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FW: Book review Twilight of a Golden Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra

Poster: "Garrett, William" <WGarrett@sierrahealth.com>

for those interested

> -----Original Message-----
> From:	tmr-l@wmich.edu [SMTP:tmr-l@wmich.edu]
> Sent:	Wednesday, December 16, 1998 3:09 PM
> To:	tmr-l@rigel.cc.wmich.edu
> Subject:	TMR 98.12.08, Weinberger, Twilight (Langer)
> Leon J.  Weinberger, ed.  and trans., <i>Twilight of a Golden 
> Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra</i>.  Judaic Studies 
> Series.  Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 
> 1997.  Pp. 267 + xv.  $44.95 (hb).  ISBN 0-8173-0878-4
>    Reviewed by Ruth Langer
>         Theology Department, Boston College
>         langerr@bc.edu
> The Schiff Library of Jewish Classics of the Jewish Publication 
> Society (JPS) included volumes of selected poems with English 
> translation by three of the greatest Jewish poets of medieval 
> Spain:  Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1924), Moses ibn Ezra (1934) and 
> Jehudah Halevi (1924).  A lacuna in this collection has finally 
> been addressed with Weinberger's <i>Twilight of a Golden Age: 
> Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra</i>.  While Abraham Ibn Ezra 
> is probably best known across the Jewish world for his Bible 
> commentaries, included in the late medieval <i>Miqra'ot 
> Gedolot</i> (Rabbinic Bible), his poetry was also quite 
> influential, particularly in the Spanish rites.  His omission 
> from the Schiff Library was more a question of budget than of 
> quality.  (Sarna, 120-130.)  The publication of (Hebrew) 
> critical editions of Ibn Ezra's poetry by I. Levin and H.  
> Schirmann has released Weinberger from the most difficult task 
> that confronted the JPS editors.  
> Indeed, the reader interested in any of the apparatus of the 
> critical editions must refer back to the Hebrew volumes.  
> Weinberger's purpose in this volume is to introduce the 
> English-speaking world to Ibn Ezra's poetic corpus.  He 
> provides a sixty-three page introduction, followed by eighteen 
> selections from Ibn Ezra's secular poetry and sixty-five 
> selections of sacred poetry.  For each selection, he provides 
> first his translation, then either Levin or Schirmann's Hebrew 
> text, and then a brief commentary which more often focusses on 
> issues of content rather than the less translatable poetics.  
> In his introduction and commentary he is slightly more 
> expansive than his JPS prototypes; they, however, put more 
> emphasis on the Hebrew text, commenting directly on it in some 
> volumes and placing the Hebrew and English texts on facing 
> pages, thus indicating that the English is really present as an 
> aid for access to the Hebrew original.  
> The reader seeking an introduction to Ibn Ezra's poetry will 
> need to begin with another of  Weinberger's prototypes, Raymond 
> P. Scheindlin's volumes <i>Wine, Women, and Death:  Medieval 
> Hebrew Poems on the Good Life</i> and <i>The Gazelle:  Medieval 
> Hebrew Poems on God, Israel and the Soul</i>, which provide 
> much more systematic introductions to important aspects of 
> poetics and thematic norms in medieval Spanish poetry, 
> organized around fairly detailed expositions of individual 
> illustrative poems.  Weinberger often presumes familiarity with 
> material Scheindlin discusses more fully.  Scheindlin's primary 
> text is clearly the Hebrew original, and his discussions, 
> fuller than Weinberger's, convey to the reader many aspects of 
> the artistry of the Hebrew text.  However, Scheindlin includes 
> few of Abraham Ibn Ezra's poems.  
> Weinberger organizes his book thematically.  His introduction, 
> after a recounting of Ibn Ezra's biography, treats seriatim 
> various recurrent topics in Ibn Ezra's poetry and prose 
> compositions, like astrology, wisdom, and aspects of the 
> relationship between God and Israel.  However, Weinberger's 
> contextualization of Ibn Ezra's treatment of these topics in 
> the world of Judeo-Spanish and general Spanish poetry and 
> thinking is insufficient, particularly for an introductory 
> text.  The reader will learn little about the intellectual 
> climate which shaped Ibn Ezra's productions, his influence on 
> later poets, or where and how his poetry was recited.  The 
> concluding sections of the introduction includes a discussion 
> of Ibn Ezra as a biblical exegete (in a section strangely 
> titled "Israel's Diary")--but the book lacks any significant 
> discussion of Ibn Ezra's use of Bible in his poetry, in spite 
> of the fact that practically every line uses biblical language 
> or alludes to biblical text.  The final section of the 
> introduction, "Folk Hero," while fascinating, speaks to others' 
> largely mythical perceptions of the man and is not relevant to 
> Ibn Ezra's poetic creations.  Most of this introductory 
> material may be found in more and less extensive versions in 
> Hebrew publications.  
> Thematic concerns also govern Weinberger's choice of poetry.  
> He presents the sacred (or better, liturgical) poetry in 
> categories titled "God," "The Soul," "Israel," and one 
> structural category, "Dialogue and Chorus." He does not 
> formally subdivide the shorter section of secular poetry, but 
> major groupings are devoted to complaints about patrons and, 
> conversely, elegies for them.  These thematic concerns are also 
> dominant in his brief commentaries to the individual poems, 
> resulting most often in his ignoring their more artistic 
> elements.  A section of the introduction devoted to poetics, to 
> which the individual commentaries could refer, would have been 
> desirable.  Most of the time, the reader of the English 
> translation would not suspect that Ibn Ezra has employed an 
> acrostic, a particular rhyme, alliteration, allusions to 
> biblical verses or other esthetic elements that make this such 
> stunning poetry.  Footnotes, as found in the critical editions, 
> pointing to the biblical allusions, would be most helpful.  
> Similarly, by organizing the sacred poetry thematically, 
> Weinberger does not give the reader a solid sense of how the 
> poetry was intended to be used as liturgy.  His discussions of 
> liturgical use are fragmented and confusing; his introduction 
> (p.  33) mentions only three of the types of sacred poems found 
> in the volume, and even these are out of their liturgical 
> order.  
> Translation of poetry is a most difficult task, requiring first 
> interpretation of the original, and then decisions as how best 
> to portray the multidimensional sense of the text in another 
> culture's idiom.  In a volume such as this, translation also 
> lies at the core of the book's value to its intended audience.  
> Weinberger provides no discussion of his guidelines for 
> translation and only infrequent discussions of his decisions on 
> particular issues.  While Weinberger's translations communicate 
> well in English, they are sufficiently interpretative as to 
> confuse the student trying to decode the Hebrew original.  
> Consistent with modern norms, he makes no effort to duplicate 
> Ibn Ezra's meter or rhyme.  He frequently shifts the order of 
> phrases within a line, but is infrequently more radical.  At 
> times, the two stichs of Ibn Ezra's line appear as two lines in 
> the translation, a change unimportant in terms of meaning, but 
> indicating incorrectly to the reader the aural structure 
> created by the rhyme.  More serious are the places where 
> Weinberger's attempt at poetic translation leads him away from 
> Ibn Ezra's actual words.  For instance, where a straightforward 
> translation yields, "With all their strength, like enemies they 
> oppress me," Weinberger translates, "Like arch-enemies they 
> tyrannize me with a vengeance." (p.  69)  The poem itself does 
> not require this intensification of meaning.  
> In general, the book suffers from a lack of a strong editorial 
> hand.  There are numerous places where the reader understands 
> the opposite of what Weinberger must have intended in his 
> comment.  There is an inconsistency in what is commented on or 
> not with each poem, not compensated for by a development of the 
> discussion from one poem to the next.  In the introduction, 
> poems are referred to by their Hebrew titles/opening words in 
> transliteration, but these names do not reappear as the titles 
> of the poems presented, and there is no index to the poems, a 
> tool that would be most useful for someone seeking a 
> translation of a particular poem found elsewhere.  Although not 
> perfect, this volume is still a significant contribution to the 
> English literature on medieval Hebrew poetry.  The translations 
> of the poems are adequate, and the reader will gain a good 
> sense of Ibn Ezra's thematic concerns with occasional hints 
> about the poetry itself.
> References:
> Levin, I.  <i>Abraham Ibn Ezra's Liturgical Poetry</i> [Heb.].  
> 2 vols.  Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 
> 1975-80.
> Sarna, Jonathan D.  <i>JPS: The Americanization of Jewish 
> Culture, 1888-1988</i>.  Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication 
> Society of America, 1989.  
> Scheindlin, Raymond P.  <i>The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems 
> on God, Israel and the Soul</i>.  Philadelphia: The Jewish 
> Publication Society of America, 1991.
> Ibid.  <i>Wine, Women, and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the 
> Good Life</i>.  Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of 
> America, 1986.  
> Schirmann, H.  <i>Hebrew Poetry in Spain and Provence</i> 
> [Heb.].  2 vols.  Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1959.
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