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The Poetry of Kabbalah

The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition

TRANSLATED AND ANNOTATED BY PETER COLE
CO-EDITED AND WITH AN AFTERWORD BY AMINADAV DYKMAN
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 544
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vkqvn
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  • Book Info
    The Poetry of Kabbalah
    Book Description:

    This groundbreaking collection presents for the first time in English a substantial body of poetry that emerges directly from the sublime and often startling world of Jewish mysticism. Taking up Gershom Scholem's call to plumb the "tremendous poetic potential" concealed in the Kabbalistic tradition, Peter Cole provides dazzling renderings of work composed on three continents over a period of some fifteen hundred years.

    In addition to the translations and the texts in their original languages, Cole supplies a lively and insightful introduction, along with accessible commentaries to the poems. Aminadav Dykman adds an elegant afterword that places the work in the context of world literature. As a whole, the collection brings readers into the fascinating force field of Kabbalistic verse, where the building blocks of both language and existence itself are unveiled.

    Excerpts fromThe Poetry of Kabbalahhave been featured in theParis Review, Poetry,andConjunctions.

    "Studded with insight, and written with great verve, this book will become a classic."-Lawrence Fine, author ofPhysician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18361-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. ix-xxii)
    Peter Cole

    The stakes couldn’t be higher: extraction of light from the container of sound; ascent to the Throne of God and direct vision of His Glory; the eradication of coarseness and the forces of darkness; a path to redemption, sometimes through sin; the achievement of erotic union on high—which is to say, the sacred marriage of feminine and masculine aspects within the Deity.¹ “Great is the power of the poem recited for the sake of heaven,” writes one late-seventeenth-century North African poet. “It unites all the [spiritual] qualities like a sacrificial offering, aligns the [heavenly] channels, and gives rise to...

  4. POEMS OF THE PALACES AND EARLY LITURGICAL HYMNS

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 3-5)

      Jewish mystical tradition once held that by reciting the visionary hymns known as the Poems of the Palaces (or Heikhalot) a man might, if he didn’t fall prey to any number of potentially fatal obstacles along the way, ascend through the seven heavens to the innermost chamber in the palace on high and approach the throne of God. There he could behold the Divine Glory and participate in the celestial liturgy. Collected in a group of compact, strange, and spiritually turbocharged texts that recount the experience of that ascent, these hymns surface among magical incantations, prose accounts of the process...

    • HYMN TO THE HEAVENS
      (pp. 6-6)
      Anonymous
    • A MEASURE OF HOLINESS
      (pp. 7-8)
      Anonymous
    • AWE AND ADORNMENT
      (pp. 9-9)
      Anonymous
    • EACH DAY
      (pp. 10-11)
      Anonymous
    • FROM WHOSE BEAUTY THE DEPTHS ARE LIT
      (pp. 12-12)
      Anonymous
    • TO RISE ON HIGH
      (pp. 13-13)
      Anonymous
    • BLESSED IS THE EYE
      (pp. 14-19)
      Anonymous
    • THE PRIEST’S APPEARANCE
      (pp. 20-22)
      Anonymous
    • WINDOWS OF WORSHIP
      (pp. 23-23)
      Anonymous
    • ANGEL OF FIRE
      (pp. 24-24)
      Yannai
    • FROM THE SKY TO THE HEAVENS’ HEAVENS
      (pp. 25-26)
      Yannai
    • KING GIRDED WITH MIGHT
      (pp. 27-31)
      Eliezer Kallir
    • CREATURES FOUR-SQUARE ABOUT THE THRONE
      (pp. 32-33)
      Eliezer Kallir
    • RELEASE, PLEASE
      (pp. 34-34)
      Anonymous
  5. THE BOOK OF CREATION

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 37-41)

      While not “a poem that is always a poem,” and in fact not really a poem at all,Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation (or Formation), is very much a cosmic or divinears poetica, and the term “prose” hardly begins to account for what we find there. The analogy to artistic and, especially, poetic creation is all the more tempting as letters and the order one can make of them (through measure, registration, and arrangement) lie at the heart of the book’s esoteric doctrine. Some writers have even describedSefer Yetzirahas a treatise on the power of sound...

    • FROM SEFER YETZIRAH
      (pp. 42-48)
  6. AL-ANDALUS AND ASHKENAZ

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 51-54)

      Kabbalah proper would not emerge until the late twelfth century, in southern France, but important poets were, as we’ve seen, deeply engaged long before that with the metaphysical and psycho-spiritual hints and traces, the insights and experiences, that Kabbalists would later develop into a full-fledged symbolic system. One of these outstanding forerunners, and in fact one of the greatest poets in the history of Hebrew literature, was Shelomoh Ibn Gabirol, the second of the major Andalusian Hebrew poets. He was born in Malaga circa 1021 and died sometime after 1056, possibly in Valencia.

      From the thirteenth century on, central personalities...

    • HE DWELLS FOREVER
      (pp. 55-58)
      Shelomoh Ibn Gabirol
    • ANGELS AMASSING
      (pp. 59-60)
      Shelomoh Ibn Gabirol
    • I LOVE YOU
      (pp. 61-61)
      Shelomoh Ibn Gabirol
    • FROM KINGDOM’S CROWN
      (pp. 62-69)
      Shelomoh Ibn Gabirol
    • TRUE LIFE
      (pp. 70-70)
      Yehudah HaLevi
    • WHERE WILL I FIND YOU
      (pp. 71-72)
      Yehudah HaLevi
    • Lord, [All My Desire]
      (pp. 73-74)
      Yehudah HaLevi
    • A DOVE IN THE DISTANCE
      (pp. 75-80)
      Yehudah HaLevi
    • HYMN OF DIVINE GLORY
      (pp. 81-86)
      Yehudah HeHasid
  7. THE KABBALAH IN SPAIN

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 89-93)

      The development of Kabbalistic circles in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries is a particularly complex and elusive phenomenon, and this isn’t the place to unravel it or even to explain how others have tried to. For our purposes, it should be enough to say that, while some recent writers have found “Kabbalistic” phenomena appearing several centuries earlier in the East (and along the Rhine), scholarly consensus now holds that Kabbalah as we’ve come to know it crystallized around this time in southern France and then, nearby, in northeastern Spain. The Provençal school of Jewish mysticism appears not to...

    • BEFORE THE WORLD EVER WAS
      (pp. 94-96)
      Moshe ben Nahman
    • PRAYERS FOR THE PROTECTION AND OPENING OF THE HEART
      (pp. 97-104)
      Ya’akov HaKohen
    • ON AWAKENING AND DRAWING NEAR
      (pp. 105-106)
      The Zohar

      Aspiration to action and the bonds of faith. A voice, the voice of voices, awakened on high and below. Our eyes were open: a wheel turned on high all around, and a fine voice was aroused. Awaken, those who drowse—with sleep in their hollows—and neither look nor see nor know, their ears sealed, their hearts thick, they drowse and do not know. The Torah and teaching stand before them. They cannot comprehend, and do not know what they behold. Scripture sends forth voices. Look closely, fools, open your eyes and understand. But none notice and none hear. How...

    • INCANTATION AGAINST LILITH
      (pp. 107-112)
      The Zohar
    • FROM THE BOOK OF THE SIGN
      (pp. 113-120)
      Avraham Abulafia
    • THE NUT GARDEN
      (pp. 121-122)
      Yosef Gikatilla
  8. THE SAFED CIRCLE (GALILEAN KABBALAH)

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 125-132)

      The most intensely erotic and, at the same time, ascetic phase of Kabbalistic development took place in the mid-sixteenth century in Safed, a dramatically pitched mountain town some ten miles north-west of the Sea of Galilee. During the principal sixty-year period of mystical activity there, Kabbalah evolved from a secret teaching promulgated among initiates to a more popular movement whose “peculiar doctrines” would, over the course of the coming centuries, reach almost every Jewish community on earth as they took up what Scholem called “their victorious march through the world.”

      Safed’s emergence asthemystical center of Jewish Palestine is...

    • HYMN TO THE SABBATH
      (pp. 133-135)
      Shelomoh Alkabetz
    • PEACE BE UPON YOU
      (pp. 136-136)
      Anonymous
    • SOUL’S BELOVED
      (pp. 137-148)
      Eliezer Azikri
    • HYMNS FOR THE THREE SABBATH MEALS
      (pp. 149-159)
      Yitzhak Luria
    • WHY, MY DESIRE
      (pp. 160-161)
      Yitzhak Luria
    • HIDDEN GOD
      (pp. 162-164)
      Avraham ben Maimon
    • TO THE SHEKHINAH
      (pp. 165-165)
      Yisrael Najara
    • YOUR KINGDOM’S GLORY
      (pp. 166-168)
      Yisrael Najara
  9. EXTENSIONS EAST AND WEST

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 171-175)

      Yemenite and North African Kabbalah do not figure in Gershom Scholem’s or anyone else’s list of major trends in Jewish mysticism, and the poetry these esoteric traditions produced is minor (with regard to quality, if not quantity). Often boilerplate in both its didacticism and its devotion, it seems to be fueled by an Andalusian sort of urge without the original urgency, and it lacks the counterpoint one finds in the earlier hybrid Hebrew poetry. The best of its mystical verse is, however, distinctive for the particular timbre and density of its rhetoric and for its sensual qualities, as though its...

    • WHO KISSED ME
      (pp. 176-176)
      Shalem Shabazi
    • THE MYRTLE’S SCENT
      (pp. 177-179)
      Shalem Shabazi
    • BAR YOHAI
      (pp. 180-182)
      Shimon Lavi
    • IN PRAISE OF THE NAME AND ITS MYSTERY
      (pp. 183-184)
      Ya’akov Ifargan
  10. JEWISH MUSLIMS/MUSLIM JEWS

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 187-197)

      On Saturday morning, December 12, 1665, an owl-faced, manicdepressive, forty-year-old Smyrna-born rabbi named Shabbatai Tzvi—who for the past decade had been at the center of serious religious turmoil within a number of Ottoman Jewish communities—marched with a mob of some five hundred followers toward his hometown’s Portuguese synagogue. The rabbi was furious, as his orders to expel one of the synagogue’s more esteemed members had been defied by the community’s elders. Fearing the throng, the congregation barred the doors to the synagogue, at which point Shabbatai Tzvi sent for an ax and forced his way in.

      Intellectually undistinguished...

    • MELISELDA
      (pp. 198-198)
      Shabbatian Hymns
    • I HAVE FOUND BLISS
      (pp. 199-200)
      Shabbatian Hymns
    • THE VALLEY OF ISHMAEL
      (pp. 201-202)
      Shabbatian Hymns
    • ON THE EXTINGUISHING OF THE LIGHTS
      (pp. 203-204)
      Shabbatian Hymns
    • SECRET PLEASURE
      (pp. 205-206)
      Shabbatian Hymns
    • ON THE DESTRUCTION OF THE LAW
      (pp. 207-207)
      Shabbatian Hymns
    • THE GHAZAL OF GOODNESS
      (pp. 208-208)
      Shabbatian Hymns
  11. ITALIAN KABBALAH

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 211-217)

      Italy played a central role in the dissemination of Jewish mystical thought and writing from early on, serving as a way station for esoteric literature that came from the East and was headed west, and also absorbing Kabbalah proper as it emerged from Spain. Merkavah traditions had taken hold in Apulia by the mid-ninth century; German Pietism can be traced back to the Kalonymos family’s late-ninth- or early-tenth-century move from Lucca to the Rhineland; and in the thirteenth century Avraham Abulafia spent critical time in southern Italy teaching his brand of ecstatic Kabbalah. There is also clear-cut evidence that, from...

    • THE LIGHT CONCEALED
      (pp. 218-220)
      Moshe Zacut
    • YOU READIED A LIGHT
      (pp. 221-227)
      Moshe Zacut
    • MESSIAH
      (pp. 228-228)
      Moshe Hayyim Luzzatto
  12. HASIDIC DEVOTION

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 231-235)

      “The earlier Kabbalah tried to bring man into heaven,” wrote one recent observer of Hasidism. “The main idea of Hasidism was to bring heaven into man.” Which is not to say that Lurianic Kabbalah and Hasidism were opposed to each other. On the contrary, modern Hasidism emerges out of the basic cosmic principles set forth by Yitzhak Luria—fullness, contraction, creation through catastrophe, and restoration (tikkun)—but it rings powerful changes on them. Instead of the sprawling Kabbalistic abstraction and stacked-up symbolic systems that seek to account for the dynamics of creation, in place of the mixed metaphorical registers of...

    • SONG OF YOU
      (pp. 236-237)
      Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev
    • FROM THE TANYA
      (pp. 238-238)
      Shneur Zalman
  13. THE SEEDS OF SECULAR MYSTICISM

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 241-245)

      Toward the end of hisMajor Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Gershom Scholem relates a Hasidic tale that applies in uncanny fashion to the final link in this book’s literary chain of mystical transmission. Whenever the Baal Shem Tov was faced with a grave task, the story has it, he would make his way to a certain place in the forest, light a fire in a special manner, say a particular set of prayers, and—miraculously—the task would be accomplished. When his disciple the Maggid of Mezeritch faced a similar challenge, he would go to the same place in the...

    • FROM THE POOL
      (pp. 246-248)
      Hayyim Nahman Bialik
    • BRING ME IN UNDER YOUR WING
      (pp. 249-250)
      Hayyim Nahman Bialik
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 251-434)
  15. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 435-446)
    Aminadav Dykman

    “When they say: ‘alexandria,’” wrote the Russian poet Mikhail Kuzmin in one of his poems, “I see the white walls of a house, / A small garden with a bed of gilly-flowers / the pallid sun of an autumn evening / And I hear the sound of distant flutes.” At the words “anthology of mystical verse” what does the general reader hear? Most likely a chain of celebrated names from East and West: the great Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hindi poet-mystics Attar, Hallaj, Muhyaddin Ibn al-Arabi, Jalaladdin Rumi, Yunus Emre, and Kabir. Then the major figures of Western mystical poetry:...

  16. Poems in Hebrew and Other Languages
    (pp. None)
  17. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 447-448)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 449-449)