Hamdani and Al-Ḥariri, in which the hero, a likable scoundrel, appears in many independent stories, and the narrator relates his adventures. Most of the other rhymed stories – some by authors earlier than Al-Ḥarizi, e.g., *Judah ibn Shabbetai and Joseph b. Meir *Ibn Zabara, while others were later, e.g., *Jacob b. Eleazar and Isaac b. Solomon ibn *Sahula – adopted a different technique to unravel the plot and to present the characters and their function. They thus deviated from the classic maqāma genre. Some also show Christian influence, both in subject and in motif. In the 13th century, and perhaps somewhat earlier, the maqāma acquired a didactic-moralistic and satiric character and was strongly influenced by philosophy (e.g., Shem Tov *Falaquera) and by the *Kabbalah (e.g., Isaac ibn Sahula).

Beside the maqāma, literary correspondence also developed in a very particular way. Many Jewish intellectuals of the time maintained correspondences with co-religionists as a way of showing their ability in writing and their knowledge of Jewish culture. This correspondence included long sections of rhymed, highly rhetorical prose, and some verses. It acquired its own structure, with a prose introduction, a few initial verses indicating the number of verses of the main body of the composition, and the body itself; usually a section in prose followed, and, on the back of the paper, a few lines about the addressee.

Non-narrative metrical secular poetry also had a much wider range of subjects than in the Andalusian period. It broached topical matters, the most important of which was the major 13th-century controversy on the character and teaching of Maimonides (see Meshullam b. Solomon *de Piera, Meir *Abulafia, and the *Maimonidean Controversy). In the 14th and 15th centuries forced conversion and resistance to it was a foremost topic, beside other more classic genres (panegyrics, dirges, satiric poems, love songs, etc.). While the polemical poems were not always of great artistic value, they were typical of the adherence to reality found in secular poetry and the avoidance of ideal classicist generalizations of the Andalusian period. This trend also found expression in other poetic genres, seen in the explicit mention of places, dates, etc., in the ready acceptance of new specific concrete themes, and in the realistic description of objects (e.g., a prison cell, a chess game, or a poor man's torn coat). Other themes testify to Christian influence, particularly troubadour poetry (through Provençal and related dialects, such as Catalan) and, to a much lesser extent, Spanish poetry which was then in its beginning (though some Hebrew poets also wrote in Spanish, e.g., *Santob de Carrion Shem Tov Ardutiel). Such themes were spiritual love (for a woman; e.g., Todros *Abulafia), a debate between abstract ideas (Abraham *Ibn Ezra and others), the wanderings of a Hebrew troubadour (*Isaac b. Abraham ha-Gorni), mutual invectives between poets written in the form of a troubadour tenson (Todros Abulafia and *Phinehas b. Joseph ha-Levi), nature described pastorally (Meshullam de Piera), and other subjects (as well as some manneristic effects).

Secular poetry in the Christian period through its expansion of themes and forms was more variegated than the secular poetry of the Andalusian period. At the same time, however, it usually was inferior in literary merit. There were some talented poets and some groups of poets, but there was no pleiad centering around great poets as in the Andalusian period.

Trends in Secular Poetry in Christian Northern Iberia

The beginning of the period of secular poetry in the Christian Northern kingdoms of the Peninsula (during and shortly after the destruction of the Jewish communities of al-Andalus) is represented by the versatile Abraham ibn Ezra, poet, commentator, philologist, and scientist, who disseminated the Hebrew-Spanish style and culture in Christian Spain. His extensive poetry already reveals the particular blend of Andalusian tradition and the beginning of the new trends in its humor, satire, realistic approach and description – mentioning places, etc., the use of new genres (e.g., poems of debate in which the proponents are abstract ideas), and in some manneristic effects. From the 12th to the 15th centuries, the fusion of Andalusian tradition with the various new elements (humor in parody, satire, concreteness, etc.) was differently effected in maqāmāt, rhymed stories (similar to the maqāma in form), and the poems interlaced in these stories which sometimes appear in a special section, e.g., at the end of Taḥkemoni by Al-Ḥarizi (see Joseph ibn Zabara; Isaac, author of Mishlei Arav; Judah ibn Shabbetai; Isaac, author of Ezrat Nashim; Judah al-Ḥarizi; Jacob b. Eleazar; Abraham b. Samuel ha-Levi *Ibn Ḥasdai; Shem Tov Falaquera; Isaac ibn Sahula; *Kalonymus b. Kalonymus; Isaac b. Joseph ibn *Pollegar; Shem Tov Ardutiel; Maimon *Galipapa; *Mattathias; and Vidal Benveniste for the development of this literature; see also *Maqāma).

The principal innovations are first fully developed in the highly original poetry of Meshullam de Piera (early 13th century). He extensively resorts to rabbinic language and even to the language of the translators using unusual syntactic links between verses, but also sudden conceptual transitions and at times an obscure style which bears affinity to the troubadour trobar clus. He reduces the laudations in the panegyrics to a closing dedication (a type of troubadour envoi), etc.

The poet Todros Abulafia (late 13th century), whose patron was Don Isaac de la Maleha (courtier of Alfonso X, "the Wise"), also introduced novel themes into secular poetry, such as spiritual love and love poems about Arab and Christian women, description of the court and of the prison in which the poet was incarcerated, and comments in his poems on hackneyed poetic conventions. He created new genres – a panegyric for the king patterned on a troubadour poem, panegyrics in which he used bold erotic imagery, and poems of controversy with other poets. To some extent he was also an innovator in clever manneristic forms (letter combination, echo rhymes, etc.). His poetry, however, shows him to be also an epigone of the Andalusian school (particularly of Moses ibn Ezra). Todros Abulafia was still bound to the Arabic language and poetry 150 years after his city Toledo had been conquered by the Christians.

During the 13th century secular poetry also developed in countries which had not been under Muslim rule, particularly Provence, which was for more than one century a part of the Kingdom of Aragon, and as such received a strong Andalusian tradition, although through Hebrew only. Abraham b. Isaac *Bedersi (Habadrashi; of Beziers, Perpignan) tends to verbosity and flowery playfulness, employing strange images and even conspicuous mannerism in form. He seems to have been particularly fond of literary controversy with the poets of his time. His view on tradition and innovation is found in a fragment of a long and tedious poem in which he reviews early Hebrew poets, contemporary poets, and even Christian troubadours. His contemporary, *Isaac ha-Gorni, with whom he disputed, was a kind of Jewish troubadour who made the round of the communities with his musical instruments, as he himself states in some of his poems.

The poems by *Jedaiah (ha-Penini), son of Abraham Bedersi, are manneristic like his father's, but show more talent and poetic restraint. Jedaiah is perhaps the best-known Provençal Hebrew poet by virtue of his philosophical satiric work, Beḥinat Olam, which imitates the biblical style (division into verses, etc.). Even Boḥan (1322), by Kalonymus b. Kalonymus (the greatest translator of Provence), a similar work but of greater literary merit, is rich in talmudic expressions. It is characterized by despair about the Jewish condition, by biting satire, and by humor.

During the last 200 years (the 14th and 15th centuries) in which secular poetry flourished, Spanish Jewry lay under the shadow of persecutions and had to contend with forced conversion. The theme, however, is expressed in Spanish Hebrew literature as early as the 13th century. Among these is the controversy on religion between Isaac Pulgar and the apostate *Abner of Burgos, carried on in polemical poetry and in maqāmāt.

The tendency in secular poetry toward formal mannerism and the use of linguistic and stylistic trick devices for their own sake is partly found in the poems of Ibn Soli, Joseph b. Sheshet ibn Latimi, and Samuel b. Joseph *Ibn Sasson, Isaac *Pulgar's friend. While there was also a number of good single poems, there was an increase of uninspired versification of the books of the Bible and of philosophy. Some secular poems attained a high degree of excellence, e.g., the amusing maqāmāt of Shem Tov Ardutiel, of Maimon Galipapa, and to some extent the works of the last group of poets, Adat Nogenim, "the circle of Saragossa," which toward the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century centered around the Lavi family – Solomon de Piera (a relative of the poet Meshullam de Piera), Vidal (Joseph) b. Lavi, Vidal Benvenist, Astruc *Rimoch, Solomon *Bonafed, and others. While some of them converted to Christianity after the *Tortosa Disputation in 1414, others continued to write in Hebrew.

The last prominent Hebrew poet in Christian Spain, Solomon *Bonafed, one of the younger members of the Adat Nogenim group (which had disintegrated), did not convert to Christianity. He attended to problems of immediate import; at the same time he also wrote personal poetry, e.g., love poems to various women. He launched a biting satirical attack against his enemies. (For other poets of the time, see Solomon ha-Levi, Profiat *Duran (ha-Efodi), Moses b. Isaac *Remos, Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran (the Rashbaẓ), and *Mattathias). Saadiah b. Maimun *Ibn Danan, one of the last Hebrew poets of Spain, lived in Granada, the last Muslim stronghold, which had been a center of Hebrew poetry hundreds of years earlier. After the conquest of Granada and the expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492, Ibn Danan moved to North Africa. Among the Jews expelled from Spain were a number of poets who continued writing in other countries, e.g., Judah b. Isaac *Abrabanel, who gained some fame for his book on love written in Italian.

The Jews expelled from Spain and their descendants continued to foster the Spanish style in their countries of refuge. The influence of the Hebrew-Spanish style had, however, extended beyond the Spanish borders long before – at the time secular poetry flourished in Spain. From the 12th century onward it was taken up by Jewish communities throughout the Muslim world (Egypt, Babylonia, Yemen, etc.), but it also influenced Jews in the Christian world (Italy, to some extent Germany, northern France, and especially Provence). The expulsion from Spain led to a new flourishing of the Hebrew-Spanish style in such widely dispersed Jewish communities as Turkey, Greece, North Africa, Ereẓ Israel, and Holland. The period extended from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

Echoes of secular and devotional poetry, particularly of the great Andalusian poets, are found in modern Hebrew poetry at the end of the 19th century and in the 20th century. This harking back, however, is only sporadic.

[Dan Pagis]


Italy was the first European country, other than Spain, in which Hebrew poetry, both sacred and secular, was developed. Although the Jewish population there was never large, the Hebrew poets in Italy made a notable contribution to Hebrew poetry. In prayer the Jews in Italy originally used the piyyutim of Ereẓ Israel, but, beginning in the ninth century, Italian paytanim arose who, for all their dependence upon the Ereẓ Israel piyyut, made their poems express something of their own time and place. Secular Hebrew poems written in Italy during the earliest period have not survived, and only one paytan, *Silano, who lived in the ninth century in Venosa, is known to have composed humorous verse. The best-known early paytanim in Italy were members of the Ahimaaz family: *Shephatiah b. Amittai and *Amittai b. Shephatiah, and later, members of the *Kalonymus family, and *Elijah b. Shemaiah. Ahimaaz b. Paltiel's family chronicle, Megillat Yuḥasin (Megillat Aḥima aẓ), written in rhymed prose, dates from the middle of the 11th century. Undoubtedly there was communication between the Jews of Spain and Provence and those of Italy, and Hebrew poetry written in Spain was known in Italy. From the beginning of the 12th century metrical poems were already being composed by Italian poets, e.g., *Jerahmeel b. Solomon (in southern Italy) and *Isaiah b. Mali di Trani. In the 13th century Benjamin delli Mansi composed a satire on his contemporaries in rhymed prose entitled Massa Gei-Ḥizzayon. The greatest secular Hebrew poet of Italy, *Immanuel b. Solomon of Rome (Manoello Giudeo), lived during the 13th and 14th centuries. His Maḥberot Immanu'el (Brescia, 1492; critical ed., Jerusalem, 1957), containing all his prose and poems, was influenced by the poetry of Italy and Provence and the writings of Judah al-Ḥarizi, an influence Immanuel himself admitted. Immanuel was one of the first to compose sonnets in Italian and the first to compose Hebrew sonnets. His works comprise 28 compositions (maḥberot), the last being Maḥberet ha-Tofet ve-ha-Eden ("Hell and Paradise") in which the influence of Dante's Divine Comedy is recognizable. It has been suggested that, since Dante's work is called The Divine Comedy, Immanuel's be called "The Human Comedy."

Immanuel's work inspired a diversification in secular poetry. Similarly, sacred poetry also began to acquire a new character; the poets of Italy, after the manner of the poets of Spain, composed metrical piyyutim. In the 15th century Italian Hebrew poets began to emancipate themselves from their servitude to Spanish meter, utilizing instead a new (syllabic) meter which did not differentiate between the long and the short syllable.

Translating works from Arabic into Hebrew became a major literary activity in 13th- and 14th-century Italy, as it had been earlier in Provence. One of the great Hebrew translators, Kalonymus b. Kalonymus b. Meir (Maestro Calo), who lived several years in Italy, became the friend of Immanuel of Rome and others of the 'group of the poets' in Rome.

The first Hebrew play, Zaḥut Bediḥuta de-Kiddushin, by Judah Leone b. Isaac *Sommo of Mantua (c. 1527–1592), was written in Italy and may have been performed during the author's lifetime. Sommo stated that he wrote the comedy to demonstrate that the Hebrew language was not dead and that it was capable of expressing contemporary concerns. Apart from this play, and apparently others, Sommo also wrote poetry and was known for his 'Dialogues on Stagecraft,' a discussion in Italian of the history and nature of the theater. However, Sommo's original work was preceded by the Hebrew translation made by Joseph b. Samuel Zarfati (b. in Rome, Giuseppe Gallo; d. 1527) of the Marrano Fernando de *Rojas' important Spanish play, Tragicomedia de Calisto y Malibea (La Celestina). The play, which first appeared in Burgos in 1499, had considerable influence on the development of drama. Although the translation itself has been lost, the translator's prologue is extant (see *Drama).

Leone *Modena, a man of great learning, composed poetry and prose in Hebrew and Italian and also a play in Italian. Moses b. Mordecai *Zacuto, the 17th-century kabbalist and poet, composed two Hebrew plays: Yesod Olam (Berlin, 1875), on the patriarch Abraham, and Tofteh Arukh (Venice, 1715), on punishment after death. Tofteh Arukh ('Prepared Hell'), a play which reflects the influence of Immanuel of Rome, was at one time read as a musar book. Scholars who had read the play at communal gatherings requested the poet Jacob Daniel b. Abraham *Olmo (Ferrara, 1690–1757) to compose a play about the Garden of Eden. Complying with this request, Olmo wrote Eden Arukh ('Eden Prepared'), which was published together with Tofteh Arukh in Venice in 1744. In the 17th century the brothers Jacob and Immanuel *Frances wrote poetry, satire, and polemic. Although subsequently a great deal of Hebrew poetry was composed in Italy, few innovations were introduced until the appearance in the 18th century of Moses Ḥayyim *Luzzatto, who began a new chapter in Hebrew poetry.

France and Germany

In the Middle Ages the Jewish inhabitants of France and Germany constituted a single cultural entity. Although it is probable that secular poetry in the vernacular was composed by Jews living in this area, none of it is extant. The Hebrew poetry of the Jews of France and Germany was initially liturgical (for a further treatment see *Piyyut). In their synagogues the Jews of these countries initially used the piyyutim of Italian Jewry, and those Ereẓ Israel piyyutim which had been adopted in Italy. The first paytanim in France and Germany, who appeared at the beginning of the tenth century, were members of the Kalonymus family (Moses and Meshullam) originating from Italy. In the mid-tenth century *Simeon b. Isaac and *Gershom b. Judah ("the light of the exile") lived there. With the increase in the number of French and German paytanim, two of the greatest medieval paytanim, *Ephraim b. Isaac of Regensburg and *Ephraim b. Jacob of Bonn, made their appearance in the 12th century. Ephraim b. Isaac was the first to use Spanish meter in his piyyutim, and Ephraim b. Jacob integrated short piyyutim into his Sefer Zekhirah, a chronicle of the persecutions suffered by Jews of his time. Although in his Tefillah Tikkaḥ Teḥinna Tivḥar (Oẓar, 473) the 11th-century paytan, *Meir b. Isaac, anticipated Ephraim b. Isaac in the use of the Spanish meter in piyyut, this innovation was not followed up until much later. In the 12th and 13th centuries, *Judah b. Kalonymus and his son, *Eleazar b. Judah of Worms, author of the Sefer Roke'ah, reflected in their piyyutim the sufferings endured by the Jews of their era. In medieval times every rabbi composed piyyutim, since the people wished to hear not only the traditional piyyutim but also new ones expressive of their time and place, and composed by a paytan whom they knew. Although these piyyutim are important from an historical point of view, poetically they contain little originality.

A parody, Leil Shikkorim Hu Zeh ha-Laylah (Oẓar, 721), attributed to *Menahem b. Aaron ibn Zeraḥ, was inserted into the Maḥzor Vitry apparently as a joke. Also extant are the satirical poems Golim Holekhei Derekh (Oẓar 119) of Gomplin, the song, Yom mi-Ẓarefat Yaẓati ("The Day I Left France"), by Isaac, and the jocose poems in Hebrew and Yiddish of Menahem Oldendorf (15th–16th centuries). From the 16th to 18th centuries paytanim and rhymesters, whose poetry is of little value, appeared in France and Germany and in countries to which French and German Jews immigrated, e.g., Bohemia, Russia, and Poland.


Before the expulsion in 1290, paytanim in England, such as *Joseph b. Asher of Chartres, who lamented the pogrom in York (1191), and *Meir b. Elijah of Norwich (13th century) were influenced by the French paytanim. Meir of Norwich, in addition to piyyutim, composed metrical rhymes of four lines in which the first two and last two letters of the line are identical. Secular poetry, some of which was inspired by Spanish poetry, was also written. Indebted to the French fabulist, Marie de France, is the secular poetry found in Mishlei Shualim ("Fox Fables," latest edition, Jerusalem, 1946) by *Berechiah b. Natronai ha-Nakdan, who lived in the 13th century in Normandy and also in England. The work is written in rhymed prose and the fables end with metrical poems.

For the modern period see *Hebrew Literature, Modern. See also *Piyyut (includes a list of paytanim and poets); For a general review, see *Literature, Jewish, Hebrew poetry.

[Abraham Meir Habermann]

Research on Hebrew Poetry in the 1970s

spain and provence

The scholarly research devoted to Medieval Hebrew poetry in the mid-1970s was most notable for the publication of critical editions of the poems of the great poets of Spain. H. Brody and H. *Schirmann published an edition of the secular poems of Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1974), which included 276 original poems and 26 most probably attributable to him, garnered from 97 manuscripts and 93 printed texts. Following their work, Dov Yarden also published an edition of Ibn Gabirol's secular poems, adding in a second volume those edited by Brody and Schirmann, but adding his own interpretation. He cites the manuscripts without giving actual textual variants.

In 1976 Israel Levin published the first book in a series sponsored by the Israel Academy of Sciences, which is to include all the religious poems of Abraham *Ibn Ezra. This volume contains 262 poems out of a total of 478 by him. A commentary distinguished by great clarity accompanies all the poems and complements the description of the poet's work already published by Levin in the monograph, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Ḥayyav ve-Shirav (1970).

Yonah David published in 1974 a critical edition of the poems of the renowned Spanish poet and translator, Nahum ha-Ma'aravi, whose date has been established as circa 1300. Although only 13 religious and two secular poems by him are known, the publication revealed him in all his glory and splendor. He translated the Sefer Yeẓirah of Yizhar Ha-Yisraeli and the Iggeret Teman of Maimonides. Each translation is preceded by a poem in Hebrew by Nahum and his poetry, written in one of the most tempestuous periods of Medieval Jewish history, gives faithful and artistic expression to the period.

A.S. Halkin has published (Mekiẓe Nirdamim, 1975) the translation of the philosophical work of Moses *Ibn EzraSefer ha-Iyyunim ve-ha-Diyyunim. The translation, an outstanding scholarly and precise work, replaces the outdated translation by Ben-Zion Halper (1924; 1966). The volume gives the Arabic original and the translation on opposite pages and includes a detailed introduction, in addition to the commentary. Keter has put out two valuable books in the field of the history of Hebrew poetry. The first, Shirat ha-Kodesh ha-Ivrit Bimei ha-Beinayim (1976) by Ezra Fleischer, describes the development of Hebrew religious poetry from its original center, Ereẓ Israel, to its emergence in Spain, Italy, and Germany. He succeeds admirably in defining the special characteristics of the religious works in relation to their connection with rabbinic literature. Many of the poems are published here for the first time, and it includes an extensive, up-to-date bibliography of research in Hebrew religious poetry. The second book, Ḥiddush u-Masoret be-Shirat ha-Kodesh ha-Ivrit by Dan Pagis, complements Fleischer's volume. Mention should be made also of the monumental work by N. Golb, History and Culture of the Jews of Rouen in the Middle Ages (1976), in which he describes the community with its leaders, supporters, and rabbis, but also deals with the history and language of its poets.


The most significant contribution in the study of the Hebrew poetry of Italy has been the publication of critical editions of the early Italian poets, undertaken by Yonah David. He has thus far published The Poems of Zebadiah (1974), who lived and wrote in southern Italy in the 9th century; The Poems of Amittai (*Amittai ben Shefatiah, 1975), who also wrote in southern Italy (Oriah) at the end of the 9th century; one single kerovah for the fast of the 17th of Tammuz by Yudah ha-Kohen bi-Ribbi Mastiya, one of the first paytanim of Rome, who lived not later than the 10th century (1973); Abraham, known as Ezra bar Mattityah, a paytan of Rome, who lived in the middle of the 12th century and wrote only one work, Yoẓer Le-Pesaḥ (1977); and the piyyutim of Elya bar Shemaiah, who lived in Bari during the second half of the 11th century (American Academy for Jewish Research, 1977). It gives 38 poems collected for the first time.

Dramatic works have not been overlooked. Noam, an oratorio on the Revelation, by Mattitiah Nissim Tireni (Ancona, 1745; died after 1810), has been published in a limited edition of 100 copies.

After the publication of critical editions of two of the plays of Moses Ḥayyim Luzzato (Ma'aseh Shimshon, 1967; Migdal Oz, 1972), David published a comparative study of Luzzato, Ha-Maḥazot shel Moshe Ḥayyim Luẓẓato (1973) and also analyzed the contribution made by him to Hebrew rhetoric and poetics in Moses Ḥayyim Luzzato's Rhetoric and Poetics (A Comparative Study), Jerusalem 1978.

Ezra Fleischer made an important contribution to the study of Hebrew Poetry in Italy with his publication of the piyyutim of Solomon ha-Bavli, who lived and worked in the 11th century and by whom 24 piyyutim are extant (Israel Academy for Sciences, 1973).

Hitherto unknown poetic works of Moses Ḥayyim Luzzato have been discovered and published. They supplement those published by Klar and Ginzburg and provide additional evidence of Luzzato's poetic ability.

Mention should also be made of the new corrected edition of the Ahima'az Scroll, first published in 1944 by B. Klar, to which has been added a seliḥah by the author *Ahimaaz ben Paltiel, Ish Yemini mi-Yoshevei ha-Lishkah (pp. 107–108).

Two additional volumes have been published in the field of piyyut. Fleischer's Pizmonei Ha'anonimus (Israel Academy of Science, 1974) is a critical edition of 580 poems found in a Genizah manuscript in the Cambridge University Library (Ms. add 3363). According to Fleischer, they were by an anonymous paytan who lived in Ereẓ Israel about the end of the 9th century. In his introduction he shows that the pizmonim of the 'Anonymous' have preserved a distant echo of some important developments in the history of Hebrew liturgical poetry in Oriental Jewish communities in the 9th century, which helped bring to a close the period of classical liturgical poetry and led to the emergence of the post-classical period.

In 1977 A. Mirsky published Piyyutei Yose ben Yose, containing 11 piyyutim, which are certainly by him, and four which are also attributed to him. The volume includes a comprehensive introduction dealing with the period and works of Yose.

Developments in the 1980s

During the 1980s, a number of noted scholars in the field of Medieval Hebrew Poetry died, namely: A. *Scheiber, J. *Schirmann, N. Allony, A.M. *Habermann, G. *Vajda, H. Schwarzbaum, D. Jarden, D. Goldschmidt, D. Pagis, Y. *Heinemann, and A.L. Wilsker. Anthologies of articles from their estates, as well as memorial volumes, have begun to appear.

During the 1980s, the decade under review, editions of poetic texts from all the countries of the Diaspora as well as from Ereẓ Israel were published.

editions – poetry

Ereẓ Israel. All the piyyutim of Yannai (Z.M. Rabinowitz); piyyutim of Eleazar Berabbi Kiler (S. Elizur). Babylonia. Rabbi Hai Gaon (Y. Hasida); Eleazar ben Jacob ha-Bavli (D. Jarden); Rabbi Judah Berabbi Benjamin (S. Elizur). Byzantium. Simeon bar Megas (Y. Yahalom). Spain. Joseph Bensuli (Y. David); A. Ibn Ezra (I. Levin); Y. Ibn Ezra (M. Schmelzer); Joseph Ibn Zaddik (Y. David); Samuel ha-Nagid (Ben Mishlei; D. Jarden); Isaac ibn Ghiyyat (Y. David); Judah Halevi (religious poems; D. Jarden); Jehiel ben-Harosh (Y. David); Isaac b. Solomon al-Ahdab (O. Raanan). Provence. Rabbi Zerahiah ha-Levi Gerondi (I. Meiseles). North Africa. Fradji Shawat (E. Hazan).

editions – texts

Prose and Rhymed Prose

"Isaac Polgarzer ha-Dat" (J.S. Levinger); Shem Tov ben Isaac Ardutiel, "Ma'aseh ha-Rav" ("The debate between the pen and the scissors"; Y. Nini and M. Fruchtman); Berechiah ha-Nakdan, Mishle Shu'alim ("Fox Fables"; H. Schwarzbaum); Sippurei ben Sira (E. Yassif).

Monographs and Studies

Topics chosen focused on trends and aims in poetry and prose. (1) Poetry. The following poets and topics were studied and annotated: Judah Halevi (A. Doron; E. Hazan); Samuel ha-Nagid (T. Rosen-Moked; A. Zemach); M. Ibn Ezra (J. Dana); Erez Israel piyyut (Y. Yahalom); Saadiah Gaon (N. Allony); Eliezer Berabbi Kiler (S. Elizur). (2) Types of Hebrew secular poetry (I. Levin; T. Rosen-Moked; R. Tsur; R. Scheindlin; M. Itzhaki, Y. Feldman). (3) Types of Hebrew religious poetry and the piyyut of Erez Israel (E. Fleischer; D. Goldschmidt; J.J. Petuchowski). (4) Hebrew emblem-riddles in Italy (D. Pagis). (5) The history of Hebrew poetry in Spain, Provence, Italy (J. Schirmann) and Morocco (H. Zafrani).

Edited Texts

(1) V.E. Reichert, The Tahkemoni of Judah al-Harizi, an English translation, vol. i, Introduction and Gates 1–15 (Jer., 1965), 234 pp.; vol. ii, Gates 16–50 (Jer., 1973), 443 pp.

(2) E. Hazan, Shirei Fradji Shawat (Jer., 1976), a critical edition of 91 poems by the most famous Hebrew poet in Tunisia, who apparently lived in the 17th century. He came to Tunisia from Fez, Morocco, and composed a total of 900 poems which were largely religious in nature. The real name of the poet was Raphael Malah, who adopted the equivalent Arabic name Fradji Shawat.

(3) Y. Hasida, Rav Hai Gaon, Reshuyyot le-farshiyyot ha-Torah (Jer., 1977), 63 pp.; the book contains 29 poems for sections of the Torah.

(4) R. Bonfils and A.M. Habermann (eds.), Kalonymus ben Kalonymus, Megillat Setarim al Massekhet Purim (Jer., 1977), a facsimile of the first edition published in Pesaro in 1513. Along with 24 pages of text there are 34 facsimile pages. The book contains an article by the translator M.D. Cassuto about Kalonymus in Rome and an introduction by Habermann on Massekhet Purim, its editions and printings.

(5) E. Romero (tr. and ed.), Selomo ibn Gabirol, Poesia secular (Madrid, 1978), 532 pp., with an introduction by Dan Pagis. This is a bilingual edition with selected texts, translations, and notes.

(6) S. Hopkins, A Miscellany of literary pieces from the Cambridge Genizah Collection…Old Series, Box a 45 (Cambridge, 1978), 110 pp.; this work has facsimiles and copies, along with short introductions, and includes piyyutim by Kallir and a fragment from Esa Meshali by Saadiah Gaon.

(7) Y. David, Piyyutei Yosef Bensuli ("The Poems of Joseph Bensuli"), critical edition with introduction and commentary (Jer., 1979), 55 pp. Joseph Bensuli was an important Hebrew poet in Toledo, Spain, at the beginning of the 14th century. Fifteen liturgical collections found in Spain and elsewhere.

(8) H. Schwarzbaum, The Mishle Shualim, 658 p., bibliography, table of narrative types and table of narrative motifs plus a general index. In this comprehensive work the author presents not only competent translations of all the fables, but examines the various sources which influenced them and offers a comparative folkloristic analysis.

(9) Rabbi Shem Tov ben Isaac Ardutiel (or Don Santo de-Carrion), Ma'ase -Harav (The Debate between the Pen and the Scissors; Tel Aviv, 1980), 86 pp., edited with introduction, commentary, and notes by Y. Nini and M. Fruchtman.

(10) I. Levin, Shirei ha-Kodesh shel Avraham Ibn Ezra ("Religious Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra," 1 (Jer., 1975), 522 pp.; 2 (Jer., 1980), 708 pp. Volume one contains 262 poems and volume two has 247 poems.

(11) M.H. Schmelzer, Yizhak ben Avraham Ibn Ezra, Shirim ("Isaac ben Abraham Ibn Ezra, Poems"; New York, 1980), 171 pp., edited on the basis of manuscripts, with an introduction and notes; the book contains a letter and 44 annotated poems.

(12) L.J. Weinberger, Sefer ha-Selihot ke-Minhag Kehillot ha-Romaniyyotim ("Romaniote Penitential Poetry"; New York, 1980), 248 pp.

(13) A. Saenz-Badillos, Tešubot de Dunaš ben Labrat, critical edition and Spanish translation (Granada, 1980), 124 + 164 pp.

(14) A. Scheiber, Geniza Studies (New York, 1981), 570 pp.

(15) Amadis de Gaula (Alilot ha-Abir), Hebrew translation by the physician Jacob di Algaba, first published Constantinople, c. 1541. Critical edition with introduction by Z. Malachi (Tel Aviv, 1981), 240 pp.

(16) Varela Moreno Ma Encarnacion, Tešubot de Yehudi ben Šešet, edited and translated with commentary (Granada, 1981), 117 pp.

(17) Y. David, The Poems of Joseph Ibn Zaddik (Jerusalem, 1982). Joseph Ibn Zaddik (1075–1149) was well known as a Hebrew poet in Cordoba, Spain, at the beginning of the 12th century. This critical edition of his extant poetry, in which 36 poems are collected for the first time, includes liturgical poems, eulogies, love songs, and four lamentation.

(18) D. Jarden, Divan Shemuel Hanagid; vol. 2, Ben Mishlei ("The Son of Proverbs"; Jerusalem, 1982), 478 pp.

(19) L.J. Weinberger (ed.), Bulgaria's Synagogue Poets: The Kastoreans, critical edition with introduction and commentary (Cincinnati, 1983), 175 pp.

(20) I. Levin, Iggeret Hay Ben Mekitz by Abraham lbn Ezra, a critical edition supplemented with a Hebrew translation of the Arabic original Hay Ibn Yaqiẓan by Abu Ali Alḥusain Ibn Abdalla Ibn Sina (Tel Aviv, 1983), 99 pp.

(21) J. Yahalom, Piyyutei Shimon bar Megas (Jerusalem, 1984). The poet Simeon bar Megas lived in Byzantine Palestine in the sixth or seventh century. He is the author of a cycle of over 150 kedushot based on the triennial cycle then current in Palestine. His writings constitute one of the few resources for information on Palestinian Jewry, its practices and customs, during the crucial period of transition from the Byzantine to the Arabic period. Simeon Bar Megas's 218 poems manifest a special ingenuity in vocabulary and inventiveness, in the use of neologisms, poetic form, and structures. They contribute also to knowledge of Palestinian Hebrew, which, according to the editor, was still spoken in Simeon Bar Megas's time, at least in the villages.

(22) J.S. Levinger, Isaac Polgar, Ezer ha-Dat ("A defense of Judaism"), a critical and annotated edition (Tel Aviv, 1984), 197 pp.

(23) D. Jarden, Shirim Ḥadashim le-Rabbi Elazar ben Ya'akov ha-Bavli ("New Poems of Rabbi Eleazar ha-Bavli"), based on manuscripts and printed editions (Jerusalem, 1984), 60 pp.

(24) I. Meiseles, Shirat ha-Maor. The Poems of Rabbi Zerahia ha-Levy (Jer., 1984), 186 pp. critical edition with commentary. The complete collection of the liturgical poems of Rabbi Zeraḥiah ha-Levi Gerondi is presented in this volume, which contains 51 poems collected from 145 manuscripts located in 32 libraries.

(25) L.J. Weinberger, Jewish Poets in Crete (Cincinnati, 1985), 211 pp., a critical edition with introduction and commentary.

(26) Y. Ratzaby, A Dictionary of Judeo-Arabic in R. Saadya's Tafsir (Ramat Gan, 1985), 151 pp.

(27) E. Yassif, Sippurei Ben-Sira bi-Ymei ha-Beinayim (Jer., 1985), 324 pp.

(28) Ma'aseh Zofar, an ancient story first printed in Salonika, c. 1600, republished by Z. Malachi (Lod, 1985), 72 pp., a limited edition of 100 copies.

(29) Y. David, The Poems of Yehiel ben-Harosh (1986), a critical edition with introduction and commentary (Jer., 1986), 65 pp. Rabbi Jehiel ben-Harosh was a theologian, a judge (dayyan), and also a poet of Toledo, Spain, during the 14th century. The poems of Ben-Harosh are offered here in a critical edition of extant works, 15 liturgical poems collected for the first time. The poet was, moreover, a witness of the 1391 massacre in Toledo, and his lamentations give a historical perspective of Jewry in the Middle Ages in Spain.

(30) D. Jarden, Shirei ha-Kodesh le-Rabbi Yehuda Halevi ("The Liturgical Poetry of Judah Halevi," vol. 1: The Winter Festivals (Jer., 1978); vol. 2, The Summer Festivals (Jer., 1980); vol. 3: Other Poems (Jer., 1982); vol. 4, Poems (Jer., 1986)). The four volumes of this edition include 550 poems. In addition to an introduction, a commentary, source references and parallels, and indices are provided.

(31) T. Alsina Trias, Olmo Lete, del. G., El Diwan de Yosef ibn Saddiq, according to the critical edition by Yonah David. Introduction, text, and notes (Barcelona, 1987), 116 pp.

(32) Z.M. Rabinovitz, The Liturgical Poems of Rabbi Yannai according to the Triennial Cycle of the Pentateuch and the Holidays, critical edition with introductions and commentary, vol. i: Introduction, Liturgical Poems to Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus (Jer., 1985), 508 pp.; vol. ii: Liturgical Poems to Numbers, Deuteronomy and Holidays and indexes (Jer., 1987); 444 pp.

(33) Y. David, The Poems of Rabbi Isaac Ibn Ghiyyat (Lucena 1038–Cordoba 1089) (Jer., 1987); the first anthology of 370 poems by this poet.

(34) Sh. Elizur, Rabbi Jehuda Berabbi Binjaminis, Carmina Cuncta. Ex codicibus edidit, prolegominis et notis instruxit (Jer., 1988), 319 pp.

(35) Sh. Elizur, Kedushah ve-Sir Kedushta'ot le-Shabbatot ha-Neḥamah le-Rabbi Eleazar Berabi Kiler, critical edition with commentary and epilogue (Jerusalem 1988), 109 pp.

(36) O. Raanan, The Poems of Ishak ben Shlomo Al-Ahdab based on manuscripts and prints. Critical edition with commentary (Lod, 1988), 152 pp. The 90 poems in this book represent a great variety of a didactic ethical nature and humorous and satiric elements. The poet was born towards the middle of the 14th century in Castile, Spain, and died after 1429, approximately at the age of 80.

(37) The Piyyutim of Rabbi Musa Bujnah of Tripoli (1989), 251 pp., were edited by Ephraim Ḥazan, who also wrote the introduction and notes. The book has two parts: the first describes North African Hebrew poetry and discusses the poet and his period, the genre of his poems and their language, while the second offers 109 piyyutim by this poet. Appendices provide a table of poetic meters, a list of sources, and an index to the piyyutim.

(38) Pirkei Shirah, from the treasure-houses of poetry and piyyut of Jewish communities, were produced by Yehudit Dishon and Ephraim Ḥazan (1990), 166 pp. The book includes, in addition to the introduction of the editors, chapters by Ya'akov Adler on the explication of a poem by Yosé ben Yosé; Yiẓḥak Meizlish on a heretofore unknown personal bakkashah by Zerahiah ha-Levi; Benjamin bar-Tikvah, on a kerovah by Rabbi Berachiah; Judah Razaby, on songs of praise by Joseph ha-Yerushalmi; Hadassah Shai, on a selection from a maqāma by Joseph ben Tanḥum ha-Yerushalmi: Aaron Mirsky, on poems of Israel Najara from his She'erit Yisrael; Ephraim Ḥazan on eight piyyutim by Mandil Avi-Zimra; Meir Wallenstein, on the character of Samuel Vitale according to a poetic letter by Moses Judah Abbas.

(39) Ezra Fleischer's The Proverbs of Sa'id ben Babshad appeared in 1990 (320 pp.). In this book the author publishes fragments of a major collection of proverbs, written by an unknown medieval Hebrew poet, Said ben Babshad, who flourished in Iraq or in Persia at the end of the 10th and beginning of the 11th century. The eleven chapters of the book, in addition to the texts themselves, summarize the progress of this research, the linguistic issues, ideology, and poetics as well as sources of influence upon which the poet drew. The proverbs were culled from 25 manuscripts located in 10 different collections, most prominently from the Cairo Genizah.

(40) Ḥibbat ha-Piyyut was edited by Eliyahu Gabbai. It is a selection of piyyutim representing different Jewish communities. The commentary was provided by Herzl and Balfour Hakkak. This is a second edition, and it appeared in 1990 (258 pp.). The book has 18 chapters.

(41) Federico Peʾrez Castro published Poesia secular Hispano-Hebrea (1989; 399 pp.), which contains translations of 92 Hebrew poems by nine of the most outstanding medieval Hebrew poets, from Menahem ibn Saruq to Judah Halevi. Included are notes and introductions to each poem, edited by H. Schirmann in his Ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit bi-Sefarad u-ve-Provence. There are also a general introduction and bibliography.

(42) Carlos del Valle Rodriguez wrote El Divan Poetico de-Dunash ben Labrat. La introuducion de la metrica arabe (1988), 543 pp. The book has, in addition to an introduction, six chapters: (1) Dunash ben Labrat the man; (2) the poetry of Dunash; (3) language of Dunash; (4) quantitative metrics; (5) a diachronic survey of Hebrew metrics; (6) the terminology of Hebrew poetry. Moreover, all of Dunash's poems (including those of doubted attribution) are printed according to N. Allony's edition. The author added two appendices which cite the most significant works treating Hebrew metrics [text opposite translation], and finally the volume ends with a bibliography, list of terms, and list of names.

Interpretive Works

(1) C.A. Colaḥan, "Santob's Debate between the Pen and the Scissors," Dissertation, University of New Mexico (1977), 360 pp.

(2) A. Doron, "Kivvunim u-Megamot be-Ḥeker Shirato shel Yehudah ha-Levi," Dissertation, Tel Aviv University (1977), 240 pp.

(3) N. Ben-Menahem, Inyanei Ibn-Ezra (Jerusalem, 1978), 373 pp., an anthology of the author's articles on Abraham Ibn Ezra.

(4) E.D. Goldschmidt, On Jewish Liturgy: Essays on Prayer and Religious Poetry (Jerusalem, 1978), 494 pp.

(5) Mishnato ha-Hagutit shel Rabbi Yehudah ha-Levi, published by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Department of Tarbut Toranit (Jerusalem, 1978), 242 pp. The book is divided into four sections: (a) the thought of Judah Halevi, a general discussion, (b) society and state, (c) historical thought, and (d) thought and experience. Eighteen contributors participated in the volume, which was dedicated to the 900th anniversary of the birth of Judah Halevi.

(6) J.J. Petuchowski, Theology and Poetry: Studies in Medieval Piyyut (London, 1978), 153 pp. The book contains ten piyyutim in the original language, as well as in English translation, accompanied by commentary.

(7) J. Schirmann, Le-toledot ha-shirah ve-ha-dramah haivrit ("Studies in the History of Hebrew Poetry and Drama;" Jerusalem, vol. i, 1979, 438 pp., vol. 2, 1980), 376 pp. A year before his death, Schirmann was able to collect the studies and essays which he had published from 1931 through 1978, and arrange them chronologically according to subject matter. Vol. 1 is devoted to early Palestinian piyyut and medieval Spanish and southern French poets. Vol. 2 deals with Hebrew poetry in Italy from its beginnings until approximately 1800, as well as with Hebrew drama during the 16th–18th centuries. The material has been revised and the biography of Judah Halevi rewritten on the basis of the Genizah finds of Shlomo Dov Goitein. This is a monumental work distinguished for its erudition, expertise, and meticulous care in dealing with the literary creativity of more than a thousand years.

(8) I. Levin, Me'il Tashbeẓ, The Embroidered Coat: The Genres of Hebrew Secular Poetry in Spain (Tel Aviv, 1980). The six chapters of the book are divided as follows: (a) the qasida; (b) the war poems of Samuel ha-Nagid; (c) songs of praise; (d) poems of glory; (e) poems of complaint; (f) poems of retribution, apology, and abuse.

(9) Z. Malachi, Be-No'am Si'aḥ, Pleasant Words: Chapters from the History of Hebrew Literature (Lod, 1983). This volume contains articles dealing with five types of subject matter: (a) studies in piyyut; (b) Hebrew poetry in Spain; (c) Medieval Hebrew fiction; (d) the Balbo family of Candia (Crete) in the 15th century; and (e) authors and books of Amsterdam.

(10) A. Ẓemach and T. Rosen-Moked, Yeẓirah Meḥukha mah: Iyyun be-Shirei Shemuel ha-Nagid ("Sophisticated Writing: a Study of Samuel ha-Nagid's Poems"; Jer., 1983), 158 pp. The authors analyze and explain 17 poems by Samuel ha-Nagid. The book includes three short introductions which treat various biographical, thematic, and methodological aspects of the poet's work.

(11) J. Dana, Ha-Po'etika shel-ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit bi Sefarad bi-Ymei ha-Beinayim al-pi Rabbi Moshe ibn Ezra u-Mekoroteha ("Of Medieval Hebrew Literature, According to Moshe Ibn Ezra"; Tel Aviv, 1983), 337 pp. The book contains, in addition to an introduction, chapters devoted to: (a) content and form, (b) the best poem is that which contains the greatest falsehood, (c) the ornaments in poetry, (d) the qualification and image of the poetic outline, (e) M. Ibn Ezra as poetical theorist and as poet, and (f) influence and originality in the poetics of M. Ibn Ezra. There are also a bibliography and indices.

(12) E. Fleischer, Ha-Yoẓerot be-Hithavvutam u-ve-Hitpatteḥutam ("The Yotzer, Its Emergence and Development"; Jerusalem, 1984), 795 pp. This is an illuminating and comprehensive scholarly treatment of a thousand years of the development of the yoẓer form, from its beginnings in Byzantine Palestine (c. the 6th century) to its decline in the European Jewish centers. Over two hundred unpublished selections from the Cairo Genizah are employed by the author, the first work of its kind in Hebrew.

(13) H. Zafrani, Poesie juive au Maroc, (ed. Yosef Tobi; Jer., 1984), 210 pp.

(14) A. Doron, Yehuda Ha-Levi: Repercusion de su obra, with a biographical sketch of Judah Halevi by Fernando Diaz Estaban (Barcelona, 1985).

(15) J. Dishon, Sefer Sha'ashuim le-Yosef ben Meir ibn Zabara ("The Book of Delight Composed by Joseph ben Meir Zabara"; Jerusalem, 1985), 292 pp.

(16) Studies in the Work of Shlomo Ibn-Gabirol (Zvi Malachi (ed.), Hanna David (co-ed.); Tel Aviv, 1985). The book contains two collections of articles. The first is dedicated to the philosophical elements in the poetry of Ibn Gabirol, while the second deals with the types of poems by him and the characteristics of his poetry. There were 12 contributors in addition to the editor.

(17) J. Yahalom, Sefer ha-Shir shel ha-Piyyut ha-Ereẓ-Yisraeli ha-Kadum ("Poetic Language in the Early Piyyut"; Jer., 1985), 218 pp. This study deals with the language of the early Ereẓ Israel piyyutim which struggled to maintain its independence between the natural needs of expression, rooted in the spoken language, and the archaic literary tradition characteristic of the piyyutim. During this confrontation there developed a new independent literary language which bridges the ancient times and the Middle Ages; its distinctive signs are developed and expanded in this work.

(18) Y. Silman, Bein Filosof le-Navi: Hitpatteḥut Haguto shel R. Yehuda ha-Levi be-Sefer ha-Kuzari ("Thinker and Seer: The Development of the Thought of R. Yehuda Halevi in the Kuzari"; Ramat Gan, 1985), 325 pp.

(19) T. Rosen-Moked, Le-Ezor Shir ("The Hebrew Girdle Poem (Muwashshah) in the Middle Ages"; Haifa, 1985), 245 pp.

(20) N. Allony, Meḥkarei Lashon ve-Sifrut: Pirkei Sa'adiah Gaon (Jer., 1986), 400 pp.

(21) E. Ḥazan, Torat ha-Shir be-Fiyyut ha-Sefardi le- Or Shirat ha-Kodesh shel R. Yehuda ha-Levi ("The Poetics of the Sephardi Piyyut According to the Liturgical Poetry of Yehuda Halevi"; Jer., 1986), 340 pp.; this work, with introduction, appendices and indices, discusses meter, rhyme, and euphonic word-texture: language, methods of formulation and imagery, and structural methods.

(22) Dan Pagis, Al Sod Ḥatum ("A Secret Sealed," Hebrew Baroque Emblem-Riddles from Italy and Holland; Jerusalem, 1986). This work deals with Hebrew riddles which developed in Italy and Holland in a 200-year period, 1650–1850. The ten chapters of the book cover: the field and its study; the origin of the emblem-riddle and foreign languages; the literary riddle as a social genre; the social role of the emblem-riddle; the "emblem-riddle" and related subjects; tricks of language; Aramaic, Hebrew, and the random interpolation of the key word; the body of the emblem-riddle; the unit of the false "solution," three emblem-riddles by Rabbi Moses Zacuto. There are also indices, bibliography, and an English summary.

(23) R.P. Scheindlin, Wine, Women, and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good-Life (Philadelphia, New York, Jerusalem, 1986), 204 pp. The author presents the original Hebrew poem along with his own English translation, followed by commentary which explains its cultural context. Included are 31 poems, grouped into three categories: (a) Wine, description of or meditations on the wine party, a conventional Arabic social gathering; (b) Women, Golden Age poems of love and desire; (c) Death, mellow reflections on the brevity of life. Among the poets whose work is represented in this collection are: Samuel ha-Nagid, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Moses Ibn Ezra, and Judah Halevi.

(24) M. Itzḥaki, "Ani Hashar": Studies in Secular Poetry in Spain (Tel Aviv, 1986), 133 pp. This work discusses a number of poems by Samuel ha-Nagid, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Moses ibn Ezra, and Judah Halevi in the light of normative poetics of the period.

(25) I. Levin, Ha-Sod ve-ha-Yesod ("Mystical Trends in the Poetry of Solomon Ibn Gabirol"; Lod, 1986), 174 pp.

(26) Y. Feldman, Bein ha-Kotavim le-Kav ha-Mashveh ("Semantic Patterns in the Medieval Hebrew Qasida": Tel Aviv, 1987), 130 pages. The author analyzes through semantic deductions six qasidot by Moses Ibn Ezra and thereby demonstrates significant principles of structure which are based on two patterns of organization: opposition or polarization and comparison.

(27) M. Itzḥaki, Ha-Ḥai Ge en ve-ha-Mawet Boẓer ("Man-the Vine; Death-the Reaper: The Tocheha Hebrew Admonishment Poetry of Spain"; Tel Aviv, 1987), 82 pp.

(28) R. Tsur, Ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit bi-Ymei ha-Beinayim be-Perspektivah Kefulah: Ha-Kore ha-Versatili ve-Shirat Sefarad ("Medieval Hebrew Poetry in a Double Perspective: The Versatile Reader and Hebrew Poetry in Spain." Papers in Cognitive Poetics; Tel Aviv, 1987), 221 pp. The book deals with medieval literature from three perspectives: (a) the analysis and evaluation of the poems as the result of interaction between the ideational generic figurative, and prosodic dimensions as objects of perceived meaning; (b) the skills necessary for a versatile reader to be able to respond to a wide range of literary styles; (c) the contemporary reader's confrontations with the styles of a far-distant literary period.

(29) S. Elitzur. Piyyutei Eleazer berabbi Kiler (Jer., 1988), 430 pp.

Additional Bibliography on Individual Subjects

(1) Todros ha-Levi Abulafia (1989), 234 pp., was published by Aviva Doron. Todros ha-Levi Abulafia was born in Toledo some hundred years after the transfer of the Jewish cultural centers from Muslim Andalusia to Christian Spain. This book describes the poetry of the Hebrew-Castilian poet against the background of the cultural crossroads in which he lived and worked. The book comprises, in addition to an introduction, a selected bibliography, and three indices (poems treated in the book, subject, and name) eight chapters: (a) the author and his times; (b) Todros ha-Levi, a Hebrew author at the crossroads of literary streams; (c) national and religious expressions in the language of Todros's personal poetry; (d) time in his poetry; (e) the attitude of the poet towards his poetry; (f) love poems; (g) methods of structural and rhetorical design in his poems; (h) comments on a selection of poems from Gan ha-Meshalim ve-ha-Ḥidot.

(2) Rina Drory's The Emergence of Jewish Arabic Literary Contacts at the Beginning of the Tenth Century appeared in 1988. In addition to an introduction and summary, the book has six chapters: (a) the structure of the Jewish literary system at the beginning of the 10th century; (b) the consolidation of Hebrew and Arabic as the written languages for the Jewish literary system; (c) unequivocal literary patterns: Karaite patterns; (d) ambivalent literary patterns: wisdom proverbs; (e) biblical treatment; (f) the role of Saadiah Gaon in contacts with Arabic literature. Indices of names and of works conclude this important contribution to the field.

(3) Yehuda Halevi, a selection of critical essays on his poetry, selected with an introduction by Aviva Doron, was published in 1988, 285 pp. It has (a) studies into the biography of the poet by H. Schirmann, S.D. Goitein, and Yosef Yahalom; (b) articles on his poems – a total of 16 items by Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik, Franz Rosenzweig, Ben-Zion Dinur, Michael Ish-Shalom, Yitzḥak Heinemann, Aryeh Ludwig Strauss, Yisrael Levin, Moshe Schwartz, Adi Zemaḥ, Aharon Mirsky, Reuven Zur, Dov Sadan, Ezra Fleischer, Ẓevi Malachi, Ephraim Ḥazan, and Aviva Doron; (c) five appendices – Samuel David Luzzatto's Betulat Bat-Yehudah (1840); a diwan by Judah Halevi; from Michael Sachs' Religious Poetry of the Jews (1845); Heinrich Ḥayyim Brody's Rosh Davar' to a diwan by the poet; and from Fritz Yitzḥak Baer's The History of Jews in Christian Spain (1945).

(4) Abraham Ibn Ezra y su tiempo, the acts of an international symposium held in Madrid, Tudela, and Toledo on February 1–8, 1989, 396 pp., appeared in 1990. This book contains the 45 lectures given by international scholars at the symposium held in honor of the 900th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Ibn Ezra.

Jubilee and Memorial Volumes

(1) Shai le-Heiman (A.M. Habermann Jubilee Volume), edited by Z. Malachi with the assistance of Y. David (Jer., 1977), 385 pp. This volume contains 21 articles, a bibliography of Habermann's works and an index to piyyutim he published, prepared by Y. David.

(2) J. Blau, S. Pines, M.J. Kister, S. Shaked (eds.), Ḥakkirei Mizraḥ (Studia Orientalia, Memoriae D.H. Baneth Dedicata) (Jer., 1979), 407 pp.

(3) G. Nahon and Ch. Touati, Hommage a G. Vajda. Etudes d'histoire et de pensé juive édités par… (Louvain, 1980), 604 pp. The 40 contributions dealt with Judaica studies.

(4) Z. Malachi (ed.), Yad le-Heiman (The A.M. Habermann Memorial Volume; Lod, 1983), 434 pp. The five sections of the book deal with Medieval Hebrew literature, the heritage of Eastern Jewry after the Expulsion from Spain, bibliography and study of the Hebrew book, the history of liturgy and customs, and the memory of Prof. Habermann.

(5) Le-Zikhro shel Ḥayyim Schirmann, published by the Israel National Academy of Science (Jer., 1984). The essays included are "The Position of Prof. Schirmann in the Study of Hebrew Poetry," by S. Abramson; "On Retribution and Redemption in the Religious Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra," by I. Levin, and "Ups and Downs in Ancient Hebrew Poetry," by A. Mirsky.

(6) Z. Malachi (ed), Be-Oraḥ Mada (Aharon Mirsky Jubilee Volume, essays on Jewish Culture; Lod, 1986), 619 pp. In addition to a selected bibliography of the works of A. Mirsky, the book contains essays on Jewish studies, on Hebrew poetry in Spain and North Africa, on poetry and piyyut and culture.

(7) G.J. Blidstein, Y. Salmon, E. Yassif (eds.), Eshel Beer-Sheva ("Essays in Jewish Studies in Memory of Professor Nehemia Allony"; Beersheba, 1986), 371 pp. A bibliography of the works of Nehemiah Allony prepared by R. Attal is included.

Anthologies and Collections

(1) J. Rothenberg, H. Lenowitz, and Ch. Doria, A Big Jewish Book; Poems and Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to the Present (New York, 1978), 633 pp.

(2) K. Bosley, The Elek Book of Oriental Verse (London, 1979).

(3) D. Pagis (ed.), Ke-Ḥut ha-Shani ("The Scarlet Thread; Hebrew love poems from Spain, Italy, Turkey and the Yemen"; Tel Aviv, 1979), 120 pp. an anthology of 99 poems by 23 poets, dating from the 10th to the 19th centuries. The poems are arranged in 12 sections by subject and motif rather than according to chronological order.

(4) Abraham ibn Ezra Reader, annotated texts with introduction and commentary, by I. Levin, edited by M. Arfa (Tel Aviv, 1985), 438 pp.

(5) Angel Saenz-Badillos and Judit Targarona Borras published an anthology, Poetas Hebreos de-al-Andalus (Siglos x–xii), in 1988, 232 pp. This is the first anthology of its type to appear in Spain: it offers selections from 12 of the greatest Hebrew poets of Spain, beginning with Menahem ibn Saruq and ending with Abraham Ibn Ezra. The text, in an excellent translation, is accompanied by a selected bibliography.

(6) Aharon Mirsky's 731-page Ha-Piyyut, The Development of Post-Biblical Poetry in Eretz-Israel and the Diaspora, appeared in 1990. This large, excellent anthology contains 45 articles representing 40 years of research in the field. There are three sections to the book: (1) 16 articles on the sources of the prayers and the initial steps toward piyyut in the Bible; post-biblical poetry; poetry in the talmudic period; delineation of the characteristics of ancient poetry; the schools within ancient Hebrew poetry; the piyyut tradition in the Land of Israel; and other items.

(2) 15 articles on innovations introduced by early post-biblical poetry, including language and the poetic form; the significance of rhyme in Hebrew poetry; clarification and explication of the language of poetry, and so on;

(3) 14 articles on Hebrew poetry in Spain and Germany and the nature of the poetry which began anew in the eastern countries in the 17th and 18th centuries; evaluations of four important poets – Dunash ben Labrat, Rabbenu Gershom Meor ha-Golah, Judah al-Ḥarizi, and Israel Najara. The book ends with indices on subjects, piyyutim and paytanim.


(1) J. Heinemann and A. Shinan, Tefillot ha-Keva veha-Ḥovah shel Shabbat ve-Yom Ḥol (Tel Aviv, 1977), 131 pp., deals with the weekday and Sabbath liturgy and includes explication, history, and discussion of their structure.

(2) J. Heinemann, Prayer in the Talmud (Berlin, 1977), a revised English edition of the 1964 Hebrew-language version.

(3) H.G. Cohen (ed.), Ha-Tefillah ha-Yehudit ("Prayer in Judaism: Continuity and Change"; Jerusalem, 1978), 292 pp.

(4) J. Heinemann, Iyyunei Tefillah ("Studies in Jewish Liturgy"; Jerusalem, 1981), edited by A. Shinan, 205 pp.

(5) A. Mirsky, Yesodei Ẓurot ha-Piyyut ("The Original Forms of Early Hebrew Poetry"; Jer., 1985), 134 pp., deals with ancient Ereẓ Israel poetry.

(6) A.M. Habermann, Al ha-Tefillah ("Essays on Prayers"), edited by Z. Malachi (Lod, 1987), 148 pp. This collection is made up of various essays on prayers published during the author'slifetime.

(7) The monumental (posthumous) work by D. Gold-schmidt, Meḥkare Tefillah u-Fiyyut.

facsimiles and bibliographies

(1) D.S. Loewinger (ed.), Osef Piyyutei Sepharad ("Collection of Spanish Piyyutim"; Jerusalem, 1977), 264 pp. Facsimile edition based on Ms. 197 in the David Guenzberg Collection. Lenin Public Library, Moscow.

(2) J. Yahalom (ed.), Kit'ei ha-genizah shel piyyutei Yannai ("A Collection of Genizah Fragments of Yannai's Liturgical Poems"; Jerusalem, 1978), 214 pp.

(3) E. Koren, The Alphabetical Index to Israel Najara's Poems (Tel Aviv, 1978), 44 pp.

(4) D. Carpi (ed.), Bibliotheca Ital 0-Ebraica: Bibliografia per la storia degli Ebrei in Italia 1964–1973, collected by A. Luzzato and M. Moldavi (Rome, 1982).

(5) D. Pagis, E. Fleischer (eds.), Y. David (co-editor), A Bibliography of the Writings of Prof Jefim (Haim) Schirmann (1904–1981) (Jer., 1983), 48 pp.

(6) "Bibliography of the Writings of G. Vajda", in: Da'at, 10 (1983), 53–66,125–126.

(7) R. Attal, Kitvei Professor Nehemya Allony ("A bibliography of the writings of Prof. N. Allony"; Beersheba, 1984), 33 pp.

(8) Y. Ganuz, Bibliografiyyah shel Kitvei Ḥayyim Schwarzbaum be-Ḥeker ha-Folklore ha-Yehudi ve-ha-Aravi, in: Yeda-Am, 22 (1984; no. 51–52), 10–19.

(9) M. Beit-Arie, The Only Dated Medieval Manuscript Written in England (1189 c.e.) and the Problem of Pre-Expulsion Anglo-Hebrew Manuscripts (Appendix 1 by M. Banitt; appendix 2 by Z.E. Rokeaḥ), London 1985, 56 pp.

(10) Y. David, "A Decade of Research on Medieval Hebrew Literature," in: Jewish Book Annual, 43 (1985–1986), 107–117;

(11) J. Yahalom, Maḥzor Ereẓ Yisrael, Kodex ha-Genizah with a paleographic introduction by E. Engel, facsimile edition (1988), 148 pp.

(12) Ḥeqer ha-Shirah ve-ha-Piyyut ("Research in Poetry and Piyyut") 1948–1978, a cumulative index-bibliography was published by Ben-Gurion University in 1989. There are 451 pages in Hebrew and 31 in other languages. The editors were Gisella Davidson, Elhanan Adler, Pinḥas Ziv, and Amira Kehat.

(13) The Catalogue of the Jack Mosseri Collection appeared, edited by the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, with the collaborations of numerous specialists (1990), 407 pages, with a foreword by Claude Mosseri and a preface by Israel Adler. The catalogue contains, in addition to a concordance of call-numbers and indices of titles, subjects, authors, places, dates, languages, copyists and persons mentioned, and melody indications, a listing on piyyut and poetry-genres, subjects, and forms and incipits of the piyyutim and the poems.

[Yonah David]

Developments from 1990 to 2005

editions, hebrew texts

E. Fleischer, Mishle Sa'id ben Babshad (1990); A. Sáenz-Badillos & J. Targarona, Šĕmu'el ha-Nagid. Poemas. I, Desde el campo de batalla (Granada 1038–1056) (1990); A. Sáenz-Badillos, J. Targarona & A. Doron, Judah ha-Levi, Poemas. Shirim (1994); A. Sáenz-Badillos & J. Targarona, Šemu'el ha-Nagid. Poemas. ii, En la corte de Granada (1998); N. Allony, Shirim Genuzim: Shirim Ḥadashim mi-Genizat Kahir, ed. J. Tobi (2001).

studies, history, criticism

R. Brann, The Compunctious Poet (1991); D. Pagis, Hebrew Poetry of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (1991); F. Corriente & A. Sáenz-Badillos, Poesía estrófica (1991); A. Sáenz-Badillos, El alma lastimada: Ibn Gabirol (1992); D. Pagis & E. Fleischer, Ha-Shir Davur 'alOfanav: Meḥkarim u-Masot ba-Shirah ha-Ivrit shel Yeme ha-Beinayim (1993); A. Schippers, Spanish Hebrew Poetry and the Arab Literary Tradition: Arabic Themes in Hebrew Andalusian Poetry (1994); D. Bregman, Shevil ha-Zahav: ha-Sonet ha-'Ivri bi-Tekufat ha-Renesans ve-ha-Barok (1995); E. Hazan, Ha-Shirah ha-'Ivrit bi-Ẓefon Afrikah (1995); I. Levin, Me'il Tashbeẓ: ha-Sugim ha-Shonim shel Shirat ha-Ḥol ha-'Ivrit bi-Sefarad (1995); J. Schirmann, & E. Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Muslim Spain (Heb., 1995).

T. Vardi, "Adat ha-Nognim be-Saragosah, Shirat ha-Ḥol" (diss. 1996); D. Bregman, Ẓeror Zehuvim: Sonetim Ivriyyim mi-Tekufat ha-Renesans ve-ha-Barok (1997); P. Fenton, Philosophie et exégèse dans Le Jardin de la méthaphore de Moïse Ibn 'Ezra, philosophe et poète andalou du xiie siècle (1997); S. Kats, Benot-ha-Shir ha-Na'vot: Hebetim Po'etiyim, Ḥevratiyyim ve-Historiyyim bi-Yeẓiratam shel Meshorere-Sefarad (1997); T. Rosen, Shirat ha-Ḥol ha-Ivrit bi-Ymei-ha-Beinayim (1997); J. Schirmann, & E. Fleischer, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France (Heb., 1997); I. Levin, Tanim ve-Khinor: Ḥurban, Galut, Nakam u-Ge'ulah ba-Shirah ha-Ivrit ha-Le'ummit (1998); J. Chetrit, Piyiut ve-Shirah be-Yahadut Maroko: Asupat Meḥkarim al Shirim ve-al Meshorerim (1999); R.P. Scheindlin, Wine, Women, & Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life. (1999); D. Bregman, Sharsheret ha-Zahav: ha-Sonet ha-Ivri le-Dorotav (2000); R. Drory, Models and Contacts. Arabic Literature and Its Impact on Medieval Jewish Culture (2000).

R. Brann, Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Jews and Muslims in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Islamic Spain (2002); S. Einbinder, Beautiful Death: Jewish Poetry and Martyrdom in Medieval France (2002); A. Tanenbaum, The Contemplative Soul: Hebrew Poetry and Philosophical Theory in Medieval Spain (2002); T. Rosen, Unveiling Eve: Reading Gender in Medieval Hebrew Literature (2003); A. Brenner, Isaac ibn Khalfun: a Wandering Hebrew Poet of the Eleventh Century (2003); J. Targarona & A. Sáenz-Badillos (eds.), Poesía hebrea en al-Andalus (2003); S. Elizur, Shirat ha-Ḥol ha-Ivrit bi-Sefarad ha-Muslemit (2004); M.M. Hamilton, S.J. Portnoy, et al. Wine, Women and Song: Hebrew and Arabic Literature of Medieval Iberia (2004); J. Tobi & M. Rosovsky, Proximity and Distance: Medieval Hebrew and Arabic Poetry (2004); Joseph ben Tanhum, Arugot ha-Besamim, ed. J. Dishon (2005).


M.J. Cano, Ibn Gabirol, Poesía religiosa (1992); C. del Valle, Isaac ben Jalfón de Córdoba: poemas (1992); M. Itzhaki, M. Garel, et al. Jardin d'Eden jardins d'Espagne: poésie hébraïque médiévale en Espagne et en Provence: anthologie bilingue (1993); P. Cole, Selected poems of Shmuel HaNagid (1996); L.J. Weinberger, Twilight of a Golden Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra (1997); I. Goldberg, Solomon ibn Gabirol: a Bibliography of His Poems in Translation (1998); M. Itzhaki & M. Garel, Poésie hébraïque amoureuse: de l'Andalousie à la mer Rouge: anthologie bilingue (2000); P. Cole, Selected poems of Solomon Ibn Gabirol (2001).

[Angel Sáenz-Badillos (2nd ed.)]


biblical: L. Alonso Schökel, A Manual of Hebrew Poetics (1988); R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (1985); idem, "The Characteristics of Ancient Hebrew Poetry," in: R. Alter and F. Kermode (eds.), The Literary Guide to the Bible (1987); A. Berlin, Biblical Poetry through Medieval Jewish Eyes (1991); idem, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism (1985); idem, "Introduction to Hebrew Poetry," in: The New Interpreter's Bible, 4:301–15 (1996); idem, "Motif and Creativity in Biblical Poetry," in: Prooftexts, 3 (1983), 231–41; idem, "Reading Biblical Poetry," in: M. Brettler and A. Berlin (eds.), The Jewish Study Bible (2004), 2097–104; Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia, ed. A. Dotan (2001); Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977); M. Black, "Metaphor," in: M. Johnson (ed.), Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor (1981), 63–82 (reprint of Proceedings from the Aristotelian Society, N.S. 55 (1954–55), 273–94; T.V.F. Brogan, "Poetry," in: A. Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan (eds.), The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993), 938–42; G. Buccellati, "On Poetry – Theirs and Ours," in: T. Abush, J. Huenergard, P. Steinkeller (eds.), Lingering Over Words (1990), 105–34; W.T.W. Cloete, "The Colometry of Hebrew Verse," in: Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages, 15 (1989) 15–29; idem, "A Guide to the Techniques of Hebrew Verse," in: jnsl, 16 (1990), 223–28; idem, "Verse and Prose: Does the Distinction Apply to the Old Testament?" in: jnsl, 14 (1988), 9–15; T. Collins, Line-Forms in Hebrew Poetry: A Grammatical Approach to the Stylistic Study of the Hebrew Prophets (1978); H. Fisch, Poetry with a Purpose: Biblical Poetics and Interpretation (1988); J.P. Fokkelman, Major Poems of the Hebrew Bible at the Interface of Hermeneutics and Structural Analysis (1998); idem, Reading Biblical Poetry: An Introductory Guide, trans. I. Smit (2001); D.N. Freedman, "Pottery, Poetry, and Prophecy: An Essay on Biblical Poetry," in: jbl, 96 (1977), 5–26; N. Friedman, "Imagery," in: Alex Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan (eds.), The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993), 559–66; P. Fussell, Poetic Meter & Poetic Form (1979); S. Geller, "The Language of Imagery in Psalm 114," in: T. Abush, J. Huehnergard, P. Steinkeller (eds.), Lingering Over Words (1990), 105–34; idem, Parallelism in Early Biblical Poetry (1979); S. Gevirtz, Patterns in the Early Poetry of Israel (1963); S.E. Gillingham, The Poems and Psalms of the Hebrew Bible (1994); G.B. Gray, The Forms of Hebrew Poetry (1972); J. Greenfield, "'The 'Cluster' in Biblical Poetry," in: Maarav, 5–6 (1990), 159–68; E. Greenstein, "Aspects of Biblical Poetry," in: Jewish Book Annual, 44 (1986–87), 33–42; idem, "Robert Alter on Biblical Poetry: A Review Essay," in: Hebrew Studies, 27 (1986), 82–94; The Holy Scriptures (Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 1988); B. Hrushovski, "The Meaning of Sound Patterns in Poetry," in: Poetics Today, 2 (1980) 39–56; idem, "Prosody, Hebrew," in: Encyclopaedia Judaica, 13:1195–240 (1971); J. Kugel, The Great Poems of the Bible (1999); idem, The Ideal of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History (1981); idem, "Some Thoughts on Future Research into Biblical Style: Addenda to The Idea of Biblical Poetry," in: jsot, 28 (1984), 107–17; K. Kenneth, "Recent Perspectives on Biblical Poetry," in: Religious Studies Review, 19 (1993), 321–27; F. Landy, "Poetics and Parallelism: Some Comments on James Kugel's The Idea of Biblical Poetry," in: jsot, 28 (1984), 61–87; idem, "Recent Developments in Biblical Poetics," in: Prooftexts, 7 (1987), 163–205; M. Lichtenstein, "Biblical Poetry," in: B.W. Holtz (ed.), Back to the Sources (1984), 105–27; R. Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (1847); P.D. Miller, Jr., "Meter, Parallelism, and Tropes: The Search for Poetic Style," in: jsot, 28 (1984), 99–106; J. Muilenburg, "Poetry: Biblical Poetry," in: Encyclopaedia Judaica, 13:671–93 (1971); A. Niccacci, "Analysing Biblical Hebrew Poetry," in: jsot, 74 (1997), 77–93; M. O'Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure (1997); D. Orton (ed.), Poetry in the Hebrew Bible: Selected Studies from Vetus Testamentum (2000); S. Paul, Amos (1991); D.L. Petersen, David and K.H. Richards, Interpreting Hebrew Poetry (1992); E. Reiner, Your Thwarts in Pieces, YourMooring Rope Cut: Poetry from Babylonia and Assyria (1985); I.A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936); E. Spicehandler, "Hebrew Poetry," in: A. Preminger and T.V.F. Brogan (eds.), The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993), 501–9; Tanakh: The Traditional Hebrew Text and the New jps Translation (19992); W.G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques (1995); idem, "Problems and Solutions in Hebrew Verse: A Survey of Recent Work," in: vt, 43 (1993), 372–84; idem, Traditional Techniques in Classical Hebrew Verse (1994); E.R. Wendland, "The Discourse Analysis of Hebrew Poetry: A Procedural Outline," in: E. Wendland (ed.), Discourse Perspectives on Hebrew Poetry in the Scriptures (1994); M. West, "Looking for the Poem: Reflections on the Current and Future Status of the Study of Biblical Hebrew Poetry," in: P. House (ed.), Beyond Form Criticism: Essays in Old Testament Literary Criticism (1992), 423–31; Z. Zevit, "Psalms at the Poetic Precipice," in: Harvard Annual Review, 10 (1986), 351–66; idem, "Roman Jakobson, Psycholinguistics, and Biblical Poetry," in: jbl, 109 (1990), 385–401. medieval hebrew secular: spain and provence: For editions and studies of individual authors, see the individual articles. Davidson, Ozar, 4 vols. (1924–33); second enlarged edition with general introduction by Ḥ. Schirmann (1970); Ḥ. Schirmann, in: ks, 26 onward (from 1950 onward), annual bibliography of research in secular and sacred poetry; Schirmann, Sefarad (19612), an anthology of poetry in Spain and Provence, with an introduction on each poet, and a bibliography; idem, La poésie hebraique du Moyen Age en Espagne, in: Mélanges de Philosophie et de Littérature juives (1962), 171–210; idem, Shirim Ḥadashim min ha-Genizah (1965); idem, "Problems in the Study of Post-Biblical Hebrew Poetry," in: Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2 (1967), 228–36; A.M. Habermann, Toledot ha-Piyyut ve-ha-Shirah (1970); B. Halper, The Scansion of Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry, in: jqr, 4 (1913/14), 153–224; J. Schirmann, "La métrique quantitative dans la poésie hébraïque du Moyen Age," in: Sefarad, 8 (1948), 323–32; D. Yellin, Torat ha-Shirah ha-Sefaradit (1939); S. Abramson, Bi-Leshon Kodemim (1965); D. Pagis, Shirat ha-Ḥol ve-Torat ha-Shir le-Moshe ibn Ezra u-Venei Zemanno (1970); J. Schirmann, "The Function of the Hebrew Poet in Medieval Spain," in: jsos, 16 (1954), 235–52; J. Weiss, Tarbut Ḥaẓranit ve-Shirah Ḥaẓranit (1948); S.D. Goitein, "Ha-Makamah ve-ha-Maḥberet – Perek be-Toledot ha-Sifrut ve-ha-Ḥevrah be-Mizraḥ," in: Maḥbarot le-Sifrut, 5 (1951), 25–40; I. Goldziher, "Bemerkungen zur neuhebraeischen Trauerpoesie," in: jqr, 14 (1901/02), 719–36; J. Schirmann, "The Ephebe in Medieval Hebrew Poetry," in: Sefarad, 15 (1955), 58–68; I. Levin, "Zeman ve-Tevel be-Shirat ha-Ḥol ha-Ivrit be-Sefarad bi-Ymei ha-Beinayim," in: Oẓar Yehudei Sefarad, 5 (1962), 68–79; J. Schirmann, "Der Neger und die Negerin; Zur Bildersprache und Stottwahl der Spanisch-Hebraeischen Dichtung," in: mgwj, 83 (1939), 481–92; S.M. Stern, Hispano-Arabic Strophic Poetry; studies selected and edited by L.P. Harvey (1974); D. Yellin, Hebrew Poetry in Spain, edited with an introduction by A.M. Habermann (vol. 3 of a proposed 7-volume edition of the writings of David Yellin); D. Pagis, Change and Tradition in the Secular Poetry: Spain and Italy (1976). add. bibliography: A. Sáenz-Badillos, in: Miscelánea de Estudios Árabes y Hebraicos, 50:2 (2001), 133–61; A. Tanenbaum, in: Hebrew Scholarship and the Medieval World (2001), 171–85; T. Rosen, in: The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies (2002), 241–94. italy: B. Klar (ed.), Megillat Aḥima'aẓ (1945); Schirmann, Italy; idem (ed.), Ẓaḥut Bediḥuta de-Kiddushin (1946); P. Naveh (ed.), Kol Shirei Ya'akov Frances (1969); S. Bernstein (ed.), Divan le-Rabbi Immanu'el ben David Frances (1932); C. Roth, The Jews in the Renaissance (1959); Y. David, The Poems of Elya bar Shemaya, Critical edition with introductions and commentary (1977). france and germany: I. Elbogen et al., Germania Judaica (1934); A.M. Habermann, Piyyutei Rabbi Shimon bar Yiẓḥak (1938); idem, Gezerot Ashkenaz ve-Ẓarefat (1966); idem, Hebrew Poems of Meir of Norwich (1966); idem, in ymḤsi, 2 (1936), 92–115; idem, in: Sinai, 15 (1945), 288–98; S. Spiegel, in: L. Finkelstein (ed.), The Jews, their History, Culture, and Religion, 1 (19603), 854–92. maqĀma: Y. Ratzaby, Yalkut ha-Maqama ha-Ivrit, Sippurim be-Ḥaruzim (1974), selections from maqamot of 32 authors from Solomon ibn Zakbel to Bialik, with a detailed introduction and notes. piyyut: D. Gold-schmidt, Meḥkarei Tefilah (1979); J. Yahalom, The Syntax of Ancient Piyyut (including Yannai) as a Basis for its Style (1974).


views updated May 21 2018


Marianne Moore

The poem "Poetry" was first published in a literary journal in 1919. Later, it was included in three of Moore's books: Observations, Collected Poems, and Complete Poems. The poem varies in length with each publication, changing from thirteen lines to almost forty lines, and then to three lines, respectively. In "Poetry," the speaker opens the poem by claiming that she "dislikes … all this fiddle"—meaning poetry. In a tone that is both authoritative and witty, the speaker then goes on to develop her argument, carefully cataloging many of poetry's shortcomings. Occasionally, she illustrates her logic by using carefully chosen images. The speaker says that one of poetry's biggest flaws occurs when it lacks genuineness. She insists that poetry should combine both imagination and reality. She illustrates this point by saying that true poetry is able to present "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." This metaphor has become one of the most widely cited metaphors for poetry. Ironically, through the speaker's exploration of what is "derivative" and "unintelligible" in poetry, this poem proves the merits of poetry. It offers the very model of what "genuine" poetry is, and it exemplifies how valuable good poetry can be.

Author Biography

Marianne Moore was born to John Milton Moore and Mary Warner Moore on November 15, 1887, in Kirkwood, Missouri. Moore never knew her father, who had been committed to an asylum some months before her birth; she lived near St. Louis with her mother, brother, and grandfather until the age of seven. The family then moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where her mother taught English at the Metzger Institute for Girls. Moore attended Metzger Institute as a girl, later attending Bryn Mawr College, where she took a bachelor's degree in biology and histology in 1909.

Moore's early poetry was published in the literary magazine of Bryn Mawr College. She also first became aware of new trends in the arts through the influence of Goddard King, a Bryn Mawr lecturer in comparative literature and art history who was among the early champions of Picasso and other modern European painters. After graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1909, Moore completed a business course at Carlisle Commercial College before taking a European vacation with her mother, visiting France and England. When she returned to the United States, Moore began a career as a teacher of English and business subjects at the United States Industrial Indian School in her hometown of Carlisle.

Although she had published a few poems in college publications, Moore first caught the attention of a wider audience in 1915, when several of her poems appeared in such prominent literary magazines of the time as the Egoist. Moore moved to Chatham, New Jersey, in 1916, when her brother Warner Moore, recently ordained a Presbyterian minister and appointed to a church there, invited her and her mother to join him. In 1918, the two women moved to a basement apartment in Greenwich Village, and Moore found work as a secretary and a girls' school tutor. She later became an assistant at the Hudson Park branch of the New York Public Library.

During the early 1920s, Moore published her first three collections of poems. In 1924, she received an award of $2,000 from the Dial Press for her contributions to literature, an award that raised some controversy in literary circles. In 1925, Moore became editor of The Dial, a position that brought her into contact with many of the noted literary and artistic figures of the time, including T. S. Eliot, Conrad Aiken, William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, and Malcolm Cowley. When the magazine ceased publication in 1929, Moore was well enough established that she was able to support herself and her mother by writing essays and reviews for magazines. The two women moved to Brooklyn in 1929 to be near Moore's brother, who was now in the Navy and stationed at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Moore was to live in Brooklyn until 1966 when the neighborhood finally became too unsafe and she returned to Manhattan. Except for brief teaching assignments at the Cummington School in Massachusetts in 1941 and at Bryn Mawr in 1953, Moore earned her living as a freelance writer until her death in 1972.

Moore's literary contributions were recognized with a host of awards and honors, including the Poetry Society of America's Gold Medal for Distinguished Development, the National Medal for Literature, and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University. Today, such noted poets and commentators as Grace Schulman and Tess Gallagher continue to praise Moore's verse, hailing the poet as one of the most important in modern literature.

Poem Summary

Line 1

The poem begins with its speaker making a rather ironic statement about her distaste for poetry. The statement is contradictory because, while she does not prefer poetry, the speaker nevertheless expresses herself through the medium of a poem. The reason the speaker dislikes poetry may be inferred from the use of the word "fiddle." Apparently the speaker believes that poetry can be trifling, or that the poetry-writing process involves too much petty tampering. The speaker's conversational opening of the poem allows for a tone that seems casual, yet it is one that is marked by a witty intelligence.

Lines 2–3

These lines contain a statement that argues with the one given in line 1 and line 2. Here the speaker admits that although one may think oneself perfectly justified in despising the triviality of poetry, through poetry one also might find that which is real and honest. The beginning lines of the poem thus establish the dialectic that will be elaborated upon in the rest of the poem.

Lines 4–7

In these lines, the speaker gives specific examples of things that are "genuine," and then she explains exactly how and why those things strike her as being original and sincere. The syntax of this sentence places the images of grasping hands, dilating eyes, and rising hair as close as possible to the word "genuine" from the previous sentence. Because Moore claims to have hated "connectives," she relies on this syntactical proximity to imply a connection. Having made that connection, the sentence then progresses the logic of the argument. It states that functioning hands and eyes and hair are significant not because critics can deduct lofty conclusions about them but because they each serve a distinct purpose. The poem may be suggesting that, in good poetry, every detail must be functional rather than merely academic or ornamental.

Lines 8–11

The pronoun "they" in line 8 refers, in part, to the hands, eyes, and hair mentioned in line 4. On another level, the pronoun "they" also refers to any significant objects included in any poem. This section echoes the earlier suggestion that every detail within a poem should serve a purpose. These lines imply that if the meaning of an object within a poem is so obscure that it cannot be understood, then the poem will be confusing to its reader. The reader will not appreciate what she or he does not comprehend. Another possible interpretation of lines 8–11 is as a warning against the use of enigmatic symbolism in poetry.

Lines 12–19

These lines offer a catalog of the different types of "important phenomena" that are sometimes included in poetry but whose meanings are not necessarily understood as they should be. Moore frequently uses animals in her poetry to draw a connection between art and the natural world. Here, she provides images of a sleeping bat, "elephants pushing," "a wild horse taking a roll," and "a tireless wolf under / a tree." The poem offers these creatures as examples of a kind of genuineness that is often misrepresented and misunderstood in poetry. However, the poem does not "discriminate" against the human kingdom, either: these lines acknowledge that poetry often concerns itself with the significant "phenomena" of the critic, the statistician, the baseball fan, business documents, and schoolbooks. Line 18 acknowledges that all such considerations are, indeed, significant.

Media Adaptations

  • Moore reads her poems on Caedmon Treasury of Modern Poets Reading Their Own Poetry, released by Caedmon/HarperAudio. Their address is P.O. Box 588, Dunmore, Pennsylvania 18512.
  • Caedmon/HarperAudio also carries Marianne Moore Reading Her Poems & Fables from La Fontaine.
  • In 1965, Audio-Forum released an audiocassete of Moore reading her poems, Marianne Moore Reads Her Poetry. Audio-Forum is part of Jeffrey Norton Publishers, 96 Broad St., Guilford, Connecticut 06437.
  • In 1987, The Annenberg/CPB Project produced Voices and Visions, a series of documentaries on modern American poetry that appeared on public television. A segment is devoted to Moore entitled Marianne Moore: In Her Own Image. Many libraries and video stores carry this series.

The speaker's tone becomes cautioning, even didactic, as she again qualifies one of her previous statements. Although she says in line 18 that the "phenomena" she mentions are important, she now warns against the use of such phenomena by "half poets." The phrase "dragged into prominence" shows that the speaker believes that some poets force emphasis upon certain details within their poems. The speaker seems to think that certain subjects in poems are exploited, and when they are, "the result is / not poetry." These lines serve to remind poets and readers alike of the dangers of superficiality in poetry.

Lines 20–24

Here, the speaker urges poets to strive to be "'literalists of / the imagination.'" This phrase is a quote taken from W. B. Yeats. Moore often includes quotes from other literature within her own work as a way of responding to the ideas of other writers. In doing this, she demonstrates her belief that the ideas presented in literature should be so important as to be open to lively, ongoing response. Apparently, Moore believes that good writing integrates other literature.

The phrase "'literalists of / the imagination'" contains a paradox. This phrase calls upon poets to be literalists, which means that they ought to present what they imagine word for word, without embellishment, and in such a way as to adhere to reality. Of course, such a task is nearly impossible when one is presenting that which is a product of the imagination. If something is imagined, then, by definition, it has no reality, no actuality. Undoubtedly, Moore recognizes the contradiction of this paradox. Perhaps she includes it here as a way of acknowledging the near impossibility poets face in using words to reconcile that which is imagined with that which is actual. Nevertheless, the paradox seems to serve as the ultimate standard toward which poets ought to strive in their representation of what is "genuine."

Lines 22–24 then describe literalist poets as those that rise above arrogance and pettines, avoiding the tendency of half-poets, defined in line 19, to force pointless emphasis on an unnecessary subject. The word "triviality" echoes the word "fiddle" from line 2 and repeats the suggestion that sometimes poetry is not as vital as it could be.

The phrase "'imaginary gardens with real toads in them'" is a paradox that provides a visual complement to the paradox given in line 21 and line 22. (Although this paradox also is surrounded by quotations marks, its original source has never been found; therefore, it is generally attributed to Moore.) Through the example of real toads in imaginary gardens, the speaker shows the reader what she means by saying that poets must be "'literalists of the imagination.'" Here, the poem suggests that good poetry is the "imaginary garden" in which "real toads"—or anything that is genuine—may reside. The speaker implies that only when a poet uses imagination to present reality in an honest way is a poem created.

Lines 25–29

These lines repeat the notion that poetry is created from a combination of imagination ("raw materials") and reality ("that which is on the other hand / genuine"). The word "demand" indicates that the speaker thinks one must hold poetry to high standards. Although she acknowledges that much poetry does not yet meet these high expectations, the speaker admits that, in the meantime, it is still possible for one to be "interested" in poetry. The poem concludes with this resolution of the dialectic that was established in the poem's opening lines.



Nature was a popular subject for romantic poets who found in it their inspiration, energy, and, often, their reason for being. Modernist poets enlarged their conception of subject matter and of nature itself. Moore, even though she described the natural world with an almost scientific eye for detail, using decidedly unromantic language, nonetheless considered it a place of beauty and mystery. She underscores this attitude in the third stanza when she uses the odd behavior of animals as examples of what the human mind "cannot understand." But like poetry, these behaviors should be embraced rather than ignored, as they embody the very "raw material" of life itself, which cannot be reduced to mean this or that, as critics would have it.


Modern poetry has often been criticized for its obscurity and elitism, with some writers claiming that it shows a deliberate attempt to alienate general readers. Moore addresses this in her opening line when she claims about poetry: "I, too, dislike it." What she implies here is that she dislikes the popular conception of modern poetry as writing that has nothing to do with the real world, and is often abstract. However, in the rest of her poem she utilizes explicitly modernist techniques, such as irony, allusion, paradox, quoting others, and incorporating footnotes—techniques that often invite the very accusation of elitism. In this way, she shows herself to be a true modernist, interested in process as much as product and embracing contradiction and abstraction while appearing to endorse unequivocal statements about the real world.


Poets have paid homage to the idea of the imagination ever since romantics such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth championed its powers, naming it as a crucial part in the poetic process. Coleridge, for example, distinguished between imagination and "fancy," terms that previously had been used synonymously, by giving imagination a more important role. Whereas fancy merely reassembles sense impressions, the imagination synthesizes disparate impressions, ideas, etc. into a unified whole, a whole greater than its parts. Moore's "Poetry" endorses this view as well, although she claims the imagination can only be effective if applied to stuff of the real world, that is, the "genuine." This is one reason why Moore attacks critics, as they are champions of "understanding" more interested in analyzing than reseeing the world and accepting its contradictions and mysteries, which are indicative of the reality and of poetry itself.

Topics For Further Study

  • Work in pairs: One person play the role of Moore and the other person play the role of a critic interviewing Moore about the meaning of her poem. Write up a transcript of the interview and exchange this with other students, comparing the variety of ways Moore is presented.
  • Write Moore's poem in paragraphs instead of lines. Does this change the meaning or the effect of the poem? What is lost and what is gained in the new version, and what does this have to say about the nature of poetry itself? Report your findings to your class.
  • Write a poem about a term that many people disagree on. In the poem, try to define this term. Then, read the poem to your class and discuss your responses.
  • Research the behavior of the animals that Moore describes. Is this behavior, in fact, unexplainable? Do you agree with her statement that "we do not admire what / we cannot understand?" Why or why not? Discuss your responses in groups.
  • If Moore were writing today, what examples would she use to describe behavior than cannot be explained? Work in groups and then list your ideas on the board.
  • Moore makes a number of claims for the idea of the "genuine." As a class, brainstorm definitions of this term and then work to come up with one on which the entire class can agree.
  • Work in groups: Make two lists and compare what Moore suggests about critics in "Poetry" with what she suggests about them in her poem "Critics and Connoisseurs." Discuss the lists as a class.
  • Compare the 1919 version of "Poetry" to the 1967 version, in which Moore cut the poem down to three lines. Which is more effective and why? Would including the earliest version in the footnotes for the final edition provide a helpful context for reading the poem? Discuss as a class whether or not footnotes alienate or inform a reader, and whether or not imagist poets might prefer an intertextual reading of Moore's poem versus a reading of the final three-line version as it stands.


Categorizing writing into genres such as poetry, fiction, drama, non-fiction, and the like is often a vexing matter not only for bookstores and marketers but for poets and critics as well. Moore was particularly notorious for her ambivalence about labeling what she did, noting once that her writing is called poetry only because no one else knew what to call it. "Poetry" is ironic partly because of its name and the fact that its argument about poetry's definition is never resolved. Moore's writing resembles poetry the most in its physical appearance, as she makes innovative use of line breaks and indentation. However, her choppy rhythms, use of multi-claused sentences, quotations, and footnotes all give her writing the appearance of prose. Partly, this approach to poetry stems from Moore's affinity with the Imagist movement, members of which argued that, to rejuvenate poetry, meter should be replaced by the rhythms of colloquial speech and conventionally poetic diction should be replaced by contemporary language and phrasing.


"Poetry" is constructed in syllabic verse, which is a sub-category of free verse. Free verse means that the poem does not follow a regular pattern of rhyme and meter. Meter refers to units of stressed and unstressed syllables. Instead, the poem loosely relies on "syllabics," which refers to the number of syllables per line. In syllabic verse, the number of syllables in any given line in a stanza is the same as the number of syllables of the same given line in the other stanzas. For example, you will notice that the final lines of each stanza in "Poetry" all contain thirteen syllables. Although Moore varies her syllabics, if one counts the syllables throughout the poem, one will notice a rough pattern emerging. By relying on syllabics instead of rhythm and meter, Moore is able to create a poem that more closely follows the patterns of natural speech.

Moore varies the typography of this poem. "Typography" refers to the way in which the poem is typed on the page. Moore often uses equal indentation to signify lines that rhyme. For example, the final words in line 4 and line 5 both rhyme ("eyes" and "rise"), and both lines are indented the same amount of spaces. The same may be said of line 27 and line 28 ("and" and "hand"). Not all of Moore's rhymes appear at the end of the lines, nor are they necessarily true rhymes. Rather, some are slant rhymes, also known as off rhymes, which means that they are close in sound, but do not exactly rhyme. An example of an off rhyme is the "baseball fan" and the "statistician" in line 15. Rather than overwhelming her reader with blatant rhymes, Moore mutes them so that her reader may experience the pleasure of hearing similar sounds in the way they subtly occur in natural speech.

Historical Context

Literature and Art of the 1920s

In 1919, when the first version of "Poetry" was published in the journal Others, people were still figuratively—and some literally—shell-shocked from World War I, which ended the preceding year. In literature, poets and novelists experimented with form and subject matter, trying to craft work that embodied the uncertainty, fear, and anxiety that consumed people. T. S. Eliot's poems in his collections Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), Poems (1920), and The Wasteland (1922) accomplished this through use of fragmentation, allusion, irony, myth, and symbolism. Ezra Pound, an important influence on many modernist poets, exhorted poets to "make it new" and claimed the image as the cornerstone of his poetics. In addition to publishing and translating works such as The Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti (1912), Hugh Selwyn Mauberly (1920), and Personae (1926), Pound mentored numerous writers including Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and James Joyce, and supported new literary magazines including Poetry and The Little Review. In his poem "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly," Pound called the carnage of World War I "wastage as never before" and described the "disillusions as never told in the old days." Moore, who corresponded with Pound, Eliot, Williams, Wallace Stevens, and a host of other influential poets, eschewed emotionalism in her writing and embraced a poetry that attempted to describe the physical world with precise and detailed images, often couched in argument. She also borrowed from other texts, sprinkling her verse liberally with quotations. Moore developed her reputation as both poet and critic largely through publishing in smaller, newer journals such as Poetry, established in 1912, The Egoist, a magazine of imagist verse, and Others, and as an editor of The Dial, a prestigious literary journal of the 1920s.

Moore's concern for the "genuine" in poetry is also a concern that early twentieth-century painters held. However, their approach towards subject matter was less concrete than Moore's, and instead of precision in representation, they experimented with abstract depictions of ideas and things. Cubists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque broke down their subject matter, analyzed it, and then reconstructed it in abstract form. Picasso's painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, considered by many to be the first Cubist painting, depicted five nude women in an angular and distorted way, destroying the continuity of the human body and creating an almost three-dimensional effect. A raft of other art movements including surrealism, futurism, imagism, and dadaism sought during this time to provoke viewers and readers to see and experience the world anew. In addition to the war, events such as Albert Einstein's publication of the theory of relativity, the popularization of the automobile and the radio, Daylight Savings Time in America, and the women's vote contributed to reconfiguring the ways in which people thought about and perceived their world and one another.

After the war, many American writers fled to Europe, where it was possible to live well inexpensively. Seeking new ideas and to revive their flagging spirits, writers such as Malcolm Cowley, Ezra Pound, Archibald MacLeish, and Ernest Hemingway moved to France, Spain, and Italy. Many of these expatriates gathered around Gertrude Stein, a wealthy American art collector and writer who sponsored "salons" at her apartment at 27, rue de Fleurus in Paris, that attracted artists, writers, and musicians like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Virgil Thompson, and scores of others who helped to create and define the modernist tradition. Noting their restlessness and the fact that many of the American writers who gathered around her during this time were morally and spiritually adrift, Stein referred to the group as "a lost generation." Though she had traveled to Europe before the war, Moore stayed in the States during and after it, living with her mother in Manhattan.

Compare & Contrast

  • 1920s: The Roaring Twenties in America was a time of prosperity and pleasure seeking, as people sought to recover from the changes wrought by World War I.
    Today: Seeking to recover from a terrorist attack on New York City, Americans flaunt their patriotism and temper their spending. Millions of American flags are sold across the country.
  • 1920s: Though some schools teach poetry and fiction writing, no one American college or university offers a degree in creative writing.
    Today: Hundreds of American colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in creative writing. Many people holding these degrees take jobs teaching in universities.
  • 1920s: The 19th Amendment gives American women the right to vote.
    Today: Though women are better represented in industry and government than eighty years ago, they are still paid less than men in similar jobs.
  • 1920s: There is a small boom in literary journals and magazines to showcase the work of experimental writers such as Ezra Pound, e. e. cummings, and Moore.
    Today: The World Wide Web has made publishing easier and cheaper than ever. Literally thousands of "e-zines" featuring some very good and some very bad writing have debuted in the last decade, and more come online every day.

Critical Overview

Because many of Moore's poems rely upon the careful presentation of visual imagery to convey intellectual and emotional ideas, she is sometimes linked to the imagists, a school of writers popular in the 1920s. On the other hand, her poetry also demonstrates an experimental arrangement on the page, a preoccupation with science and technology, a certain intellectualism, and the kind of emotional distance that is often found in modernist poetry. Still others claim Moore's writing is so unique that it does not fit into any one particular school of poetry. In any case, almost all critics would agree with the following conviction asserted by T. S. Eliot in an introduction to Moore's Selected Poems: "Miss Moore's poems form part of the small body of durable poetry written in our time … in which an original sensibility and alert intelligence and deep feeling have been engaged in maintaining the life of the English language."

Although "Poetry" was written early in Moore's career, it generally is regarded as one of Moore's most accomplished poems. In the poem, the speaker expresses a "dislike" for poetry, arguing that it often lacks "that which is … genuine." Through her argument, the speaker ends up exemplifying all that is valuable about poetry. As Sven Birkerts says in The Electric Life: Essays on Modern Poetry, "The poem is, in fact, a kind of anthology of the attributes and techniques that readers have most cherished in Moore." One of those cherished techniques is the use of paradox, particularly the paradox that the speaker supplies when she says poems should be like "'imaginary gardens with real toads in them.'" In his book Marianne Moore, Bernard F. Engel praises Moore's use of this paradox. He says,

Fascination with paradox is the most immediately striking aspect of the verse of Moore. This interest in the seemingly contradictory is often witty and, at times, playful…. But it is also profound. Paradox isof the essence of her work because she wishes to advocate a set of values.

Paradox is only one aspect of Moore's poems that make them valuable to their readers. As poet James Dickey writes in Babel to Byzantium, "Every poem of hers lifts us toward our own discovery-prone lives. It does not state, in effect, that I am more intelligent than you, more creative because I found this item and used it and you didn't. It seems to say, rather, that I found this, and what did you find? Or better, what can you find."


Chris Semansky

Semansky is an instructor of literature and composition. In this essay, Semansky considers the question of definition in Moore's poem.

Coming up with an adequate definition of the term "poetry" has obsessed critics, poets, and philosophers since Plato, who wanted to banish them for misrepresenting the truth. Some link the term to formal features of writing, while others focus on the composing process or the attitude or qualities of the writer. Some believe that poetry does not necessarily even have to use words, but rather is a matter of perception. Moore's poem tackles the "problem" of defining poetry by creating a hierarchy of degree separating "genuine" poetry from bad poetry, and by linking "genuine" poetry to a specific purpose.

By titling her poem "Poetry," Moore creates expectations that the ensuing lines will describe or explain the phenomenon. However, her first line disarms readers when she claims, "I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle." In Marianne Moore: The Cage and the Animal, Donald Hall writes that the "fiddle" Moore refers to is "a kind of poetry that is neither honest nor sincere but that has found fashionable approval by virtue of its very obscurity." The "things that are important beyond all this fiddle" are obviously related to "hands that can grasp, eyes / that can dilate, hair that can rise," which, Moore tells readers, are "useful." But how are they useful, and what do they have to do with poetry?

They are useful in that they are fodder for the imagination. They are the stuff of the real, physical, concrete world. Moore represents the world of the senses in her list of images and underscores two things: the importance of concrete imagery in poetry, and the appropriate use of these images by the imagination. These criteria have been staple features in definitions of good poetry since the romantics. Moore also makes a dig at critics in her claim that these things are important "not because a / high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them." Rather, their mere existence is reason enough for their importance, for they give human beings themselves definition.

Moore further differentiates between "fiddle" and the "genuine" in the second stanza, saying that the former is derivative, while the latter is what poetry should be all about. Moore critic Elizabeth Joyce writes that genuine poetry for Moore is about the here and now, and that "its reason for existence is entrenched in its ability to capture a sincere response to life's experiences, those that accurately reflect the social context of the poet." Of course, one person's idea of accuracy is another person's idea of sloppy thinking, and sincerity itself has become a suspect term for much of modern poetry. Moore's genius is that by implicitly espousing such a modest purpose for poetry she stands to gain more readers, as she acknowledges poetry's diminished status in modern society while also attempting to salvage a place for it. She wants to give meaning back to poetry, to rescue it from the posers, but the more she elaborates her desire the more muddied her ideas become.

The third stanza provides the very element that Moore claims makes up genuine poetry: the use of concrete images in the service of the imagination. Animal behavior that appears incomprehensible to human beings is like poetry in that people attempt to explain it, though it appears unfathomable. She slips in yet another dig at critics by including them in the list of odd animal facts: "the immovable critic twitching his skin / like a horse that feels a flea." All of these descriptions, however mundane, contribute to the variety of the natural and the human world and present readers with material things in a new way. Joyce elaborates on the connection between these items and abstract poetry itself:

Even though abstract poetry is obscure, Moore poses, it is worth our attention because it is no more difficult to understand than anything else around us: it remains a reflection of the changes in our culture.

The notion of abstraction is especially important for modern poetry, and for Moore's own writing, which, like T. S. Eliot's and Wallace Stevens's, is dense with allusions and requires readers to be active participants in the meaning-making process. In this sense, the poem is validation, justification, and an example of the very ideas it espouses. Unlike concrete images, which provide a mental picture of the material world and evoke its sensuous qualities, abstractions denote qualities or attributes of things and are based in the world of ideas. In the early part of the twentieth century when Moore wrote this poem, abstraction was becoming more and more fashionable in the arts and in poetry. In painting, artists such as Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky composed wholly abstract paintings based upon ideas and theories rather than what they saw with their eyes, and in theater dramatists such as Eugene O'Neill and Frank Wedekind wrote plays that featured representative types rather than particular people with distinct personalities.

The genuine, for Moore, then, did not mean just the real or the original, at least not in any surface-level way. The writing of others was as important to her own work as her perceptions of worldy things. This is evident in her allusions to Leo Tolstoy and William Butler Yeats to make her argument. Tolstoy struggled to say where poetry ended and prose began, and Yeats argued that William Blake was a "literalist of the imagination" in his belief that figures conjured by the imagination had real observable properties. Moore's poem, then, an example itself of the genuine, achieves its effects not only through its concrete and detailed imagery but also by referring readers to other writers. In this way, she draws on tradition while simultaneously helping to reshape it. Quoting and alluding to other writing is a key feature of inter-textuality, the notion that all texts are related and ultimately depend upon one another for their meaning. In Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions, Bonnie Costello argues that Moore's strategy in quoting others is part of her broader strategy of evasion, of scrupulously examining something—an object, an animal, an idea—but never defining it precisely, a strategy seemingly at odds with her own reputation for precision and accuracy. Costello writes that in "Poetry," Moore

posits an ideal in which the genuine is absorbed into form, reference into poem, the real into the imaginary. In the meantime poetry turns out to be a magic trick that does not quite succeed, but which absorbs us in its dazzling sleight-of-hand, in which we think we glimpse the genuine before it turns into the poet once again.

For Costello, then, Moore is an illusionist, which means that Costello, as critic, is the one who "unmasks" her tricks. This is an intriguing reading of the poem, given Moore's own description of critics in this poem and others. It is interesting that Moore revised "Poetry" a number of times, and that her last revision, published in her Complete Poems (1967) consisted of just three lines, thereby giving critics paradoxically both more and less to work with. It is more because critics can now focus on Moore's practice of revision and the evolution of her thinking about poetry, and it is less because three lines is fewer than twenty-nine.

Critics have paid more attention to her numerous revisions of the poem than the poem itself. Bonnie Honigsblum, for example, in "Marianne Moore's Revisions of 'Poetry,'" argues that Moore revised her poem through the years because she was influenced by other writers, and that Moore's idea of the possibility of poetry itself evolved. Focusing on Moore's notes to the poem, what literary theorists sometime refer to as its "paratextuality," Honigsblum claims that what Moore left out in terms of explanatory notes, rather than what she included, tells readers more about her reasons for revision than the revisions themselves. It is in this extra-literary material that researchers have looked for clues to Moore's intentions and meanings. This is fitting, considering that Moore considered her writing part of the world-as-text around her, instead of merely an expression of individual genius, as other poets might claim. The clearest expression of what she meant by the "genuine" in poetry is best summed up by her own words, written in a letter to a college student (reprinted in The Marianne Moore Newsletter), Thomas P. Murphy, who had asked her what she meant by the term.

I meant by the genuine, a core of value—expressed in whatever way the writer can best express it. Like you, I prefer rhyme to free verse; I like a tune and I feel that one should be as clear as one's natural reticence allows one to be. The maximum efficiency of expression in poetry should be at least as great as it could be in prose; certainly, one should be natural. The reversed order of words seems to me poetic suicide.

Source: Chris Semansky, Critical Essay on "Poetry," in Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.

Bernard F. Engle

In the following excerpt, Engle writes about Moore's treatment of the subject of poetry in her poems.

It is a truism that all poems are "about" poetry. At least the next nine pieces in Complete Poems are more or less direct treatments of poetry itself and of the poet and his critics. In "Poetry" Moore stated something of her own artistic creed; in "Pedantic Literalist," "Critics and Connoisseurs," and "The Monkeys," she commented upon criticism; in "In the Days of Prismatic Color," "Peter," "Picking and Choosing," "England," and "When I Buy Pictures," she presented particular aspects of her aesthetics.

What Do I Read Next?

  • T. S. Eliot published his first collection of verse, Prufrock and Other Observations in 1917. Eliot was the major poetic voice in America during the first half of the twentieth century.
  • In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, widely considered to be the great American novel. This was just a few years after Moore published "Poetry."
  • Moore's collection of essays Predilections, published in 1955, contains essays on major poets such as Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound, and Moore's own idiosyncratic views on poetry and nature.
  • Moore alludes to William Butler Yeats's 1903 book, Ideas of Good and Evil, which contains essays on the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake as well as essays on magic and mysticism.

In its complete form "Poetry" contains Moore's most comprehensive reflections on her art. Since she customarily made decisions for artistic reasons, it is most likely that she became dissatisfied with the poem's views or with the way it expresses them. It is also possible that she was tired of the endless rehashing of the poem by critics. Whatever her motive, in her last revision she retained only two and a half of the first three lines of the 1951 version. The resulting fragment amounts to an abstract summary of her position, lacking the detail that made the position vividly comprehensible. The editors of the 1981 collection complied with her wishes by publishing the abbreviated version in the text; fortunately, in the view of most readers, they gave the full version in the notes. I will discuss this version. The beginning assertion that "I, too, dislike it" is sometimes quoted as evidence that Moore was a good sophisticate who did not take her art seriously, that under the skin she was essentially a middle-class intellectual without unmodish convictions. But to so read her is to read quite wrongly. Though the remark is on the face of it ironic, it is more than a simple comment of obvious indirection. She was declaring her disgust with the common view of poetry as a way of prettifying standard opinions, usually those of intellectual liberalism. The critics who read her as having contempt for all poetry are thus hoisted on their own petard: the kind of poetry she disliked is, or includes, that which they commonly prefer. What she liked is "the genuine"; the rest of "Poetry" is an effort at explanation of this quality.

Her speaker declares, in lines reminiscent of T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men," that vivid presentation of the specific details of a subject is important not because it may lead to "high-sounding interpretation" but because it is "useful": because it can lead to the "genuine." But if these details are only "derivative," removed from the actuality of the experience, none of us will admire them. The "us" is delightfully and pointedly represented as creatures engaged in a variety of activities; the passage deftly scores the "immovable critic" as a horse to whom the work of art is a flea. No one, the poem is saying, is likely to be diverted from his usual concerns by anything other than the accurately presented. All the "us" are possible subjects; even the business and schoolroom documents sometimes excluded from the canon of literary material may be used for poetry.

Yet, as these inclusions would indicate, the mere thing in itself is not a poem: "half poets" who celebrate the humdrum detail for its own sake do not thereby make poetry. What is important is that the poet be true ultimately, not to fact but to his imagination; poets must be "literalists of the imagination," above the insolence of expecting presentation of the trivial to be poetry. The poet must give "'imaginary gardens with real toads in them'"—a populace of real objects that, taken together, will produce an imagined experience. Perhaps no one at present has achieved such art; meanwhile, one may qualify as being "interested in poetry" if he demands fulfillment of the objectivist paradox that "rawness," the accurate presentation of the thing itself, must be the basis for, the material of, a "genuine" garden that is more than the sum of its physical components.

This theory is, of course, ultimately a neoro-mantic one; for it requires something more than realism of observation. It does insist, however, that one start from the accurately realized object. In Moore's creed, poetry must climb to heights beyond realism, but it must begin its ascent on a stairway of fact. The enameled kylin of "Nine Nectarines" was a better object of art than the painted fruit, though delineated with perhaps equal inaccuracy because his creator perceived the spirit within him.

In rhetorical form "Poetry" follows one of Moore's common patterns; moving from an artfully casual beginning to a climax of feeling in the next-to-last stanza, it then ends almost off-handedly with a final, fairly direct comment upon what has been presented. As a work of art, it is its own exemplification. Though it deals more directly with an abstract subject than most of her work, it is grounded on a sufficient quota of such specificities as "hair that can rise," a bat upside down, a "wild horse taking a roll." Because it is provided with these concrete details, it is much more successful than "In This Age of Hard Trying, Nonchalance…" in which the subject is equally abstract but the incident the poem is based upon is not clearly delineated.

Each of the remaining eight poems on poetry works through a particular object or set of circumstances. The injunction in "Poetry" that one must be a "literalist of the imagination" does not, of course, mean approval of the "Pedantic Literalist" who is disparaged in the poem of this title. The chief error of the mundanely minded is illustrated as deceptiveness: his failure to perform what he seems to promise. Such a literalist is termed in the opening line a "Prince Rupert's drop" (a blob of glass so treated that it appears attractive but flies apart when handled) and a "paper muslin ghost," a spurious spirit that would crumple if embraced. A further comparison is to a heart that, failing to give warning of its weakness, caused its owner's death. The result of long practice at deception—perhaps of trying vainly and unimaginatively to make poetry out of the merely literal—is that the spontaneity with which even the "literalist" is born turns into wood.

The "hardihood" that resists spontaneities is the topic of "Critics and Connoisseurs," a poem opening with the somewhat resounding remark that there is "a great amount of poetry in unconscious/fastidiousness." Certain "products" of conscious fastidiousness are "well enough in their way," the poem continues, but such spontaneous attempts at careful procedure as a child's efforts to right a toy and to feed a puppy are better acts of art because they are unforced. Another example of overdone fastidiousness is a swan remembered as reluctant to give up its "disbelief," its false dignity, in order to eat food thrown to it. In the third stanza the poem turns to "you," the critics and connoisseurs who, like the swan, have "ambition without understanding." An illustration of the fault is furnished by the behavior of an ant that foolishly continued attempts to find a use for burdens that could contribute nothing to ant goals. The poem ends with an inquiry: of what use are such ambitions as those of the swan and the ant, ambitions to maintain an impenetrable reserve or to demonstrate that one has struggled for a useless trophy? Remembering the comment in "Poetry" that objects are good if in some sense useful, we may deduce that critics, like the swan, and connoisseurs, like the ant, are guilty of adopting attitudes and of choosing goals that could be valuable if intended to serve some useful purpose but are often clung to without understanding. The poem is recommending more attention to the spirit, less to the letter.

"The Monkeys" makes it clear that, though the artist is to find a "spirit" in the object his enterprise is not to be an expedition into the "arcanic." The poem, which begins with comments upon sights observed during a long-past trip to a menagerie (or a parliament of literary critics?) remarks on the difficulty of recalling in detail the reasons for the impression of "magnificence" that remains. But one creature will not be forgotten, a large, kingly cat who perhaps represents those described at the end of "Poetry" as "interested in poetry." He, it seems, gave the indignant speech of the last two stanzas of "The Monkeys," a protest against critics' imposition of "inarticulate frenzy" and their insistence on almost "malignant" depths in poetry. Moore, an impressionist in her own criticism, was again arguing for the spontaneous rather than the codified and pseudo-profound that she apparently believed typical of the "immovable" critic of "Poetry," the "consciously fastidious" interpreter of "Critics and Connoisseurs."

The ease with which she had a cat deliver a comment, almost a diatribe, on literary criticism demonstrates the art in the seemingly casual beginning and an ending that give a rightness to the choice of a feline spokesman. Having an animal convey the message provides a neat irony; the poem's original title, "My Apish Cousins," made somewhat more obvious the ironic comparison of human and animal.

(The unimaginative literalist was again a target in "Melanchthon," a work printed in 1951 but omitted from the 1981 book. It closes with a question that amounts to an assertion of the belief that the depth of a life and of a poet's work will not be perceived by one who fails to sense the "unreason" or mystery that Moore believed to lie behind all experience.)

Yet though the poet is not be "consciously fastidious" and is to see an "unreason," he is nevertheless to be clear. "In the Days of Prismatic Colour" declares that early in creation color was "fine" or exact, not because of art but because of its closeness to its origins. Even "obliqueness," indirection, was apparent and understandable, not hidden. But now the oblique is no longer accessible, and color no longer holds its purity; original simplicity has been replaced by "complexity." Though there is nothing wrong with complexity when it reflects actual perception, it is wrong when indulged in to the point that it obscures. And it is especially wrong when made an end in itself, when a poet values the vehemence instead of the worth of what he is saying, and insists that all truth must be dark. Such insistence, being "principally throat," is a "sophistication" that is the direct opposite to truth.

Sophisticates, it appears, view the truth as something like a monster of Greek myth, crawling, gurgling, and darksome. "To what purpose!," she exclaims, are the perverse misunderstandings that see truth as complex and even as monstrous. Truth is "no Apollo / Belvedere, no formal thing": it is, we gather, spontaneous and unconscious. Though complexity may appear in it, not this but courage and endurance are its chief characteristics. The "wave" of critical fashion, of philosophical challenge, may roll over it; but, like the cliff in "The Fish," it will survive.

The virtue of being "natural," of doing without pretense or alibi what one is designed to do, is celebrated with appropriate playfulness in "Peter," a presentation of a cat belonging to two of Moore's women friends and a demonstration of her ability to exemplify in a poem the virtues she was meditating upon in the process of writing it. The observations of Peter that she sets down are those identified with what might be called his cat-ness: complete relaxation, narrowed eyes, obvious nightmares, and lack of concern with judgment that would condemn him for possessing the claws and tail he was born with. Emphasis is upon his animality, his unself-conscious turning from the coddled to the clawing and back again. The poem has been read as an attack on Catholicism, the cat representing the church that claims to have been founded by the apostle Peter and that to some Protestants has appeared as both lethargic and rapacious. The poem has even been read as a feminis attack on Catholicism's failure to ordain women. But it takes a considerable stretch to read into the piece an attack on another Christian church: the focus is on the cat in his cat-ness, not on use of him as a symbol, and when the poem appeared in 1924 neither Moore's own Presbyterian church nor other mainline denominations were ordaining women. Remaining unabashed by the "published fact"—his obvious animality—and willing "to purloin, to pursue" as instinct bids him, Peter the cat is a living example of natural behavior.

That naturalness is essential for the literary critic, who should see literature as "a phase of life," is the assertion of "Picking and Choosing." The advice is, as in "In the Days of Prismatic Colour," that we should not approach literature with fearful reverence. And, as in the passage in "Poetry" dismissing "half poets," we must not come to it as though it were merely commonplace. In his statement the critic must use the "true" word, avoiding the murky and the faked. As examples of the kind of "fact" that critcs should give, the speaker presents capsule comments on Shaw and Henry James that mention flaws in their work but also point to virtues. (The comment on James has changed several times. The first version said flatly that James "is not profound"; later versions say that James is all that he is said to be "if feeling is profound"; the 1981 book reads "James / is all that has been said of him".)

Moore concludes the passage with lines observing that Thomas Hardy, for example, should be seen not primarily as either novelist or poet but as a writer conforming to a dictum like T. S. Eliot's assertion that one should interpret life through "the medium of the emotions." "The Monkeys" shows Moore's own preference for criticism that has an emotional basis and her scorn for merely intellectual methods. She did in "Picking and Choosing" concede that, if the critic must have an opinion, he may be permitted to "know what he likes." The next lines admit Gordon Craig and Kenneth Burke to the rank of good critic, both apparently having impressed Moore as knowing what they like.

Thought of Burke brings up the phrase summa diligentia, which Moore translated (in the essay "Humility, Concentration, and Gusto") as "with all speed." These words remind the speaker of the schoolboy mistranslation of the Latin as meaning "on top of the diligence," an example of one kind of bad literary criticism. In a tone of reasonableness the poem then comments that "We are not daft about the meaning but that the "familiarity" critics exhibit with "wrong meanings" is puzzling. The next several lines address those who exhibit such familiarity, adjuring them that, for example, the simple candle should not be seen as an electrified mechanism.

The last six lines ostensibly are addressed to a dog yapping to the world at large his daydream that he has caught a badger. He is told that he should remember that, even if he had really accomplished the feat, he would scarcely need to make such a clamor about it. The moral is that the critic should give hints, a few spontaneous reactions, not mystification and not boasts of imagined retrievals. The poet is recommending the process named in her title: the "picking and choosing" that she considered to be primarily a task for the emotions, not for powers of abstraction and analysis. We may note that Moore could be reasonably impersonal in her opinions of critics, for her work had been praised since the 1920s by Yvor Winters, R. P. Blackmur, Kenneth Burke, Eliot, Stevens, and Williams—a range including "new critics," impressionists, and eclectics.

Source: Bernard F. Engle, "The Armored Self: Selected Poems," in Marianne Moore, rev. ed., Twayne's United States Authors Series, Twayne, 1989.


Birkerts, Sven, "Marianne Moore's 'Poetry': She Disliked It, She Did," in The Electric Life: Essays on Modern Poetry, William Morrow and Co., 1989, pp. 127–37.

Costello, Bonnie, Marianne Moore: Imaginary Possessions, Harvard University Press, 1981, p. 20.

Dickey, James, "Marianne Moore," in Babel to Byzantium, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968, pp. 156–63.

Eliot, T. S., "Introduction," in Selected Poems by Marianne Moore, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1935, pp. vii–xiv.

Engel, Bernard F., Marianne Moore, Twayne, 1989, p. 160.

Hall, Donald, Marianne Moore: The Cage and the Animal, Pegasus, 1970, pp. 40–42.

Honigsblum, Bonnie, "Marianne Moore's Revisions of 'Poetry,'" in Marianne Moore: Woman and Poet, edited by Patricia C. Willis, National Poetry Foundation, 1990.

Joyce, Elizabeth W., Cultural Critique and Abstraction: Marianne Moore and the Avant-Garde, Bucknell University Press, 1998, pp. 33–37.

Moore, Marianne, The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, Macmillan, 1967, p. 36.

——, "The Genuine in 'Poetry': A Letter from Marianne Moore," in the Marianne Moore Newsletter, No. 5, Fall 1981, pp. 14–15.

Further Reading

Abbott, Craig S., Marianne Moore: A Descriptive Bibliography, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977.

Abbott lists primary and secondary material on Moore. This is an excellent research resource, though it stops at 1975.

Allen, Frederick Lewis, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, Harper Perennial Library, 2000.

Originally published in 1931, Only Yesterday traces the rise of post–World War I prosperity up to the Wall Street crash of 1929. It is set against the backdrop of flappers, prohibition, and the rise of the women's suffrage movement.

Molesworth, Charles, Marianne Moore: A Literary Life, Atheneum, 1990.

Molesworth's biography is the best so far on Moore's life. Using Moore's correspondence and diaries, he deftly makes connections between the poet's work and her life.

Stapleton, Laurence, Marianne Moore: The Poet's Advance, Princeton University Press, 1978.

Stapleton's accessible critical study of Moore's poetry contains a good deal of biographical information and makes connections between her work, other poets and poetry.


views updated May 14 2018


Food has been a topic of poetry for many centuries and in many cultures; the notion that food writing and poetry writing are totally separate ventures is a recent development. Much of our knowledge of eating habits, culinary practices, and food taboos throughout history and around the world comes from poetry. Food in poetry also functions as a powerful symbol of spiritual and moral states, and at other times it is used as a sexual symbol.

The Chinese have a long tradition of including food in poetry, going as far back as the Chou Dynasty (from the 12th century B.C.E. to 221 B.C.E.). There are Chou poems celebrating festive foods of the time, including stewed turtle, fried honey cakes, duck, quail, and good wine, and discussing the preparation of rice. The Shih Ching (Book of Songs) includes food scenes such as lamb sacrifice, in which the aroma of the roasting meat is described and fruit and wine are offered; verses on a feast of rabbit and plenty of wine; a song rejoicing in family togetherness at a feast including such meats as lamb, ox, and tripe, and an abundance of wine; agricultural songs celebrating wheat, millet, barley, plums, cherries, dates, melons, gourds, beans, garlic, and rice (from which wine is made). The culinary abundance of the T'ang Dynasty (618907) is strongly evident in its poetry, which contains paeans to plums, pears, persimmons, jujubes, many kinds of melons, spring wine, and peaches, which were a traditional symbol of immortality in Chinese poetry and painting. Poems were also forums for discussing differences between foods. For instance, the eighth-century poet Chang Chiu-ling used poetry to address the many ways in which lychees and longans are not similar fruits at all, despite their superficial similarities. Poems written during another prosperous period, the Ch'ing Dynasty (16441922), link food and sex, with female beauty and sexuality compared to melons, cherries, and grapes.

Food is also an important presence in classical Western poetry. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are rich with scenes of feasting, as well as of ordinary eating. In a famous scene from the Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew, trying to return by sea to Ithaca, stop at an unknown land whose inhabitants, the Lotus Eaters, offer a lavish banquet to the three men who are sent to explore. The fruit (or the juice from the fruit) that the men consume gives them great pleasure and also makes them forget all thoughts of home and family so that the other crew members must drag them away by force. Homer also describes the feast of roast meat served to Odysseus by Achilles. The Greek poet Hesiod wrote about enjoying good wine with meat and bread. The Roman poet Martial wrote a great deal about foods, such as figs, olives, parsnips, chicken, fish, cheese, eggs, chives, shallots, and onions, to name a few. Virgil described milk and cheese in his Georgics, which celebrates the agricultural life and mourns the dissolution of Italy's farms after famers were sent to war. Ovid wrote about olives and grapes in the Amores. In Greek mythology, the six pomegranate seeds eaten by Perse-phone (daughter of Demeter, goddess of agriculture) in the underworld after her abduction by Hades, are the mythical reason for winter: For each seed consumed, Persephone must spend a month of the year in the underworld, causing her mother to grieve and neglect her work. The story of Persephone and the pomegranate seeds continues to influence contemporary writers. In her collection Mother Love, the American poet Rita Dove writes of a modern young woman's journey to Paris that parallels Persephone's descent into the underworld. Her meal at "the Bistro Styx" includes Chateaubriand, Camembert, pears, figs, parsley, bread, and Pinot Noir. A mourning modern Demeter has a Spartan breakfast of cereal and raisins and puts stones into it.

Roman poets, including Catullus, Horace, and Martial, also wrote dinner-invitation poems. In the invitation poem, the poet cajoles the addressee into coming for dinner. He may describe the foods that are going to be served, talk about the wine that is going to be poured, and describe the entertainments that will be offered. Invitation poems are not only a source of information on what the Romans ate, but also literary documents in themselves. This tradition did not end with the Roman Empire. In the style of the classical invitation poem, Ben Jonson's "Inviting a Friend to Supper" describes a meal of salad, mutton, fowl, cheese, fruit, pastry, and wine. Another, more extensive food catalogue occurs in Jonson's "To Penshurst," which includes pheasant, carp, eels, cherries, plums, figs, grapes, quinces, apricots, peaches, cake, nuts, apples, cheeses, pears, beer, bread, and wine.

In the medieval Arab world, among those with sufficient resources, poetry and food were enjoyed in tandem, in lavish fashion. At banquets given by the caliphs, poems naming each dishand recounting the spices and herbs used in its preparation, as well as the method of cookingwere recited during the dinners, so that the guests might savor the poetry along with the food.

There is food poetry in the Bible, as well. Throughout the Song of Solomon, the male and female narrators compare one another to fruits and other foods. The man's cheeks are compared to a "bed of spices"; the woman's breasts are described as "clusters of grapes" and her nose as smelling like apples. Figs, grapes, vines, and pomegranates are used to describe their love for each other. The apple tree, standing out among other trees, represents the beloved's standing out among men. Other foods mentioned in the exchange include honey, milk, saffron, and cinnamon.

Food is inherent to many traditional songs and poems of the Celtic world and in England. For instance, an Irish saying goes: "Rye bread will do you good, / Barley bread will do you no harm, / Wheat bread will sweeten your blood, / Oat bread will strengthen your arm." Early Celtic poems tell of affection for such foods as mushrooms, milk, and colcannon, the Irish dish of mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale. In England, a song once accompanied the churning of butter: "Come, butter, come, / Come, butter, come, / Peter stands at the gate / Waiting for a buttered cake, / Come, butter, come."

In the sonnets, Shakespeare invokes appetite and eating as metaphors for human behavior, beginning with images of famine and gluttony in Sonnet 1, "From fairest creatures we desire increase." In Sonnets 56 ("Sweet love, renew thy force") and 110 ("Alas! 'tis true, I have gone here and there"), appetite represents desire. In Sonnet 75, which opens with "So are you to my thoughts as food to life," appreciation of the beloved is compared to feasting, and the speaker without the beloved is "starvèd for a look." In Sonnet 52, infrequency of "feasts" gives them meaning, and in Sonnet 118, the eating of "eager compounds" and "bitter sauces" is contrasted with the sweetness of the beloved.

Jonathan Swift, whose concern with matters of hunger reached its most famous height with "A Modest Proposal," the essay in which he ironically suggests fighting hunger by eating children, saw fit to write poetry about onions, oysters, and fishmongers. Robert Burns's "Address to a Haggis" is traditionally recited with the serving of the Scottish dish. The English writer Sydney Smith composed recipes in verse, giving instructions for preparing salad dressing and roasting mutton, for instance.

In the twelfth-century Celtic poem "The Vision of Mac Conglinne," Mac Conglinne helps a king overcome his gluttony. The poem, delectable not only to poetry lovers but also to scholars of medieval Ireland, catalogues an outrageous abundance of foods, including salmon, kale, hazelnuts, sausages, bread, cheese, bacon, and especially milk, which is described as being so thick that it must be chewed.

Food in poetry sometimes carries moral significance. In an archetypal episode in Ovid's Metamorphoses, the poor couple Baucis and Philemon share their meager food supply with beggars, who turn out to be gods in disguise and reward the couple with abundance. The biblical story of Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit, said to be an apple but possibly a pomegranate, is portrayed as the first human sin and the reason for man's state of sin. The story of Eve's giving in to the tempting fruit also starts off John Milton's epic on the fall of mankind, Paradise Lost. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, food is an important element in maintaining the balance of bodily humors, and gluttony is addressed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Gluttony is severely punished in Dante's hell. And food taboos are part of the human struggle: In Byron's Don Juan, a starving crew of seamen resort to cannibalism, but only after a long and horrible effort to avoid it.

Food in poetry can have transformative, and sometimes destructive, powers. In the English epic Beowulf, feasting (which always involves plenty of drinking) is generally followed by sleep, which makes the men vulnerable to attacks by the monster Grendel, who feasts on men. (Feasts in Beowulf are also given to honor people, and are the backdrop against which many discussions and confrontations take place.) In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," the consumption of milk and honey is linked to an altered state of mind. John Keats paid close attention to food in his poems and letters; in his poem "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," the beautiful woman destroys a knight by feeding and seducing him. The food, like the sexual attraction, is central to his undoing.

Some poets invoke food to convey matters of the spirit. T. S. Eliot's question "Do I dare to eat a peach?" conveys the jaded frame of mind of the speaker of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Emily Dickinson uses hunger metaphorically; in the poem "Hunger," hunger and dining express loneliness and love. Another poem, "Forbidden Fruit," makes a pithy statement about human nature: "Forbidden fruit a flavor has / That lawful orchards mocks; How luscious lies the pea within / The pod that Duty locks!"

Some poets simply delight in the discussing of food. Pablo Neruda, in his Elemental Odes, writes about artichokes, lemons, and olive oil (and the use of the oil in mayonnaise and salad dressing). Ogden Nash has a book of light verse about food. D. H. Lawrence wrote poems entitled "Pomegranate," "Peach," "Medlars and Sorb-Apples," "Figs," and "Grapes." A. E. Housman celebrates the cherry tree in "Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now." William Carlos Williams's famous "This Is Just to Say" has immortalized some irresistible plums in an icebox; the savoring of plums occurs also in his "To a Poor Old Woman." The contemporary American poet Robert Hass weaves lush California cuisine into many poems.

Poetry and food may be coming back together, as they were in ancient times. Enough contemporary poets have written poems about food to fill a number of anthologies of food poems, including one devoted exclusively to poems about potatoes (Spud Songs, ed. Gloria Vando and Robert Stewart).

See also Bible, Food in the; Folklore, Food in; Myth and Legend, Food in .


Asala, Joanne. Celtic Folklore Cooking. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Press, 1998.

Chang, K. C. Food in Chinese Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.

Dalby, Andrew. Empire of Pleasures. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Furst, Lilian R., and Peter W. Graham, eds. Disorderly Eaters: Texts in Self-Empowerment. University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992.

Gowers, Emily. The Loaded Table: Representations of Food in Roman Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Mahon, Brid. Land of Milk and Honey. Boulder, Colo.: Mercier Press, 1998.

Neruda, Pablo. Selected Poems. Translated by Ben Belitt. New York: Grove Press, 1961.

Root, Waverley. Food. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980. Reprint: New York: Smithmark, 1996.

Silverman, Jeff. The First Chapbook for Foodies. Emeryville, Calif.: Woodford Press, 2000.

Tannahill, Reay. Food in History. Great Britain: Penguin, 1973. Reprint: New York: Crown, 1988.

Visser, Margaret. Much Depends on Dinner. New York: Collier, 1986.

Waley, Arthur. The Book of Songs. New York: Grove Press, 1987.

Adrienne Su

Food in Ovid's Art of Love

The Roman love poetry of Ovid (43 b.c.e.17 c.e.) reminds us of the ways in which food can serve erotic or aphrodisiac purposes. He talks of signals exchanged between secret lovers across a dinner table, and of messages written with a finger in spilt wine. He imagines a rival carefully mixing wine for a girlfriend, selecting the tastiest morsels from a serving dish for her to enjoy (Ovid, Amores, book 1 poem 4, and book 2 poem 5; see Ovid, The Erotic Poems, translated by Peter Green, Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin, 1982).

Ovid makes fun of aphrodisiac foods in a tongue-in-cheek didactic poem on love and seduction, in which he conscientiously lists several of such foods that Romans believed to be effective:

Some old women will tell you to take dangerous herbs and salep (I judge these to be poisons), or they will mix for you pepper and stinging-nettle seed and pellitory chopped into vintage wine. But the Love Goddess . . . does not permit her pleasures to be forced in that way. You can try the white bulb that comes from Megara; try the lascivious rocket leaf grown in gardens; try eggs; try honey from Mount Hymettus; try the nuts that are found in prickly pine-tree cones (Ovid, Art of Love, book 2, lines 415424. Translation by Andrew Dalby).

Salep is the ground root of an orchid (Orchis mas and other species) that is familiar as a hot winter drink in Turkey and the Balkans. Pellitory-of-Spain or Spanish chamomile is an ancient medicinal herb (Anacyclus pyrethrum ). Rocket leaf (Oruca sativa ) is the spicey-leafed plant arugula. The grape-hyacinth bulb (Muscari comosum ), once a speciality of Megara in central Greece, is often served as an appetizer: it is known as volvi in modern Greek and lampascioni in Italian. Mount Hymettus, near Athens, is a source of fine honey.

Andrew Dalby


views updated May 11 2018


Like politics, poetry was everywhere in the years from 1754 to 1829. And like politics, poetry had both public and private meanings. Americans turned to poetry to amuse themselves and their friends, to pursue and publicize arguments, and to claim membership in real and imagined collectivities. The resultant verses offer a window onto a world of poetic purposes and pleasures that has often been overlooked.

the colonial era

During the late colonial period, educated Americans gathered in formal and informal circles to read and exchange original manuscripts, including poetry. They modeled their works on those of neoclassical English poets, particularly Alexander Pope, and they often signed compositions with pseudonyms such as Leander and Amynta. Women as well as men were prominent in these circles, and for all involved the writing and enjoying of such poetry was a way of proclaiming membership in two communities: the intimate circle of friends who were one's immediate readership, and the larger, Anglo-American community

of sensibility to which one's mastery of the forms granted membership.

Participants in literary circles wrote poetry to nurture and commemorate their own relationships, as well as to memorialize the occasions of their gatherings. Poets of the day also took on explicitly public themes. Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, who was an admired poet and conversationalist in both her own mid-Atlantic region and in England, penned poetic responses to both John Dickinson's Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer (1782) and to Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). John Maylem's "Conquest of Louisburg" described the siege and battle of that fortress during the French and Indian War. And Philip Freneau and Hugh Henry Brackenridge's "The Rising Glory of America," delivered on commencement day at the College of New Jersey in 1771, offered a vision of a prosperous and expansive future for America:

The Ohio soon shall glide by many a town
Of note; and where the Mississippi stream,
By forests shaded, now runs weeping on,
Nations shall grow, and STATES not less in fame
Than Greece and Rome of old!

Poems such as "The Rising Glory of America" claimed a place for the colonies on the world stage. They also asserted, implicitly or explicitly, that their authors deserved a place on that stage, too, and were not simply rude provincials. These entwined public and personal, emulative and assertive meanings of poetry took on added significance in the verse of the era's best-known African American poet, Phillis Wheatley. Wheatley, an African-born woman living in slavery in the colonies, penned neoclassical verse that followed English models. Yet Wheatley's identity, which was revealed in the published volumes of her work, made her successful adoption of English conventions a challenge to contemporaries who assumed blacks were intellectually inferior. The content of Wheatley's poetry, meanwhile, continues to inspire debate among scholars, who disagree over the extent to which Wheatley challenged Christianity and the social and political mores of her day.

imperial crisis and revolution

In the years leading up to the Revolution, political arguments and emotions were often cast in verse. Benjamin Franklin counseled colonists to have patience with England and confidence in the colonies' eventual dominance: "We have an old mother, who peevish has grown," he wrote in the mid 1760s: "She snubs us like Children that scarce walk alone; She forgets we're grown up and have Sense of our own." Such verses made political argumentation more accessible and quotable, and those on both sides of the impending conflict also went further, setting their rhymed disagreements to music. John Dickinson's "Liberty Song"—which began, "Come join hand in hand brave Americans all / And rouse your bold hearts at fair liberty's call"—was published in the Boston Gazette in 1768, and it spawned a quick parody, published in the same newspaper and sung to the same tune: "Come shake your dull noodles ye pumpkins and bawl," the parody began, "And own that you're mad at Fair Liberty's call." Not all the poetry of the war years, however, was doggerel. Philip Freneau, ship captain and man of letters, sought to commemorate the events and people of the Revolution in often-ambitious verse, and he movingly evoked the horrors of his own wartime captivity in "The British Prison Ship."

poetry in the new nation

After the Revolution, Americans of all political stripes and social stations wrote poetry celebrating and critiquing the new nation's culture and politics. Philip Freneau published a revised version of "The Rising Glory of America" in 1786 and continued to pen new works. Also among the era's best-known practitioners of the arts were the Connecticut or Hartford Wits, who included Joel Barlow, John Trumbull, David Humphries, Lemuel Hopkins, Richard Alsop, and Timothy Dwight. Amateur men of letters who had begun their literary involvement before America's independence, the Wits combined a serious devotion to literature with careers that included diplomacy and the ministry. Barlow's work ranged from "Hasty Pudding," a humorous celebration of that dish and of Barlow's New England region, to the more ambitious "Vision of Columbus." Greeted with admiration in its original version, Barlow's expanded and revised epic, The Columbiad, fell with a thud when published in 1807. Timothy Dwight's 1794 "Greenfield Hill," meanwhile, offered a vision of New England's past, present, and future, and copious poetic commentary on its landscape, people, and customs. Such poetry combined nationalist ambitions with a wholehearted embrace of English poetic conventions, and the Wits saw no shame in that. In their view, achieving excellence in established poetic forms brought more honor to America than would have the attempted creation of a self-consciously new "American" style.

Freneau and the Wits were perhaps the best-known poets of the early national period, but many other Americans also tried their hand at the form. Women as well as men offered their verses to the public; in 1790, Mercy Otis Warren published cerebral verse on political and religious themes, and the same year saw publication of Sara Wentworth Morton's "Ouabi, or the Virtues of Nature, an Indian Tale in Four Cantos." Newspapers of the day often kept a spot on their back page for original and extracted verse, and readers eagerly sent in their offerings. One of the more widely circulated newspapers of the era, Joseph Dennie's Farmer's Weekly Museum, published a variety of poetry, including satiric treatments of American rustics, odes to beautiful maidens, and gently needling lines on the subject of the editor himself: "His flowery road you may rely on," wrote one correspondent, "is but a crooked path to Zion." And although poetry was a particular passion among young Federalist-leaning literati such as Dennie, Jeffersonians, too, expressed themselves in verse. The Kentucky Gazette, for example, published poetry that celebrated France and Jefferson, and the Fourth of July regularly inspired poetical commemorations in partisan newspapers of all kinds.

Among poets both well-known and obscure, satire was a favored mode of poetical communication in the early national period; its popularity reflected both the continued influence of the English Augustan poets and the mixture of intimacy and publicity that characterized American uses of verse. Satirical treatments of everything from religious orthodoxy to New Englanders' gift to Thomas Jefferson of a "mammoth cheese" found their way into print, and poetic styles themselves—particularly the rather florid Della Cruscan mode—also became the subject of archly mocking lines.

Even as satires, "occasional" poetry, and nationalist verse thrived in the early Republic, however, other forms were gaining popularity. Like their predecessors, these were influenced by English models, although they were put to what were intended as distinctively American uses. Moving beyond their love of Pope, Americans came in the early national period to admire the poetry of authors such as Thomas Gray, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Coleridge, and they began to write poetry that explored inner states and evoked intense connections to nature. This was not a rejection of all that had come before; Americans had written poetry about nature throughout the colonial and Revolutionary periods, and Freneau's melancholic "The Wild Honeysuckle" had in fact foreshadowed the way in which, in later years, a contemplation of nature would become a contemplation of the observing self. It is the case, though, that what had once been a minor strain was becoming a dominant idiom, and the early verse of perhaps the era's best-known practitioner of the new style, William Cullen Bryant, suggests the changing style and tone of American poetry. Bryant's 1808 "The Embargo" was a poetic attack on Thomas Jefferson's policies. Despite its familiar subject, the poem had an unexpected emotional intensity that, in Bryant's own words, "darken'd satire's page." By the time of Bryant's first significant work, "Thanatopsis," which he began in 1814 and completed in 1821, the poet had more completely left behind Augustan forms and themes for strains both older and newer: "Thanatopsis," written in a meditative blank verse, merged a Calvinist sense of death's dominion with a reverence for nature that feels distinctively nineteenth century:

When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth under the open sky, and list
To Nature's teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air,—
Comes a still voice.

"No one, on this side of the Atlantic," insisted the author Richard Henry Dana on reading the original published version, "is capable of writing such verses." But someone had, and he would be far from the last American poet to venture forth "under the open sky."

See alsoAuthorship; Autobiography and Memoir; Fiction; Fourth of July; Nonfiction Prose; Print Culture; Romanticism; Satire; Theater and Drama; Women: Writers .


Dowling, William C. Poetry and Ideology in Revolutionary Connecticut. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990.

Ellison, Julie. "Race and Sensibility in the Early Republic: Ann Eliza Bleecker and Sarah Wentworth Morton." American Literature 65, no. 3 (1993): 445–474.

Gilmore, Michael T. "The Literature of the Revolutionary and Early National Periods." In The Cambridge History of American Literature. Edited by Sacvan Bercovitch. Vol. 1: 1590–1820. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Grasso, Christopher. A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Hayes, Edmund M. "The Private Poems of Mercy Otis Warren." New England Quarterly 54, no. 2 (1981): 199–224.

Mulford, Carla J. "Political Poetics: Annis Boudinot Stockton and Middle Atlantic Women's Culture." New Jersey History 111, no. 1–2 (1993): 67–110.

Nickels, Cameron C. "Federalist Mock Pastorals: The Ideology of Early New England Humor." Early American Literature 17, no. 2 (1982): 139–151.

Richards, Phillip M. "Phillis Wheatley and Literary Americanization." American Quarterly 44, no. 2 (1992): 163–191.

Shields, David S. Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Shields, John C. "Phillis Wheatley's Subversive Pastoral." Eighteenth-Century Studies 27, no. 4 (1994): 631–647.

Wertheimer, Eric. "Commencement Ceremonies: History and Identity in 'The Rising Glory of America,' 1771 and 1786." Early American Literature 29, no. 1 (1994): 35–58.

Catherine O. Kaplan


views updated Jun 11 2018


Poetry published in the United States during the 1930s was, as in any other era, extremely varied aesthetically and ideologically. However, in general it was marked by social engagement and a concern for history, ethnicity, race, and region. It was also a period in which writing associated with the organized Left, particularly the Communist Party, in no small part set the poetic agenda.

The economic crisis of the Great Depression and the various political crises that the financial collapse engendered brought politics and ideology into the foreground of much 1930s poetry. This was not only true of the work of such left-wing poets as Muriel Rukeyser, Joy Davidman, Edwin Rolfe, Langston Hughes, Sterling A. Brown, and Horace Gregory, but also that of writers with announced right-wing, sometimes even fascist, sympathies, such as Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. Also, left-wing institutions that supported the work of radical poets, such as the journal New Masses, gained an increased prominence. At the same time, "mainstream" institutions became more open to the Left and poetry of social engagement generally. For example, a number of radical poets, including Rukeyser, Davidman, and Margaret Walker, won the prestigious Yale Younger Poets award during this period. The leading poetry magazine, Poetry, featured "social realist" issues edited by prominent leftist poets.

The political engagement of many poets, both left and right, had a tremendous impact on the form of poetry in the 1930s. An overriding concern for poets of the era was the relationship between high literary culture and the new popular culture industries that came of age by the end of the 1920s (e.g., sound film, pulp fiction, radio, comic books, advertising, phonograph recordings). Some poets, generally the more politically conservative ones, such as Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Alan Tate, and John Crowe Ransom, maintained a "high modern" antagonism to popular culture and often looked back to an idealized vision of an earlier historical moment, whether the Holy Roman Empire or the pre-Civil War South, for a model of organic society.

The more Left-influenced poets, including some of the older modernist generation (e.g., William Carlos Williams, Archibald MacLeish, and Langston Hughes), as well as the younger radicals, often, though not universally, engaged popular culture in a more positive fashion. These writers considered how to address the working class, "the people," or some other oppressed group (e.g., African Americans), whether in modernist or traditional high literary forms, in adaptations of folk culture or popular commercial culture, or some amalgamation of the above. The manner in which various poets answered the question of how one might speak by, for, of, and to the people had tremendous implications for poetic diction, rhythm, rhyme, received forms (whether the sonnet or the blues), theme, intertextual relationships, voice, the arrangement on the page—and in fact what constitutes poetry. Of course, such poets as Carl Sandburg and Vachel Lindsay (and Walt Whitman for that matter) had considered these issues decades earlier, but the question of audience, form, and cultural work took on a new intensity in atmosphere of the Great Depression.

Leftist influence during this era can be roughly divided into two periods. The first, from about 1928 to 1935, was dominated by the notion of an oppositional culture that was rooted in a workers' or folk tradition that allegedly existed outside of commercial culture. Left-influenced artists who subscribed to this approach tended to look for or imagine "folk" cultures or a "worker" culture that lay outside of mass consumer culture—though they were often also influenced by the formal artistic radicalism of the early twentieth-century modernists (who, as mentioned earlier, often looked back to an idealized pre-capitalist community). They were not only interested in folklore and documentary, but in recreating a distinctive working-class or folk voice in a manner that was paradoxically engaged and objective. For example, the African-American poet Sterling A. Brown in the title poem of his 1932 volume Southern Road combines the form and subjectivity of the blues and the collectivity of the chain gang call-and-response song.

The second period was the Popular Front era of the later half of the 1930s. A notable aspect of Popular Front aesthetics was a cultural mixing of the "high" and the "low," of the "popular" and the "literary," of Walt Whitman and the early T. S. Eliot, of folk culture and mass culture, of literary and non-literary documents, of different genres and different media. This mixing of high and low frequently functioned satirically, as seen, for example, in the work of Kenneth Fearing, Frank Marshall Davis, and Langston Hughes, which often made use of a pastiche of the diction and rhetorical styles of hardboiled fiction, advertising, journalism, newsreels, political speechmaking, and radio drama. Although the relation of these artists to mass culture was less adversarial than that of their high modernist predecessors, a critique of mass culture that highlighted some awareness of the costs of using the resources of mass culture was an important part of even those artists who seemed most sanguine about the possibilities of such a usage.

Another important feature of much Popular Front art is an interest in race and ethnicity and the relation of racial identity and ethnic identity to American identity. This aspect of the Popular Front has often been misunderstood in that Popular Front constructs of "the people" have been set in opposition to particularized ethnic or racial identity. However, when one considers the poetry of Sterling A. Brown, Don West, Aaron Kramer, Frank Marshall Davis, Langston Hughes, Waring Cuney, and Margaret Walker, to name but a few of many examples, it is clear that race and ethnicity remain overriding concerns during the Popular Front, albeit concerns that are as much about transformation of identity as they are tradition.

Finally, many of the artistic, literary, or quasi-literary works of the Popular Front era are marked by concerns with place and history in American identity, an interest that is often closely connected to the above mentioned concern with race and ethnicity. While the place represented, recreated, and dissected is most commonly a specific city or urban neighborhood, such representations are frequently rural, as seen in Don West's poems of the southern mountains. These concerns mark not only the work of poets commonly associated with the Left of the 1930s, but also the work of older writers, including Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and, more obliquely, Wallace Stevens, as well as that of the conservative poets, including Alan Tate and Robert Penn Warren, who were associated with the Agrarian literary circle of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Interestingly, Tate, Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and others associated with the Agrarians published some of the seminal works of the New Criticism during this period, particularly Warren's and Brooks's 1938 Understanding Poetry, which enshrined a formalist modernism detached from author and social engagement as the dominant model for literary evaluation.

As noted above, there were considerable aesthetic and ideological differences among poets during the 1930s. Even among writers who could be considered leftist, or among those who could be seen as conservative, there were different emphases in aesthetics and political concerns. However, poets of the era generally examined the generic limits of poetry, often with questions concerning who poetry is written for and what poetry can do in the mind. Certainly these questions had been asked and answered before the 1930s, particularly in the modernist era preceding the 1930s. What is unusual about these poets, and the radical poets, critics, and journals of the 1930s generally, is that they placed these questions in the foreground.



Filreis, Alan. Modernism from Right to Left: Wallace Stevens, the Thirties, and Literary Radicalism. 1994.

Nelson, Cary. Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left. 2001

Nelson, Cary. Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910–1945. 1989.

Nelson, Cary, ed. Modern American Poetry homepage: an online journal and multimedia companion to the Anthology of Modern American Poetry, Oxford University Press, 2000. Department of English, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Available at: www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/

Perkins, David. A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After. 1987.

Smethurst, James. The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African-American Poetry, 1930–1946. 1999.

Thurston, Michael. Making Something Happen: American Political Poetry between the Wars. 2001.

James Smethurst


views updated May 14 2018

POETRY Literary composition in verse form. It is often the case that to discuss a piece of work as poetry implies evaluating its quality, while to discuss it as verse relates to technique used in creating it. The terms, however, are blurred: the phrase bad poetry may refer to technique and the phrase superb verse may imply poetic excellence. In general, however, verse is the basis that supports a structure of sufficient quality to be called a poem.

The poetic medium

Poetry need not be written: early poetry was oral, transmitted and preserved through the mnemonic and performative skills of bards with no awareness of script or print. The written code accommodates poetry and adds the aesthetic effect of lines grouped on a page, or even of poems shaped in a visual pattern, like George Herbert's ‘Easter Wings’. Other phonic features are added to the basic metrical pattern of verse, with or without rhyme. Thus, the sound of words may be directly onomatopoeic or may give a less overt effect of sound symbolism. Both are heard in Tennyson's ‘Come Down, O Maid’ (1847):
The moan of doves in immemorial elms And murmuring of innumerable bees.

Slow or rapid movement can be suggested by a deliberate pattern of sounds and syllables as in Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism (1711):When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw,
The line too labours, and the words move slow;
Not so, when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Files o'er th'unbending corn, and skims along the main.

Alliteration is not a part of most modern verse structure, but has a tradition dating back to Old English. Many poets have made it a feature for rhetoric or emphasis. Imagery in poetry conveys ideas obliquely, drawing from almost any area of human experience to create a response more effective than direct exposition. SHAKESPEARE makes frequent references to disease and corruption in Hamlet to suggest evil in the state of Denmark. In ‘Dover Beach’, Matthew Arnold likens his uncertainty and loss of faith to an ebbing tide. Images are often presented through figures of speech like simile and metaphor. These are also found in PROSE and to a lesser extent in everyday discourse. They are especially distinctive of poetry, however, because of their frequency and the stronger focus of attention given by verse forms.

The poetic message

The appeal of poetry is semantic as well as phonic. The poet has something to convey in language, which may range from the half-concealed situation in many of Shakespeare's sonnets, through Wordsworth's specific description and reflection of experience in ‘The Daffodils’, to the overt message of the ‘Song of the Shirt’ by Thomas Hood. In general, the poem gains by not being too explicit in its personal statement. The meanings and associations of a word may not be in harmony with its sound: although paraffin contains a pleasing phonemic sequence, it would not usually be regarded as a ‘poetic’ word; equilibrium refers to a good state of being but has not a traditional poetic sound. Polysemy, abundant in English, enriches poetic language, as when T. S. Eliot uses the theological and linguistic meanings of word to write of Christ in his nativity as:
The word within a word, unable to speak a word.

(‘ Gerontion’, 1920)

The pun is not currently in fashion for serious writing, but could once be used with telling effect:
Therefore I lie with her, and she with me, And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

( Shakespeare, Sonnet 138)

The language of poetry

Concentration of special linguistic effects in a regular pattern tends to produce artificial diction. Rigid conventions about poetic usage have been less powerful in English than in some languages, but there have been times when poets have moved away from the familiar and everyday: particularly so in the 18c, with circumlocutions like the finny tribe for fish and the bleating kind for sheep. New generations of poets often demand a return to ‘ordinary’ language, as Wordsworth led the Romantic reaction against 18c POETIC DICTION with a call for ‘a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation’. In the 1930s, the ‘New Country’ poets, such as W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Cecil Day Lewis, wanted to write language that was accessible to ordinary people.

In the 20c, language has been accepted in poetry that would once have been considered too colloquial, commonplace, or even obscene, but this too can become mannered and removed from common usage. Poetry will always be to some extent artificial; selection and compression within the chosen form, even of free verse, distances the poem from daily usage. True poetry, however, is never entirely severed from the speaking voice; a certain latitude, however, sometimes called poetic licence, allows the poet to take liberties with language. In the classical set of genres, poetry was epic or lyric according to the degree in which the poet's direct voice was heard. Later theory has absorbed both genres under the general heading of poetry and added forms for specific purposes, such as elegy and pastoral. The frontier between poetry and prose is not always closely guarded or easy to delineate. If prose has a markedly high proportion of rhythm and other features associated with poetry, it is poetic prose or even prose poetry. An extended SIMILE with imagery and careful choice of words can give poetic quality to a passage in a novel, as:
Her words faded. So a rocket fades. Its sparks, having grazed their way into the night, surrender to it, dark descends, pours over the outlines of houses and towers; bleak hill-sides soften and fall in.

( Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, 1925)

Some of the highest literary uses of English have been in poetry. Poets have wanted not only to create beauty but also to express themselves memorably; the attitudes, fashions, and beliefs of many periods are made permanent in poetry. It appeals to the senses as well as the intellect. Of the two, sensory attraction is the more important; without emotive beauty, versified philosophy has little to recommend it. Although a relatively objective metalanguage can be devised to describe and discuss poetry, individual response to it is necessarily subjective. See ALLITERATION, ASSONANCE, BIBLE, BURNS, ENGLISH LITERATURE, LITERATURE, NONSENSE, RHYTHM, STRESS.


views updated May 29 2018


The Armenian genocide and the Holocaust produced some important and critically acclaimed poets. These poets bore witness to genocide and wrote about exile, grief, and moral outrage.

Poetry of the Armenian Genocide

Siamanto (Adom Yarjanian) was born in 1878 in Akn, Ottoman Empire (present-day Kemaliye, Turkey). He wrote a cycle of poems in Bloody News from My Friend (1909) that depict the atrocities of the 1909 massacre of the Armenians when converging Turkish political coalitions and local Turkish citizens killed about thirty thousand Armenians living in Adana province; this was a prologue to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. "The Dance," "Grief," "The Mulberry Tree," and "The Dagger" are graphic, realistic depictions of massacre, torture, and rape. Scholars consider Siamanto a ground-breaking poet because he preceded the British trench poets of World War I and refused to be ornamental, generic, or metaphysical in his writings. During the Armenian genocide, he was one of the 250 intellectuals and cultural leaders arrested in Constantinople on April 24, 1915, and later executed by the Ottoman government.

Along with Siamanto, Daniel Varoujan (1884–1915), was a leading voice of the new generation of western Armenian writers (Armenians of the Ottoman Empire). His early poems embody the recovery of Armenian myths, legends, and folklore that characterized the cultural revival of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the twentieth century. He was arrested by the Ottoman government on April 24, 1915, and later tortured and murdered on August 19. While he was in prison he wrote poems about Armenian agrarian life and a longing for the land. His poem "The Red Soil" depicts the culture of massacre Armenians were subjected to from the time of Sultan Abdul Hamid's massacres of the Armenians in the 1890s through the eve of the Armenian genocide.

Eghishe Charents (1897–1937) was born in Kars, then Russian Armenia (in present-day Turkey). His epiclike poem "Dantesque Legend" deals with his experience of the Armenian genocide during his participation in a resistance movement that took him into northeastern Turkey in order to rescue Armenians. Many other Charents poems deal with the trauma of the genocide.

Vahan Tekeyan (1878–1948), born in Constantinople, was in Cairo, Egypt, when the genocide commenced, and so escaped execution. His selected poems, Sacred Wrath (1983), include a number of finely controlled and often elliptically transformed poems of loss, exile, and grief: "On a Sonata by Beethoven" is a meditation on music and exile. "We Shall Say to God," " We Shall Forget," "There Are Boys," "To God," and "Scutari" are highly acclaimed poems about trauma and the meaning of suffering in the wake of genocide.

Poetry of the Holocaust

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Jewish poets produced a range of important poems that bore direct witness to atrocity, to the aftermath of trauma, and to the metaphysical meaning of suffering. Nelly Sachs (1891–1970) was born into a wealthy family in Berlin. When the Nazis came to power, she barely escaped arrest, and fled to Sweden, where she lived for the rest of her life, writing and translating Swedish poetry. Her career as a poet flowered when she was in her fifties. In the House of Death (1947) deals with the suffering of the Jews and the overarching suffering of humanity. Eclipse of Stars (1949), And No One Knows Where to Go (1957), and Metamorphosis (1959) explore suffering, persecution, and exile. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1966.

Miklos Radnoti (1909–1944), a Hungarian Jew, was an avant-garde poet and editor before being deported and sent to labor camps in Yugoslavia. On a forced march back to Hungary with some three thousand men, he was shot. When his body was exhumed from a mass grave in 1946, his widow found a notebook full of poems in his pockets that included some of the most powerful poems written about the Holocaust: "Forced March," "Letter to My Wife," "Peace, Horror," "Picture Postcards," and "Seventh Ecologue."

Primo Levi (1919–1987) was born in Turin, Italy, and fought with the partisans in Italy until he was captured in 1944 and sent to the Bunz-Monowitz concentration camp. His professional training as a chemist helped him survive until the Russians liberated his camp in 1945. Although he is most well known for his works Survival in Auschwitz (1947) and The Drowned and the Saved (1986), Levi was also a poet. His poems bear an austerity and plain style that addresses the concentration camp experience with a unique rhetorical power that does not betray poetic texture. Levi's Collected Poems (1984) include "Shema," "For Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem," "Buna," and "Annunciation," among others. Levi, never able to overcome the psychological burden of his experiences, committed suicide in 1987.

Paul Celan (1920–1970) was born Paul Antschel in Bukovina, a German enclave of Romania, which was occupied by Romanian Fascists and Nazis in the early 1940s. His parents died in a concentration camp, but Celan—who was sent into forced labor—escaped to Paris in 1944 where he settled and continued to write poetry in German. His poems are written with an inventive dissonance that bears his tortured relationship to the perpetrator's language, thus defining him as a major and experimental poet. "Death Fugue," a poem that deals with concentration camp life, may be the most famous poem of the Holocaust. He committed suicide by drowning himself in the Seine in 1970. Selections from his nine books of poems appear in Poems of Paul Celan (1970). Other important poets of the Holocaust include Tadeusz Borowski (1922–1951), Dan Pagis (1930–1986), Abraham Sutzkever (1913–), and Gertrud Kolmar (1894–1943).

SEE ALSO Fiction


Der Hovanessian, Diana, and Marzbed Margossian, eds. and trans. (1978). Anthology of Armenian Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press.

Der Hovanessian, Diana, and Marzbed Margossian, eds. and trans. (1986). Land of Fire: Selected Poems of Eghishe Charents. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis.

Forché, Carolyn, ed. (1993). Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness. New York: W.W. Norton.

Peter Balakian


views updated May 09 2018

510. Poetry (See also Inspiration.)

  1. Bragi god of verse. [Norse Myth.: Parrinder, 50]
  2. Calliope Muse of epic poetry. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 159]
  3. Castalia Parnassian fountain; endowed drinker with poetic creativity. [Gk. Myth.: LLEI, I: 325]
  4. Daphnis creator of bucolic poetry. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 75]
  5. Erato Muse of love lyrics. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 159]
  6. Euterpe Muse of lyric poetry. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 159]
  7. Homer legendary author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. [Gk. Lit.: Benét, 474]
  8. Parnassus mountains sacred to Muses; hence, abode of poetry. [Gk. Myth.: Hall, 234]
  9. Pleiade, The 16th century poets sought to revitalize French literature. [Fr. Hist.: Benét, 795]
  10. Sappho (c. 620c. 565 B. C.) lyric poet sometimes called the tenth muse. [Gk. Lit.: Benét, 896897]
  11. White Goddess, the goddess of ancient fertility and the moon whose worship is claimed by Robert Graves to be the origin of poetry. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1087]


views updated May 18 2018

po·et·ry / ˈpōətrē; ˈpōitrē/ • n. literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature: he is chiefly famous for his love poetry. ∎  a quality of beauty and intensity of emotion regarded as characteristic of poems: poetry and fire are nicely balanced in the music. ∎  something regarded as comparable to poetry in its beauty: the music department is housed in a building that is pure poetry.


views updated May 11 2018

poetry Literary medium that employs the line as its formal unit, and in which the sound, rhythm and meaning of words are all equally important. Until the modern introduction of the concept of free verse, poetry was characteristically written in regular lines with carefully structured metres, often with rhymes. See also literature; prose