Let Our Hour Be Vast As The River

Written by tesadmin on . Posted in Rabbi's Blog

For a long time now, I have been reading poetry, but most poems I read
 I cannot understand. Even when I do believe that I understand, they 
often fail to move me. My friend Michael has said that of one hundred
poems he might come across, ninety-nine of them would be lost on him. 
But, he says, it is worth slogging through those ninety-nine for the
power and immediacy he feels reading the hundredth one, the kind of
poem that changes your life, that gives words to something that
previously had only existed inside you as a feeling or sensation.
Poetry comes closest to expressing the inexpressible. For that reason,
I think of poetry as religious language.

Much has been written about the difference between poetry and prose.
The best distinction that I’ve heard between the two is that prose is
binary – it can only hold one truth, while poetry can hold many
 seemingly contradictory truths.

To me, the Bible is poetry. How else could you explain the many ways
that we read it, the different faces it will turn up to us as we read
and re-read it at different junctures in our lives? Of course a sacred
text would be multi-vocal instead of uni-vocal. The tradition says
one should read the Torah from the vantage point of all the
characters – not only Moses or Abraham, but also Pharaoh. G-d
is too vast to fit into one view or one idea. And so, to me the Bible
must be the language of poetry.

Just like we enjoy the old Westerns because of the clear distinction
between the good guys and bad guys, we often wish the Bible were
prose, containing one truth, one way of seeing. The world of prose is
a relief because there are clear lines and distinctions between

Only poetry can name the moment, or series of moments, when one season morphs into another season. There is no clear line demarcating between the two. Prose
can’t really get at this. But poetry can express this feeling of the
air being just a little different each morning and each evening, and
for the longing that can overtake us this time of year. Witness the
words of the poet Jack Gilbert: “Love lasts by not lasting.” Or Yves
Bonnefoy, “And again: summer will last / No more than an hour. / But
let our hour be / Vast as the river.” We hear these words that don’t
describe the season exactly, but somehow describe our feeling in the
presence of the season’s change. As our evening prayers say, “With wisdom you open gateways, with understanding you alter times, vary the seasons…”

In our day to day world, we often write in prose, because we live in prose. We
are trained to see our experiences as good or bad. So, there are two
blessings in Judaism – one to recite upon hearing bad news and one to
recite upon hearing good news. We have two separate blessings because
of the prose world we live in and our conditioned seeing that is a
result of this. It is taught that in the time to come, we will realize
there is only one blessing for good or bad news, since it all comes
from one source. The words of our traditions tell us this also. If we
listen closely, we can hear the hidden poetry inside the words of
prose, like in this line from the morning prayers, “Who can resemble
You, the source of life and death, who makes salvation grow?” Prayer, too,
is in the language of poetry.

So we read through the poetry—and the prayers—that we often don’t
understand for the one that comes along every so often, for the one
that gives a name to this hinge season, for the one that gives a name
to this ancient emotion buried in our chest. Like this poem-prayer
from Leonard Cohen: “The road is too long / the sky is too vast / the
wandering heart / is homeless at last.”

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