The poetic spirit within the Jewish people is so strong that often even their prose seems poetic. Some scholars have proposed that we read the entire Bible as if it were a poem relating God to the Jewish people and the Jewish people to God. It was through poetry that the Jews expressed the depths of their souls, achieved peace with an often harsh and cruel world, and sought the beauty of God’s majesty in nature through the continual drama that we let’s call creation.
During these thousands of years of Jewish history, the art of poetry has been more than literary expression; it also serves as a spiritual buffer against the realities of an insensitive and dangerous world. Almost from birth, Jews know the world can be a dangerous place, and it is in poetry that they found the psychological seeds of survival. From the poetry of the Bible to the poetry of prisoners languishing in the dungeons of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition, from the extreme anguish experienced in German concentration camps to the ecstasy of national liberation, poetry has been a vehicle in which the Jews interacted with the world.
The love of poetry is so deeply rooted in the Jewish people that pre-Sabbath editions of Israeli dailies have a poetry section, just as American newspapers have sports sections.
This month, we take a brief look at two of the many great Jewish poets, unknown to many in the Western world. One wrote in the light of Spain’s golden age, and the other wrote in the darkness of Czarist Russia. Although these poets lived centuries from each other and in different countries, they wrote in Hebrew, expressed their love for humanity, and felt connected to the Land of Israel, the Jewish people and to God. The two poets speak to us through the centuries, and both have contributed greatly to Hebrew and world literature.