From the Bookshelf

From the Bookshelf: Yona Wallach, Let the Words

A guest post by Ariel Naveh.

“Let the Words”

Let the words work on you
let them be free
they’ll enter you they’ll come inside
makers of forms upon forms
they’ll start up in you that same experience
let the words act on you
do with you as they wish
making forms new in the word
they’ll make of the thing yours
the same thing exactly
because they are the thing they’ll make
really understand they’ll liven up
for you that experience and its
interpretation that’s like nature
because they are nature and not an invention
and not a discovery
but real nature
they’ll make nature a thing in you
like giving a kind of life to the word
let the words do to you.

—Yona Wallach (Translation: Linda Zisquit)

The purveyor of this fine blog asked me recently to write up a short post on a piece of writing that I find particularly meaningful, or one that speaks to me. Seeing as how I spent seemingly countless hours sifting through many, many, many poems and analyzing them on content, themes, structure, language, and connection to the greater Israeli societal upheaval of the mid-1970s, I suppose I can see why he would look in my direction.

My work took me in some really fascinating directions, looking at the relationship between Israeli poetry, and Israeli society; how one can be a sort-of spokesperson for the other, representing the many myriad voices that sprang up in that era. So many of those voices – voices of alienation, of ‘otherness,’ of disappointment, anger, rage, sadness, confusion, and loss – and so much of that poetry is equally relevant today. As such, I could very easily have mined my thesis for one of those poems, highlighting perhaps one or two that emphasize through the beautiful, yet innately gendered Hebrew language, the severe gender imbalance so present within Israeli society; or one that discusses the effects of a society constantly in battle, over religion, identity, borders, and citizenship. All of these issues are just as pertinent now as they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or 40 years ago.

Since it’s almost Shabbat I think we could all use something a bit more uplifting, I bring you this poem above. It comes from the Israeli poet Yona Wallach, one of Israel’s most controversial, and as such, most interesting poets. Her work subverted everything from traditional gender roles, to religious practice, to sex, and personal versus national identity.

However, her passion was always the usage and malleability of words, as witnessed by this poem called, in Hebrew תן למילים, or “Let the Words…” To Wallach, words are the building block to all life, and the more you open yourself up to the potential that words bring, the more you can connect to the entirety and the beauty of the world. Words give us the means to express, interpret, create, destroy, connect, and we must indeed ‘let the words’ speak through us in order to truly be a part of the world.

I absolutely love this poem, because to me, it reflects how artistic expression, in this case words and poetry, is equally as vital to our understanding of and connection to each other, society, the natural world, and everything else in between, as the thing itself. We need art, words, media, poetry, music because those are the lenses through which we experience life.

So truly, as you enter this Shabbat, drawing this week to a close, let the words of this week speak through you, giving you license to feel, and to express the ups, the downs, the joys, the chaos, and above all, the life of this week.

Ariel Naveh is entering his final year at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Originally from the mean streets of Long Island, when he’s not analyzing poetry, you can find him biking, cooking, or following the political scene way too closely and passionately, although of late that’s been supplanted some by World Cup soccer.


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