Hebrew Studies #48, 2007
Published by U. of Wisconsin/Milwaukee
By Gideon Katz and Gideon Nevo
The Ben-Gurion Research Institute
[Note; This article was originally written in Hebrew, but has appeared in print only in its English translation so far. Unfortunately, in the parenthesized Hebrew quotes, there are some misplaced words. See the Hebrew original, (under קטעי ביקורת), where the parenthesized words are in order. In the introductory paragraph AR's date of decease is incorrect; it should be 1981.]
“Hakukot Otiyotayich” (Engraved are your letters), the “amazing”
song of praise to the Hebrew language by the Hebrew-American poet Abraham
Regelson (1896–1980) has received very little critical attention, none of it
from a major literary critic. The system that filters, absorbs, and canonizes
Hebrew culture has consigned the poem, as well as Regelson’s poetic corpus
in general, to relatively minor critics who themselves were all but forgotten.
The crowning glory of Regelson’s poetry remains forgotten, absent, unknown.
“Hakukot Otiyotayich” is a poem of dense and rich rhetoric, wound in a tight
web of philosophical concepts and ideas. The present article proposes a rhetorical
and philosophical analysis of this long (twenty stanzas) and complex
composition, one of the most unique and extraordinary poems in modern
1. RHETORICAL ANALYSIS
Generally speaking, Regelson’s writing in “Hakukot Otiyotayich,”
as in fact in all of his poetry, is one of highly developed process and style. His is
quite the opposite of the “writing degree zero” espoused by Roland Barthes,
that utopian, ideal, pristine kind of writing which, on the way towards total
stylistic neutrality, sheds all ornamentation and frills, striving to become
colorless, functional and egalitarian—a pure equation, as transparent and
intangible as algebra itself.
In keeping with poetry that calls for enhancing and intensifying the literary
or poetic nature of the utterance, the language of “Hakukot Otiyotayich”
is tense, pushing Hebrew syntax and vocabulary to spheres and distances far
and varied from the commonly accepted standardized language, far from the
oral and written performance of daily discourse. This is grand and glorious
literary language, high-headed, laden with ornamentation and device, a language clad in royal poetic cloaks, carrying itself with stately dignity,
although not without a considerable degree of agility and nimbleness.
The literariness, the stylization, the distancing from mundane, everyday
language are expressed in both major aspects of language—the syntactic and
“Hakukot Otiyotayich” kneads Hebrew’s standard syntax, twisting and
rolling it into non-standard shapes. This reshaping is achieved by such
means as changing standard word order
4(סְלָעַיִךְ לִמְלַאכְתִּי מֶחְצָב),
verbs as transitive ones
5(הִבְרַקִתְּ בְּרִיקוֹת, הִבְהַקְתְּ יְקוֹד),
“unnatural” or archaic prepositions and conjunctions
6(אִם אָהַלְתִּי אֲשֶׁר ;הַנֶּאֱמָן עִם אֻמָּתוֹ)
or, displaying regal indifference, simply dropping conjunctions
7(יֵדָעֵם רַק/ מִי סִיֵּר בְּרַשִּׁ"י ;תִינוֹקוֹת עִבְרִים דֹּעֲכוּ בְּיַד מְרַצְּחִים),
utilizing a variety of elliptical, condensed grammatical forms, such as
deleting verbs, copulatives, and other elements
(;עַל אֱוִילוּת-הֲמוֹנִים יְהָבָם הִסְמַכְתְּ מִצְוַת הַשֵּׁשֶׁת ;עוֹלָמוֹת מַקֵּיפֵי עוֹלָמוֹת לְגֹדֶל, עוֹלָמוֹת מְמַלְּאֵי עוֹלָמוֹת לְקֹטֶןוְשֵׁעַרְתִּיו שאֵר-נְצָרַיִךְ וְקָלֵט בְּאַקְלִימֵךְ ;בְּנֵי עַמִּי רְתָקוּנִי סוּס-דַּיִש ;לְמִצְוַת הַשְּׁבִיעִי)
Also to be taken into account is the generous use of infinitives
9 (פָּרֵט קְצוֹת,יִפְעוֹתַיְִ וְסַהֵד צִדְקֵךְ)
10 (יָם, וְדָרֵי בו ;דְּלוּעֵי-חֶמְאָה)
and the possessive
11 (מְשַׁחֲפַיִךְ [...] וְתַמַּיִךְ ;רַ"קַּיִךְ וְגַ"מָּיִךְ)
in far excess of their use in common
The unusual syntax creates unique syntagmata which form the matting
for the embedding and sprinkling of lexical gems, rife with exotic verbalism,
coating the poems with gold beads and silver scales, cloaking it with crystal
and sapphires and all manners of brilliant color. The exotic verbalism seems
to emanate from two main sources. First, use of esoteric scientificprofessional
or domain-specific glossaries. This use is expressed, for the
most part, in the Homeric catalogues that Regelson uses (e.g., the botanical
glossary in the first stanza:
פּוּאָה, אַבְרָשׁ וְיוֹעֶזֶר, כַּרְשִׁינָה וְאֶפְעוֹן,
zoological glossary in the nineteenth stanza:
13 וְחָכְמוֹת עִמּוֹ לְפַזֵּר רִצְפִּית,/ וּבְנוֹצָה,
.(אוֹ לֻלְיוֹן, אוֹ חוֹחַ, אוֹ גְלוּלִית, לְהָפִיץ זֵרְעוֹנָיו
The second source is a bubbling
morphological creativity, expressed in the form of taking existing linguistic
roots and placing them in nominal and verbal paradigms (mishkalim and
binyanim) in which they are not usually housed (e.g.,
root זבד ); even more radical is Regelson’s extracting roots out of names (of
people or objects) and pouring these new roots into familiar grammatical
מִתְלַשְּׁמִים וּמִשׁתָּהֲמִים from the gems לֶשֶׁם and שֹׁהַם , akin to
“opaling and onyxing”), a procedure that reaches its peak in the chain of
עַשְׁתְּ וְכָסַלְתְּ וְכַמְתּ (derived from the ancient biblical names [ עָש, כְּסִיל
וְכִימָה ] of Ursa Major and the constellations Orion and Pleiades).
This combination of a “beheaded,” nonstandard, dense syntax, lexical
esotericism, and morphological creativity yields a stubborn, abstruse text,
riddled with opaqueness, which is reminiscent of the language of the piyyutim,
notorious for its outlandish vagaries, idiosyncracies and obscurity.
The poem seems to demand simultaneous on-line translation which will
provide “down-to-earth,” “ordinary” paraphrasing for the tortuous formulations
studded with arcane vocabulary.
In “Hakukot,” such language serves as a tool for the expression of heavy,
uninhibited pathos, that turns its object—Hebrew—into a national and cosmic
fetish. Reading the poem is like trudging through viscous rivers of unrestrained
emotional fervor. Within the framework of this pathos Hebrew
becomes a huge cosmic entity, all-penetrating and meta-historical, and at the
same time a sensuous erotic object, which the dazed and crazed poet—
fumbling desperately to find a linguistic vessel that would not burst from the
intensity of his emotion17—burning with desire, buries his face, as it were,
into its curves, inhaling it as if inebriated:
הַגַּע אֶצְבָּעִי אֶל פְּאוֹת דִּקְדּוּקָיִךְ,
וְאַתְּ הֲלֹא בִּפְסוּקַיִךְ פֵּשֶׁר-יָפְיֵךְ וּבְסִגְנוֹנוֹתַיִךְ שַׂעֲרוֹת-עֻזֵּךְ
מַה-מָה מִיִּקְרוֹת מִלּוֹתַיִךְ אֶלְקֹט,—
וּמִי יְשַׁחֵר סִתְרֵי תְמוּנַת אוֹתִיּוֹתַיִךְ, חִטּוּב-צַלְעוֹתֵיהֶן וְאָהֳלִיאָבוּת-חֲלוּלֵיהֶן. 18
However, it is not the pathos as such that makes the poem unique, but rather
the conjunction between the pathos and its object, as well as the way this
object is presented and described. The Hebrew language has enjoyed its
share of love songs and songs of adoration, although never before, it seems, were these songs so voluminous and passionate. But “Hakukot Otiyotayich”
is not a run-of-the-mill song of praise. In fact, the poem is a unique combination
of the ode (as proudly and openly declared in its confident subtitle:
“hymn” [ המנון ]) and of the anatomy—the literary form which is based on a
careful, detailed, “microscopic” analysis of its subject. In a way, then, this is
an “odatomy,” which branches out the large river of pathos into myriad
tributaries of rigorous analysis of the language. This analysis is done according
to both familiar, well-established, “orthodox” parameters and totally
unorthodox and idiosyncratic ones. The familiar parameters include universal
ones, applicable to virtually all languages (tense, verbal system, prepositions,
conjunctions, and foreign words that have been incorporated into the
language) as well as some that are particular to Hebrew (diacritical marks,
biblical cantillation). The idiosyncratic ones include inverse semantic links
between like-sounding words or those with identical roots ( , חָטָאת—חִטֵּאת
תָּהֳלָה—תְּהִלָּה, קְדֵשִׁים—קְדוֹשִׁים ), and “botanical” etymologies that supposedly
track down words referring to abstract or distinctly human concepts to
elements in the world of flora:
קַחְתֵּךְ שְׂעִפִּים מִסְּעִיפֵי אִילָנוֹת,
לִדְתֵּךְ זִמְרַת הַגָּרוֹן מִזִּמְרַת הָאָרֶץ,
חַתְּכֵךְ אֹמֶר מֵאָמִיר,
יָנְקֵךְ נִיב-שְׂפָתַיִם מִתְּנוּבַת-שָׂדָי. 19
This unique amalgamation of the ode and the anatomy creates a somewhat
paradoxical impression: On the one hand, the strict grammatical analysis
acts as a moderating and regulating Apollonian factor, a cold harsh island
in the boiling streams of erupting lava of pathos (pathos is also moderated by
the epic scientific-cosmic classifications in the text). On the other hand, this
analysis contributes to enhancing and increasing pathos, even as its
accumulation slowly but consistently generates in us a feeling of the uncanny
or the bizarre. This is the feeling that we experience when we come
face to face with an emotional field completely taken over by a tyrannical
principle of order, such as when, before our eyes, an object of desire is being
systematically and carefully dissected, broken down into finer and finer
elements, each of them—carefully classified, wrapped and stored—
congealing onto an object of desire in and of itself.
Within this integration of anatomy and ode, “Hakukot Otiyotayich”
contains a unique rhetorical figure or trope, in which, it seems, more than in
any other element in the poem, lies the power of its wonderment. This is a
figure that does not easily yield to description yet is perceived intuitively. It
first appears in the fourth stanza and lives on in different guises in the next
stanzas, alongside the anatomical dissection of the language that takes place
in them. The fourth stanza is devoted to the seven verbal paradigms of
Hebrew (binyanim), grantedly a rather “singular” thematic choice, although
a fairly natural one for a poem that, like “Hakukot,” models itself, at least in
part, on a Hebrew grammar book. But the crux of the matter is that the poem
describes each of the paradigms using verbs conjugated in that paradigm:
קַלֵּךְ הָעוֹשֶׂה בְּפַשְׁטוּת, לוֹקֶה בְחֶטְאוֹ וְקָם בְּצִדְקוֹ [...];
נִפְעֲלֵךְ הַנִּכְנָע לַסֵּבֶל, וְנִשְׁבָּר, וְנִשְׁאָר בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ, וְסוֹפוֹ – נוֹשָׁע;
פִּעֲלֵךְ הַמְחַזֵּק יָדַיִם, הַמְעַשֶּׂה לְמִצְווֹת וַחֲסָדִים [...];
פֻּעֲלֵךְ הַמְלֻמָּד, מְקֻטָּר, וּמְעֻטָּר בְּיוֹם יְדֻבַּר בּוֹ, וּבִכְרָמָיו יְרֻנַּן וִירֹעָע;
הִפְעִילֵךְ הַמַּשְׂכִּיל וְהַמֵּיטִיב,
אֵין כָּמוֹהוּ מַנְעִיל יָחֵף וּמַלְבִּישׁ עֵרוֹם וּמַאֲכִיל רָעֵב [...]
הָפְעֲלֵךְ, מָשְׁזָר בַּמּוּחָשׁ וּבַמּוּכָח, וּבוֹ הַמָּחֳלָט יֻבַּע;
הִתְפַּעֲלֵךְ – מַה-מְאֹד אֶשְׁתּוֹמֵם עָלָיו, כִּי רֶכֶב וְשֶׁכֶב בּוֹ הִתְאַחָדוּ,
20 בְּצוּרוֹ יִדַּבֵּק וְעוֹלָמִית לֹא יִטַּמֵּא, בֵּין תְּמִימִים יִתַּמָּם וכו'.
The fifth stanza refers to the future tense using verbs in that tense ( וּמַלְכֻיוֹת
עָתִיד, כּי יִהְיוּ כָּל הַלְּבָבוֹת אֶחָד וְיַמְלִיכוּ עֲלֵיהֶם אֶחָד ), to the imperative tense by
using imperatives (- שׂיִמִינִי הֵד לְצִוּוּיֵךְ הַכַּבִּיר,/ הָאוֹמֵר לְטֶבַע מְשֻׁעְבָּד 'גְּוַע!' וּלְטֶבַע בּן
21 חוֹרִין 'הִוּלֵד! ), and the Hebrew Pa’ul and infinitive are expressed by roots
conjugated in these forms. The sixth stanza, which discusses root types
(גזרות שורש) , especially irregular ones, works wonders in referring to each
type using verbs and nouns which belong to that type, etc.
What happens with this rhetorical device then is that the sign functions
simultaneously both as sign and as referent, as the meaning of the sign. The
sign becomes the materialization of that which is signed, part of its own extension
(of course, what enables Regelson to do so is, inter alia, the fact that
language itself—or certain aspects of it—is his referent). This is a semiotic
grammatical stunt of sorts, which continues in the following stanzas and
which Regelson exhibits a great deal of virtuosity manipulating. The sign crosses conventional semiotic lines, positioning itself on both sides of the
line separating the sign and its referent.
This semiotic line-crossing parallels what Gerard Gennette called, on the
narratological level, metalepsis.
Following Gennette, metalepsis—a term
with a long and interesting rhetorical history—came to be identified with the
crossing of boundaries separating various diegetic levels, levels that should
be organized in a strict hierarchical order and sharply distinguished from one
another (as each represents a different possible or “real” world). For the
most part, the term came to be identified with a “transplantation” or
“migration” of characters from one diegetic level to another, as in the migration
or planting of the author (and possibly other elements from his
world) in the world of fiction he created, or when a character moves “up”
from its own diegetic level to the extra-diegetic one of the individual(s) who
have made it up from the gossamer threads of literary imagination.
In “Hakukot Otiyotayich,” the differentiation between the sign and the
referent is blurred. In front of our very eyes the sign turns into a referent, and
that which represents turns into the represented. With Regelson, this
procedure does not carry the subversive implications it often has in narratological
metalepsis. Turning the sign into a referent does not undermine the
system of signification or representation but rather thickens and materializes
“Hakukot” is the supreme example of this semiotic trickery, and
Regelson is revealed in it as the maestro of this rhetorical tool, the Yasha
Heifez of the grammatical-semiotic metalapsis. He utilizes it with incomparable
panache and inventiveness. The sign reacts like a tamed bear—when
the wand is raised it dances a dance that is not its own, cajoled into doing
that which it is not meant to do. By nature, signs are meant to refer to the
referent, not be it. The word “red” need not be red, the word “table” need not
be a table. A road sign indicating a steep incline need not be a steep incline.
A momentous effort of taming, of reeducation, of going against the grain
was required from the author to turn the sign into a referent, yet leave its
symbolic function intact. Even as the amazed reader watches, Regelson uses
this fantastic trick again and again, employing different language categories.
The resulting effect is not unlike that obtained by a musician who can play a
full Beethoven symphony on a saw, or by an acrobat who can carry out a
routine activity, such as operating a machine, while juggling various objects
in the air, including a plastic bowling pin, an apple and a machete. This is a grammatical calembour of sorts, an incredibly intricate Baroque-style jeu de
grammaire. It is this rhetorical figure, of which Regelson is the great,
perhaps the only artist, that turns “Hakukot Otiyotayich” into a poetic locus
where the reader wanders in amazement, nodding his head incredulously as
it were, a poetic locus which is a sort of a literary nature preserve, where this
very rare beast resides, the dinosaur of the forests of rhetoric—the
2. PHILOSOPHICAL ANALYSIS
“Hakukot Otiyotayich” presents Hebrew in two contexts, viewing it from
a dual perspective. On the one hand, Hebrew is imbued with cosmic status—
it was there at the moment of Creation and will be there at the hour of
Redemption. Hebrew is the key to all knowledge; it is the logos of the world,
within which are encrypted the universal laws of nature. Hebrew is described
as part of the universe and part of the Divine, at times as itself the universe
and a Divine Being. Beginning with the seventeenth stanza, the poem takes
on a more concrete tone. Regelson mentions the destruction of the Jewish
people in the holocaust, the revitalization of the Hebrew language and
Zionist settling in the Land of Israel, adding a sorrowful note that he himself
does not live there. Such a concrete note is understandable, considering the
historical context of the time of writing—the poem was published in 1946, a
year after the end of the Second World War and not long before Israeli
statehood was declared.
As mentioned earlier, there is a paucity of writing on Regelson’s poem.
Major researchers of literature ignored it or mentioned it in passing. Those
who did address “Hakukot Otiyotayich” paid no heed to the relationship
between these two contexts—the eternal-cosmic one and the historicalcurrent
one—or made a feeble, often unfounded, passing comment on it. In
an article about Regelson, Israel Zmora provided a rather schematic description
of the first, abstract part of the poem,
and erroneously misrepresented
the last stanzas. Thus, he described stanza seventeen, where the
destruction brought about by the holocaust is the main theme, as follows:
“This is a chapter full of joy and gaiety, happiness and rejoicing over the fact
that Hebrew has turned into the common language of babes, a language of
laugher and levity and a language of the bitter weeping of the holy flock.”
Regelson’s personal history, which appears at the end of the poem— the fact
that he himself does not live in the Land of Israel even as it is emerging and
gaining life—is glossed over. Zmora does not address the relationship between
the cosmic existence of Hebrew and its historical manifestations.
Abraham Epstein is somewhat more expansive, and mentions that “an echo
of the horrors of our generation emerges from the hymn-like notes, that
generations-old mournful note that accompanies our poetry and is concealed
in the very material of Jewish living.”
He takes issue with Regelson’s more
personal notes, stating that “the final bars are born of impure poetic origins,
and are alien notes, marring the music. They are too bitter and contain harsh
personal feelings of insult and account settling.”
It is our understanding that the relationship between both these contexts
of Hebrew—the cosmic dimension bestowed upon it and the historical background
in which the last stanzas root it—is the theoretical and philosophical
focus of the poem. The main object of the present discussion is to explore
In general, what the reader is offered here is an analysis of the ideas
contained in Regelson’s song of praise, an analysis that the very nature of
this poem calls for. The poem has a clear philosophical atmosphere. In it
Regelson presents a pantheistic perception, both directly (e.g., אֱלֹהַּ מִתְגַּלֵּם-מִתְעַלֵּם וְעוֹלָם מִתְעַלֶּה-מִתְאַלֵּהּ ) and indirectly, as will be demonstrated. The
poem also makes abstract claims and statements regarding such matters as
the nature of the Hebrew language, the virtue of its unity, and the relationship
between Hebrew and the world.
This will be a three-part discussion. Sections 2.1 and 2.2 will describe the
essential nature of Hebrew as expressed in Regelson’s poem, and will take a
short look at two ideas which Regelson discusses in his theoretical articles.
All in all, these two sections will address the cosmic or metaphysical
significance that the poem accords to Hebrew, and the poet’s role as discoverer of the magnificent existence of this language. The last section, 2.3,
will explore the relationship between this cosmic meaning of Hebrew and
what is said in the historical parts of the poem. What is the relationship between
historical events—the destruction of European Jewry—and the exalted
existence of the Hebrew language? Our overall argument is that in this
poem Regelson endows Hebrew with a special theological, pantheistic
status. He turns to the language as if it were a deity, attributing immeasurable
power and presence to it. It is thus that Hebrew becomes a total, all-penetrating
entity which accompanies the Jewish people, “engulfing” it and
providing the People of Israel with a solid subsistence. This song of praise to
Hebrew also includes a literary reaction to the destruction of the Jews of
Europe, and its theological-pantheistic nature relates it to some of the philosophical
attempts to grapple with the holocaust and search for consolation
in its wake. In order to understand how Regelson finds comfort in Hebrew,
its status in this poem must be understood—and vice versa. As we shall see,
the Jewish destruction and the search for consolation in Hebrew reveal an
important aspect of the language itself.
2.1 Pantheism and Logos
In his theoretical essays on pantheism in American poetry
and on Ernst
Cassirer’s and Heraclitus’s perception of language,
Regelson presents two
ideas that could act as a good point of departure for our understanding of the
unique status of Hebrew in his poem. Neither idea is original, and Regelson
correctly attributes them to others; their importance to our discussion lies not
in their contents or origins per se, but rather in the way they are integrated
into Regelson’s poem and in their role in formulating the special cosmic
status accorded the Hebrew language. One idea is pantheism. Regelson
claims that pantheistic thought is an attribute of American poetry:
This pantheistic thought—recognition of the divinity of every inanimate
object, everything growing and living, and each and every human being—
permeates the corpus of American poetry wherever it took off its Old World
coverings and became independent.
Shortly thereafter he quotes from D. H. Lawrence and explains what
Creation is an immense current, forever flowing with beautiful and awesome
waves. In everything—there is the spark of creation and the process of creation,
and never the end of creation, never something finite and immutable.
There can never be a distinction between God and the works of God, nor between
spirit and matter. Everything, everything is a little sparkle of creation.
The type of pantheism Regelson describes here does not content itself with
the general identification of God with nature, but rather emphasizes the deep
unity of nature, the identification of God and nature in the context of
Creation. The Creator is not distinct from the Creation, he is not a finalized
entity outside the world, but rather is completely integrated with all manifestations
of nature and the dynamic life within them.
The second idea related to our discussion is one that Regelson mentions
in his discussion of Cassirer’s book, where he follows Cassirer’s developmental
analysis of language. The first stage is myth, when humans attribute
active force to words and use them as a means to try and control nature.
Next, people discover that nature does not obey their demands and language
then takes on a different meaning: “If language has been drained of magical
powers, it still has powers of meaning. The weight has shifted from the
sound and resonance of the word to the logic within it.”
Cassirer, Regelson finds that this change in the perception of language occurred
within Greek philosophy, most notably in Heraclitus, in whose
fragments language has cosmic meaning. Language becomes that which reflects
the deep order of the universe and therefore becomes the main key
with which to unlock the mysteries of the universe.
Regelson quotes a section
from Heraclitus and explains that “‘the Word’ exceeds its human
boundaries and becomes cosmic truth. Heraclitus said, ‘Don’t listen to me,
listen to the logos, and you will confess that all is one’”.
The general idea
expressed in the perception of language as universal logos deals with the
relation between language and the world. Language expresses or reflects the
world, and therefore has a very intimate relation to the objects symbolized
within it. Language is not distinct from them but serves to conceal—and can reveal—their secrets.
In his article, Regelson attributes this perception to
Heraclitus, although it clearly also has other philosophical origins.
However, our main focus here is not the ideas of pantheism and language-
as-logos in and of themselves, but rather the way Regelson integrates
them in “Hakukot Otiyotayich.” These ideas have a common tendency—
unifying the universe and its various manifestations. The main point in both
ideas is the identification and fusion of apparently separate entities—God
and the universe in pantheism and language and the universe in Heraclitus’s
perception of logos. In other words, these ideas are something of an equation.
God equals the world (pantheism), language reflects the world (logos),
and thus emerges in Regelson’s song of praise a broad, almost amorphous
identity with far reaching metaphysical implications: language, God, and the
universe become different facets of one and the same thing. This broad
identity can be thought of as a triangle, each of its apexes being inextricably
bound with the other two. In short, in his poem Regelson combines two different
ideas, and the resulting broad unitarian perception is the intellectual
foundation for the cosmic and theological status of Hebrew in “Hakukot
2.2 The Cosmic Status of the Hebrew Language
The poem begins with declarations of Hebrew’s all-penetrating being.
Cosmically ubiquitous, from the stars and constellations ( אַתּ בְּצֶדֶק וְכוֹכָב! אַתְּ
(בְּשַבְּתַי וּמַאֲדִים!/ אַתְּ בְּאוֹר הַגַּלְגַּל, עוֹלֶה עַד אַרְיֵה to the very last inhabitant of
the world of flora—grasses, bushes, and precisely distinct plant species
דפנה הררית, צפצפה, מילה אחות זית, תות, אמזוג וכולי) ). Rhetorical hyperbolic
questions that point to the futility of trying to describe the Hebrew
language—? —וּמִי יִרְגֹּל עַד חֶבְיוֹן טְעָמַיִךְ,/ וְהֵם נְשָׁמוֹת לַתְּנוּעוֹת, מַנְגִּינוֹת לַכּוֹכָבִים
emphasize its inexaustible and richly intense nature.
This presence of
Hebrew is expanded in the second stanza—Hebrew is found not only in
every nook and cranny in space but also all along history and throughout all
time. It accompanies the major events in the life of the Jewish people
(leaving the land of Canaan to go to Egypt, the giving of the Torah on
Mount Sinai), and spreads out to the beginning and end of time: וַתִּהְיִי לִי לְשׁוֹן
.בְּרִיאָה, לְשׁוֹן הִתְגַּלּוּת וּלְשוֹן קֵץ-הַיָּמִים This is further expressed in the
sixteenth stanza. Half this stanza is devoted to the motif of “light” and the
other to the revival of Hebrew and other historical events of the day. This
stanza reiterates the ideas expressed in the first three stanzas, and so
emphasizes—even as it turns to the level of actual historical events—
Hebrew’s cosmic mode of existence.
As stated, the main term in this stanza is “light.” Hebrew is presented as
the light of the world, that which in its very presence reveals all others: אוֹר
.הָיִית, וַתָּאִירִי בַּמְּאוֹרוֹת הַגְּדוֹלִים וּבַכּוֹכָבִים בְּקדְמוּת-הַמַּעֲשֶׂה Immediately thereafter
Hebrew radiates onto each of the mythical and historical chapters of the
Jewish people: it shined like the noon sun on Noah’s ark, burned in the bush,
gleamed over Moses, flooded Ayalon Valley with moonlight, and sparkled
with brilliance from the Maccabeans’ menorah. Hebrew was present at all
moments in Jewish history and in the formative text of Jewish literature. It is
the light shining from generations of Jewish creation: גָּחַלְתְְּ בְּגַוְנֵי יוּ"ד סְפִירוֹת
וְלָמֶ"ד-בֵּי"ת נְתִיבוֹת, [...]/ פָּנַסְתְּ בַּהַשְׂכָּלָה וּבְנֵר "הַמַּתְמִיד" הִבְלַחְתְּ וְהִבְהַבְתְּ (Thou
embered in hues of ten spheres and two and thirty paths, […]/ Thou
lanterned in learning and candly and brightly flickered for scholars).
From all that has been said thus far we could conclude that Hebrew’s
unlimited presence endowed it with an autonomous standing. It is not a result
of human use or creation—or at least that is not all it is. Hebrew was
present at creation, at the making of the sun and the moon, and preceded the
human race. It is therefore presented as an august entity, somehow paralleling
the world and God, an entity constantly shining and lighting history and
all inexhaustible universal manifestations. These attributes—an independent
existence and the revealing of the world—are the first moves toward perceiving
language as logos, as the essence of this perception is the fact that
language is not limited to human existence but is a cosmic phenomenon.
A more radical conception of language as logos is implied in the stanzas
devoted to the structure of Hebrew. At some points in these stanzas Hebrew
is not conceived as that which reveals objects in the world but as the source
of the world itself. Things of the world are attributed to it. Hebrew is presented
as the source of life and knowledge: — כָּל הָאָדם עֵץ-הַשָּׂדֶה בָּךְ,/ וּבַעֲצָתֵךְ
.עֵץ-חַיִּים לוֹ, אַף עֵץ-דָּעַת In the Hebrew infinitive form ( מָקוֹר ) the very source מָקוֹר) ) of life is to be found:
.בִּמְקוֹרֵךְ, מְקוּר-הַחַיִּים מְפַקֵּד In the same stanza,
when dealing with the tense system, Regelson addresses Hebrew as the
source of both song and nature: שׂיִמִינִי הֵד לְצִוּוּיֵךְ הַכַּבִּיר,/ הָאוֹמֵר לְטֶבַע מְשֻׁעְבָּד
גְּוַע!' וּלְטֶבַע בּן-חוֹרִין 'הִוּלֵד!' ' (Make me an echo to your great decree/ Which
commands enslaved nature to perish and free nature to be born).
is not only light, a passive entity whose existence merely reveals objects,
but an active, godlike power. Language orders creation and death.
Similarly, the poem, the words, and the poet’s actions are all echoes of the
language itself, and in their status they stress language’s primordial being.
Viewing language as logos is the deep philosophical foundation of the
figure described and analyzed in section one, that of the semioticgrammatical
metalepsis. In fact, it is this figure, whose essence is breaking
the boundaries between the sign and that which is being signed within language,
that becomes a model for the relation between language and the
world that Regelson expresses in this poem. The permeation from linguistic
sign to linguistic signed, typical of this figure, illustrates the wider relationship
between language and the world as envisioned by the poet.
Regelson rejects the separation between the linguistic-symbolic level and the
ontological one (the notorious “arbitrariness of the sign”) and establishes
deep bonds of inclusion (language is in the world), analogy (language is like
the world), reflection (language reflects the world), causality (language
causes the world), and identity (language and the world are one and the
same). Here we may be able to find the basis for the tenacity with which
Regelson repeatedly uses this figure and for the magic it holds for him. The
linguistic arena offers him a locus where he can directly demonstrate his
conception, giving it concrete form, providing it with a sort of objective correlative.
At the same time, the very virtuosity demanded, the very hypnotic
acrobatics required to bridge or obliterate the gap between sign and signed,
and the very power of this trick to amaze and astonish us, indicate that this is
indeed a real gap, and that the boundary between sign and signed—even
within language—is a deep-rooted one, a formative element in our
What has been said so far has to do with the identity between Hebrew
and the world, and is related to the perception of language as logos, that is,
language as a cosmic issue, not a solely human one. We commented (in 2.1)
that the ideological basis for the status of Hebrew in this song of praise is a
very broad resemblance, broad to the point of being amorphous, between
language, world, and God. We will now address the other identities entailed
in this triadic relation, the godlike status Regelson accords Hebrew, the
pantheistic spirit informing it, and the implications thereof.
We have already mentioned some of the signs of divine status accorded
the Hebrew language in “Hakukot Otiyotayich”: Hebrew is a cosmic, omnipresent
active force; it accompanies Jewish history and is part of all natural
creation; it is all-engulfing, was present at Creation and will be present at
Redemption. In some part of the poem, Regelson addresses Hebrew in
phrases and terms used for addressing the biblical God: ? מִי בְמִשְׁפָּטֵךְ יָקוּם
and in the next stanza he addresses those who are abhorred
by Hebrew and those who sin against her—again, evoking the idea of
the personal biblical God. Among the “abhorred” mentioned, there are those
,מַּקְפִּיאִים אוֹתָךְ אֶל נֹסַח אֶחָד referring to those who believe that Hebrew
had already reached its apex and that henceforth all Hebrew writing will be
nothing but imitation. Regelson’s argument against the “abhorred” is
important for our discussion. He counters “those who adhere to one frozen
version” with reference to
מְנוֹרַת הַיְּקוּם עַל כָּל פְּרָקֶיהָ —the universal menorah
with all its segments—by which he means the great variety in all creation.
It might be worthwhile to present an excerpt from this section in order
to feel the power of Regelson’s rhetoric and the argument entailed in it:
יָם, וְדָרֵי בו: סְנַפִּיר וָרֶגֶל וְגָחוֹן, מִקְפּוֹת רוֹעֲדוֹת,
קְלִפּוֹת—עֵין דַּר וְעֵין כֶּסֶף, עֵין הַמַּרְמַר הַוְּרַדְרַד,
שְׂרוֹךְ אָדוֹם—סָפֵק בַּעַל-חַיִּים סָפֵק צֶמַח,—
וְאַלְמוֹג מִשְׂתָּרֵג, וְכַלָּנִיּוֹת-יָם זוֹלְלוֹת,
יוֹנְקִים אַדִּירִים—לִוְיְתָנִים וְכַלְבֵּי-מַיִם וּנְמֵרֵי-מָיִם,
סוּסוֹן צָף, זְנָבוֹ כְּסִמַּן-הַשְּׁאֵלָה, וּרְסִיסִים נַעֲלוֹנִיִּים, כּוֹכְבוֹנִּיִּים, וְכַדוּרִיִּים.
יַבָּשָׁה, וַאֲשֶׁר בָּהּ מִן ההוֹלַךְ וְהַזּוֹחֵל וְהַמִּתְגַּלְגֵּל וְהַמְנַתֵּר,
וְתוֹלַעַת-אַרְגָּמָן, מִתְרוֹמֶמֶת מַעֲשֶׂה-קֶרֶס,
עֵרְבְּלוֹת-אוֹר, אַבְקוֹת-אוֹר, וּפִיחֵי-קְדוֹר,
מַמְלְכוֹת-כּוֹכָבִים מֵעֵבֶר לְמַמְלְכוֹת-כּוכָבִים;
מוֹרְאוֹת תַּעֲלוּמוֹת הַחַשְׁמַל הַפְּנִים-פְּרָדִיּוֹת,
עוֹלָמוֹת מַקֵּיפֵי עוֹלָמוֹת לְגֹדֶל, עוֹלָמוֹת מְמַלְּאֵי עוֹלָמוֹת לְקֹטֶן,
דַּרְגּוֹת עַל דַּרְגּוֹת לְעֹצֶם וָשֶׂגֶב, וּבֵין דַּרְגָּה לְדַרְגָּה—דַּרְגּוֹת אַין-סְפוֹר,—
מְצֻלֵּי-מְצֻלּוֹת, וְכָל מְצֻלָּה מַשְׁרִיצָה דָגֶיהָ-טִבָעֶיהָ, וְקַטְנוּנוֹן בַּדָּגִים
אַף הוּא מְצֻלָּה מְלֵאֲתִי דָגִים טְבָעִים,
וְאֵין טֶבַע דּוֹמֶה לַחֲבֵרוֹ – –
אִם יֵשׁ קִצְבָה לְהַדְרַת אֱלֹהֵינוּ?
גַּם לְהַדְרַת לְשׁוֹנֵנוּ יְהוּ קִצְבָה וּגְבוּל!
The conclusion of this section is that there is no limit to the Lord’s glory.
What Regelson expresses here is what he also attributes to American poetry:
“Recognition of the divinity of every inanimate object, everything growing
and living, and each and every human being,” and also, “in everything—
there is the spark of creation and the process of creation, and never the end
of creation, never something finite and immutable.”
The endless variety of
the universe, the tiniest of creatures and the grandest of objects, the endless
movement within creation—all bear direct witness to Him. In other words,
because God and his deeds are one and the same, descriptions of the fullness
and dynamism of the universe all necessarily apply to Him. Significantly
this pantheistic mood ends with an analogy to Hebrew. Just as the universal
menorah sheds light on God, so does it illuminate the Hebrew language. As
there is no end to the majesty of the Lord, there is no end to the majesty of
Hebrew. The assumption is that they are one and the same and that both are
equally related to the “universal menorah.”
An understanding of this assumption requires that we clearly define the
role of pantheism implicit in this stanza. We shall, therefore, mention again
the polemical context within which this epic catalogue is brought forth to
spread its resplendent fan. This context is the attack against the “lingual
sinners,” in particular those whose aim is to incarcerate Hebrew in a narrow
cell of excellence that is presumed to be part of the history of the language.
Their sin is the attempt to freeze language. Therefore, all that will be said
against these “cryo”-sinners points to what is completely ignored by them—
the dynamic nature of the language. And why is the language dynamic? The
answer can only be understood through the analogy to God. Based on the
previous discussion (section 2.1) and on the present discussion, we are able to reconstruct that which is missing, that which is hidden within the analogy.
The concept of language-as-logos emphasized the cosmic meaning of
language, and the pantheistic way of thinking related God with the world
and identified Him with it. Pantheism, then, provides one of the equations
required for the purpose of cracking the fortress of cryo-sin with the battering
ram of the universal menorah. Pantheism does not only provide the necessary
“middle ground” which is needed to weld God and the language—it
establishes a common dynamic character to both. It is pantheism that gives
God His dynamic nature. God is not a finished entity, certainly not a transcendental
one, but rather bustles with the infinity of his manifestations, just
as does its image—the Hebrew language. All this underlies Regelson’s answer
to the cryo-sinners. Hebrew is not static, and its very being—just as
that of the pantheistic deity—is brimming with cosmic life. This argument is
of special significance in the understanding of the last part of the poem. We
will soon turn to clarify this point. At the moment, however, suffice it to
state the main point: Despite the majestic existence of the Hebrew language,
although it was there at the Beginning and will be there are the End, Hebrew
is not detached from the world and its events. It is constantly being renewed.
Hebrew is of metaphysical dimensions on the one hand and part of real life
on the other. This “linguistic pantheism” is the key to understanding the
relationship between Hebrew and contemporary events—the destruction of
European Jews and the national rebirth in the Land of Israel.
2.3 Hebrew vis-à-vis Contemporary Historical Reality
Regelson devoted the last part (stanzas 16–22) of his ode to the revival of
Hebrew, the destruction of the Jews of Europe, and the settling in the Land
of Israel. The inalienable rock solid existence of Hebrew is the starting point
for Regelson’s account of contemporary events:
אוּרִים וְתֻמִּים אֲשֶׁר לָאֻמָּה!
הִיא כַּכּוֹכָבִים, נָגְהוּ סַפִּירֵךְ וְאַחְלָמָתֵך
And yet, only a few lines later, this לְשׁוֹן-אוֹרִים , this inextinguishable
flame which has accompanied Jewish history and has been alive since time
immemorial, is presented as conditional, if not fragile. This is clear in the
descriptions of the destruction (the annihilation of European Jews) and the
revival (settling in the Land of Israel and the recrudescence of Hebrew).
גַּחְתִּ מִתַּכְרִיכַיִךְ, מֶחְבַּש-סֵפֶר וּמֵחֲנַט-קָדָשִׁים,
נָשַׁמְתְּ אֲוִיר כָּחוֹל וּכְלְֵי-דִבּוּרֵךְ מָלְאוּ מִמֶּנּוּ,
וַתִּפְרְשִׂי כֶּעָלִים מִלִּים וְכָאֶרֶג צֵרוּפִים,
כִּסִּית מְלאָכוֹת, מִסְחָרִים, מַדָּעִים, מַעֲשֵׂי-חֶשְׁבּוֹן וּמַעֲשֵׂי-חוֹשֵׁב—
אֶחָד הַזּוֹרֵת מַעְגְּלֵי מָקוֹם-זְמָן בַּמַּחְתֶרֶת הַכּוֹכָבִית,
וְאֶחָד הַמְסַדֵּר אוֹתִיּוֹת-דְּפוּס לְמִלִּים, פְּסוּקִים, סְעִיפִים וְחִבּוּר,
כִּפְרָדִים לְגֻפִּיפִים, גֻפִּיפִים לְתָאִים, תָּאִים לַאֲבָרִים,
וַאֲבָרִים לְגוּף נוֹשֵׁם וְהוֹגֶה;
אֶחָד הַמְשַׁלֵּחַ תֵּבוֹת-אֶשְׁכּוֹלִיּוֹת אֶל חֲבָלִים רְחוֹקִים,
וִאֶחָד הַמַּשְׁקֶה חֲרֵרִים, אוֹ מְרַחֵץ רְגָבִים מְלוּחִים
עַד יִתְּנוּ עֲנָבִים שְׁחוֹרוֹת, דְּלוּעֵי-חֶמְאָה, צִפֹּרֶן וָוֶרֶד.
חָיִית עִם תְּחִיַּת הָעֲרָבָה,
גָּאִית עִם גְּאוֹן עָרֵי-גַנִּים,
רָם רֹאשֵׁךְ עַל הַר-הַצּוֹפִים,
וּבְמֶלֶל יְלָדִים רֻחַמְתְּ וְרֻעַנַנְתְּ.
Hebrew, which according to the first part of the poem is an eternal cosmic
entity, is depicted here, quite surprisingly, as contingent upon the events of
the day. Prior to this, it was inconceivable that such a grand entity could be
actually wrapped in shrouds. We now suddenly learn that it is breathing
“blue air,” and that the neologisms, the creation of words expressive of the
life and work of the pioneers in their new land, breathes new life into it.
Hebrew becomes a “living and breathing being,” completely enmeshed with
the locale—be it the wilderness, the new garden cities (
,(ערי-גנים or Mount
Scopus. How can that which was described in the first part of the poem—
Hebrew’s cosmic existence and extra-human being—be reconciled with that
which the pioneers’ bold enterprises can imbue with such potent life? Why
did the cosmic, eternal dimensions of Hebrew not place it beyond the contingent
vicissitudes of history?
These questions become more poignant in the next stanza (17), where
Regelson describes the holocaust of European Jews—which took place at
about the time he was writing his great poem or very soon before it (the
poem, we recall, was published in 1946). The stanza opens with the declaration
חַיַּיִךְ לֹא חַיִּים בִּלְעֲדֵי הֲבֵל פִּי תִינוֹקוֹת (Without babies’ breath, your life is
not living). Regelson writes powerfully expressive lines to tell of the disaster that befalls a language whose speakers are being massacred, נֶחְנְקוּ הַגְּרוֹנֹוֹת
הַדַּקִּים, מִתּוֹכָם יַעֲלוּ נִגּוּנָיִךְ and , בְּנוֹת-עַיִן לֹא תִתְלַקַּחְנָה-גִּיל לִקְרַאת/ רִבּוּעֵי אַשּׁוּרִית
שְׁחוֹרִים וּמְנֻקָּדִים . At the end of this lamentation it is clear that the destruction
of the Jews is a death blow to Hebrew:
וְעַל עַצְמֵךְ בְּכִי, לָשׁוֹן,
הֵן נִתְמַעֲטָה דְמוּתֵךְ אָתְּ, נִפְרַץ בָּךְ פֶּרֶץ,
בְּהִקָּטֵם עַם נוֹשְׂאַיִךְ וּמְטַפְּחָיִךְ.
בַּגְּוִיּוֹת הַשְּׂרוּפוֹת, בַּשְּׁלָדִים הַמִּדַּרְדְּרִים—
מֶנְדֶּלָאִים שֶׁל עָתִיד, אַחַד-הָעַמִּים שֶׁל מָחָר,
עַל דּוֹרְשֵׁיהֶם יָחַד,—
מָה חֻלֵּית וְעָנִית!
It would seem that all we discussed previously regarding the first part of the
poem is at odds with everything said here. The fact that Hebrew has a godlike
status, that it is perceived as logos, means that it has cosmic existence
stretching far beyond the scope of its speakers, that it exists in the universe
and even acts within it as a great force, somehow identical to the world and
to God. All these attributes are not at all commensurate with the idea of a
fragile entity dependent upon the actions and discourse of pioneers and diminishing
with the destruction of its speakers—“the chopping down of its
bearers.” The depiction of destruction and rebirth in two consecutive stanzas
emphasizes the dependence of language on the events of the day, as the
Hebrew language—presented as a majestic and eternal entity—is fiercely
rocked by an inexplicable force between death and life.
The answer to this contradiction can be found in the nature of the theology
of language we described in the two previous sections—the theology we
called “linguistic pantheism.” God is the bustle of cosmic life. The pantheistic
weltanschauung contains no independent transcendental entity, one
which stands unto itself and exists outside of the world. God, and similarly
language, are what they are by their very becoming so. Therefore, the cosmic
dimensions of the language do not mean an eternal detached existence,
but rather an existence that is immanent in nature. Hebrew’s cosmic character
does not clash with its seemingly inferior dependence on present
events, but rather dictates it: cosmic existence and historical dependence are
manifestations of immanence. The fact that language has been around since Creation does not rule out its dependence on what happens to it in the
This pantheistic theology of the Hebrew language has two implications.
The first relates to the role of the poet as well as to the understanding of
Regelson’s personal address at the end of the poem. At the end of stanza
seventeen which discusses the holocaust, Regelson succinctly defines his
וַאֲנִי אֶל שְׁלִיחוּתִי הַקָּיִץ:
פָּרֵט קְצוֹת יִפְעוֹתַיִךְ וְסַהֵד צִדְקֵךְ.
This mission is also mentioned previously (stanza 11):
הֲכִי נִקְרֵאתִי סוֹפֵר—וְכִי לֹא דַקְתִּי לִסְפֹּר כָּל תַּג וָקֶמֶט בָּךְ,
וְאַף-כִּי לְקָרֵב כָּל קָט וְנִדָּח?
Thus, it is the poet’s role to bear testimony to Hebrew, a testimony we may
better understand if we refer to stanza seven which is devoted to nominal
paradigms ( משקלים ). Regelson begins by stating: אֶרְקֹם עַתִּיקוֹת רִקְמֵי
רִקְמוֹתַיִךְ , and continues to define what he means by these embroideries:
וּבְמַעְבַּדְתִּי אִַתִּיךְ מַתְּכוֹתַיִךְ לְמַטְבֵּעוֹת לֹא נוֹצְקוּ מֵעוֹלָמִים,
דְּפוּסֵי מְשֻׁלָּשׁ, מַלְבֵּן, מְשֻׁשֶּׁה, עֲגֻלָּה, סְגַלְגּוֹלֶת וְרוֹמְבּוֹס,
אָפְקִיּוֹת וְאָנְכִיוֹת וְנָשְׁקִיּוֹת – –
הוֹ הַגֵּיאוֹמֶטְרִיָה הַיְצִירָתִית שֶׁל מֶרְחָבָיִךְ!
The poet’s activity includes the creation of new words through smelting
Hebrew’s linguistic material and pouring it into hitherto unused molds. It is
interesting to note that this creative activity is not attributed to the poet but
rather to “the creative geometry of thy spaces” ( הַגֵּיאוֹמֶטְרִיָה הַיְצִירָתִית שֶׁל
מֶרְחָבָיִךְ ). Hebrew includes not only empirical liguistic reality but also linguistic
potentialities, which are tested in the poet’s volcanic “laboratory” and
find their way into his poetry. It is thanks to the poet’s creative energy that
this linguistic space is gradually unveiled. The poet, then, is entrusted with
revealing the treasures of language. The poet’s mission is not merely a
detailed, loyal, and affectionate description of a finished, external entity,
rather, it is active participation in the constant creation and coming into being of that entity. The mission he is entrusted with is to give evidence, even
as he actively participates in creating it, of the real and possible life of the
It is clear, therefore, that just as language is not transcendent, so too its
empirical realization is not pre-determined. It is contingent, among other
things, upon the work of the poet who reveals what is concealed within it.
The essence of this approach to Hebrew is a perception of the language as a
cosmic substance that is not bound to a fixed, unchanging identity or a transcendent
status, but rather takes place within a free-forming, terrestrial celebration
of coming into being. It is this approach which brings Regelson to
such a staunch support of the linguistic innovations formed by everyday use
of the language. His opinion on this subject is voiced in the accounts he settles
with the sinners against the Hebrew language (stanza nineteen). We have
already mentioned one type of such sinners, those who freeze the language
into one formula. Others are הַכּוֹלְאִים אוֹתָךְ בְּעֵדֶן-נְיָר , forcing Hebrew into
שַׁבַּתִּיּוּת עַד-עֲקָרָה —an eternal sabbatical of barrenness. This sin is not remote
from the previous one, and both are types of resisting the immanent and
dynamic character of Hebrew. Hebrew is created on earth and resides on it;
Hebrew is within all manifestations of life. Those wishing to incarcerate it
into some perfect formulation or limit it to live only within sacred texts,
dedicated for nothing but liturgical purposes, really desire to kill it. Favoring
the renewal of Hebrew is an expression of loyalty to its fundamental nature,
to its immanent and dynamic existence. For Regelson, all this takes on
overtones of a pantheistic theology, one that involves the unity of God and
the world, the sacred and the profane, the eternal and the mundane:
לְהַעֲלוֹת חֻלֵּךְ אֶל קָדְשֵׁךְ וּלְהוֹרִיד קָדְשֵׁךְ אֶל חֻלֵּךְ,
לְמַעַן יִהְיוּ כָּל פָּעֳלֵי-אָדָם דְּרוּכִים אֶל נֵצַח חַסְדֵךְ וְהוֹדֵךְ,
לְמַעַן יֵאָסְרוּ אוֹרַיִךְ וְנִיבַיִךְ
אֶל יֵעוּר וּמִיְמוּן וְזִבּוּל וְחִשְׁמוּל וּמִכּוּן וְתֵעוּשׂ וְשִׁוּוּק וְשִׁכּוּן,
כָּל הִלְכוֹת קִמּוּם וְשִׁתּוּף, וַהֲגַנָּה עַל הַמּוּקָם.
The poet’s role is in the constant effort to realize the possibilities offered
by Hebrew and to bear evidence to its nature. In all these the poet harnesses
his life to that of the Hebrew language, and his action is part of Hebrew’s
dynamic existence. Clearly, such a description is based on the pantheistic approach
through which Hebrew is presented. By means of dwelling on his activity as a poet who harnesses his life to that of the majestic national entity,
and who is conscious of the theological dimensions of such an activity,
Regelson resolves his agony about being in exile. Thus, having resolved this
issue, he uses the last lines of “Hakukot Otiyotayich” to proclaim his inclusion
among the new pioneers in the Land of Israel:
כִּתְבִינִי עַל לוּחֵךְ עִם קוֹדְחֵי בְאֵרוֹת וּמַנִּיחֵי צִנּוֹרוֹת,
עִם כָּל חוֹרֵשׁ וְזוֹרֵעַ וּמְנַכֵּשׁ וְעוֹדֵר,
עִם מְנַפֵּץ סְלָעִים, חוֹתֵךְ יַמִּים וּמְמַחֵט אֲוִיר,
עִם עוֹשֵׂי בַכֹּתֶן וּבַצֶּמֶר, בַּסִּיד וּבַמֶּלֶט, בַּבְּרוֹם וּבָאַשְׁלָג,
בָּעֵץ, בַּבַּרְזֶל, בַּיַּהֲלוֹם—
הַנּוֹשְׂאִים תְּרוּעָתֵךְ לַתְּכֵלֶת
וּמְגַיְּדִים בִּגְבוּלֵךְ כְּבִישִׁים אֶל תַּכְלִית-הָאָדָם בְּפַקְעֲיוֹת הַכֹּמֶס,
בָּהֶן אֱלֹהַּ מִתְגַּלֵּם-מִתְעַלֵּם וְעוֹלָם מִתְעַלֶּה-מִתְאַלֵּהּ.
Up to now we discussed the first issue that is a corollary of linguistic
pantheism—the role of the poet and the meaning of Regelson’s personal plea
at the end of the poem. The second issue is the public comfort that may be
derived from this pantheistic perception. To reiterate, the poem was written
during the Holocaust (or very close to it) and published in its aftermath. As
we read them, the verses about destruction and rebirth are not an
unnecessary appendage to this song of praise, as some critics have suggested.
Rather they are expressions of the distress and the hope for redemption
that are at the basis of the theological significance accorded Hebrew in
this poem. Regelson’s embracing of the godlike Hebrew language, with its
cosmic power and immanent existence, is a way of finding solace in the face
of the atrocities of destruction, and also acts as a tacit settling of accounts
with the traditional God. Jewish theology—in any and all varieties of
Judaism—is not pantheistic, placing as it does a transcendent God in center
place. This is common knowledge which was also shared by Regelson and
his readers. This traditional theology is hinted at in “Hakukot Otiyotayich,”
for example, in the mention of Creation and Redemption.
poem accords no space whatsoever to this theology, and it was replaced, and
totally so, by a pantheistic approach. The disappearance of traditional theology
and its replacement with a pantheistic theology of the Hebrew language
cannot be without significance. Events of the present day rock the Jewish
people, perching it between life and death, and Regelson places an immanent god to face these events. The transcendental—and quite possibly the
absent—God of the Jews is replaced with the divine power of the Hebrew
language. Regelson speaks to the Hebrew language and says:
בְּכִי, שַׁכֻּלָּה וּבְעוֹד הַדֶּמַע חַם עַל לֶחְיֵךְ,
עֲשִׂי לְמַעַן אוּדַיִךְ-יְתוֹמַיִך, אֵלּוּ הַנּוֹתָרִים,
הַכָּלִים אֶל נֹחַם וְלֶחֶם וּבֶגֶד וָסֵפֶר,
הִתְחַזְּקִי, וְשׁוּבִי אֶל עֻמְסֵי-תַפְקִידָיִךְ: קַיֵּם, רַפֵּא וּבָנֹה,—
Cry, O you bereaved one, and with your tear still warm against your cheek,
Act on behalf of your charred orphans, those who have remained,
Who long for comfort, a loaf, a garment, a book,
Regain your strength and return to your burdening duties: sustain, heal, and
Instead of an alienated entity, the reader is given a cosmic power whose
huge force sustains and nurses the people. This power gives the reader the
force of the universe, but does not remain distant, beyond everything. This is
a god who partakes of life, comes into being in the manifestations of life,
and is even fragile and vulnerable. The main rhetorical effect we discussed
in the beginning of this article—the internal identification between the sign
and the signed—receives a deep meaning here. The transcendental god, the
hidden, non-existent god, is being replaced by a cosmic presence, palpable
and immanent. The immanence of this entity is realized in the grammaticalsemiotic
metalepsis whereby language is transposed from its status as a detached,
arbitrary mechanism of signification and—holding on to its full array
of signification powers—is thrust into the realm of the signified, the realm of
“things,” while its constant coming into being is displayed in the plethora of
neologisms which are concrete and immediate instances of a linguistic life
force. The present analysis then shows “Hakukot Otiyotayich” to be a site of
numinous revelation. The divine entity which is the subject matter of the
poem reveals itself or becomes realized in the very modus of its rhetoric,
pulsates in its very words and sentences. It is through this pervasive,
omnipresent, divine entity, that the poet tries to sweeten the pain of his exile
in the aftermath of destruction; perhaps the public too may find in it a
modicum of comfort.
This is the word used by Dan Miron who mentions the poem flittingly in his essay הרפיה לצורך נגיעה
(From continuity to contiguity; Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2005).
A. Regelson, “Hakukot Otiyotayich” (Engraved are your letters) in his collection Hakukot Otiyotayich
(Tel Aviv: Machbarot Lesifrut, 1964), pp. 7–26. The poem was first published in the journal Hatkufa in
1946. All page references are to the 1964 edition.
R. Barthes, Writing Degree Zero (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998).
Hakukot, p. 25.
Hakukot, p. 19.
Hakukot, pp. 22, 26.
Hakukot, pp. 21, 22.
Hakukot, pp. 23, 24, 25, 26, 26, respectively.
Hakukot, p. 22.
Hakukot, pp. 20, 23, respectively.
Hakukot, pp. 14, 25, respectively.
Hakukot, p. 7.
Hakukot, p. 24.
Hakukot, p. 18.
Hakukot, p. 14.
Hakukot, p. 19.
בִטּוּיוֹ קָצֵר מֵרִגְשׁוֹ (his powers of expression do not measure up to his emotion).
Hakukot, p. 8.
Hakukot, p. 17.
Hakukot, p. 9.
Hakukot, p. 10.
G. Genette, Narrative Discourse (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980), pp. 234–235.
I. Zmora, “ בחבלי שיר ”(In the throes of poetry) in his ספרות על פרשת דורות (Literature at a generational
crossroads; Tel Aviv: Mahbarot Lesifrut, 1949), 2:221–222.
A. Epstein, סופרים עברים באמריקה (Hebrew writers in America; Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1953), p. 163.
A. Epstein, Hebrew Writers, p. 163. Other references to “Hakukot” include: S. P. Hudson,
Fragmentation and Restoration: The Tikkun Ha-Olam Theme in the Metaphysical Poetry of Abraham
Regelson, pp. 109–112; D. Rudavsky, “Abraham Regelson: A Reflective Hebrew Poet,” HS 18 (1977): 91–
104; S. Halkin, “ בציצית ראשו: על ראשית שירתו של אברהם רגלסון ” (By the tuft of his hair: On the beginning
of Abraham Regelson’s poetry) in his דרכים וצדי דרכים בספרות (Ways and sideways in literature; Tel
Aviv: Yachdav, 1984), pp. 39–43; M. Giora, “ ייחוד שירתו של אברהם רגלסון ” (The uniqueness of Abraham
Regelson’s poetry), Ha’uma 11 (1965): 547–552; Y. Lichtenbaum, בתחומה של ספרות (In the realm of
literature; Tel Aviv: Aleph, 1963), p. 102; Sh. Y. Pnueli, חוליות בספרות העברית החדשה (Links in new
Hebrew literature; Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1953), pp. 54–61; Y. Peles, “ רגלסון: משוררם של משוררים ” (Regelson: A
poets’ poet), Mozna’im 53.5–6 (1981): 390–394; and H. Liff, “ ”אברהם רגלסון: איש השירה והמחשבה
(Abraham Regelson: Man of poetry and thought), Bitzaron, 3.11–12 (1982): 3–4.
A. Regelson, “ אלוהי-הטבע בשירה האמריקאית ” (God of nature in American poetry) in his מלוא הטלית
עלים: מסות ושיחות (A Tallith full of leaves: Essays and talks; New York: The Committee for the
Publication of the Writings of A. Regelson, 1941), pp. 9–26.
A. Regelson, “ קאסירר על האדם בראי התרבות ” (Cassirer on man in the mirror of culture) in his אראלי
מחשבה: האזנות לדברי אחרונים (Angels of thought: Listening to the words of those of the late generations;
Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1969). Cassirer’s book that Regelson discusses here is E. Cassirer, An Essay on Man: An
Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1944).
A. Regelson, A Tallith, p. 22.
A. Regelson, A Tallith, pp. 23–24.
A. Regelson, Angels of Thought, p. 37.
See also the discussion in A. Regelson, Angels of Thought, pp. 69 ff.
In adapting this meaning, Regelson brings Heracleitus’s position closer to that of linguistic pantheism,
which is actually Regelson’s attitude, not Heracleitus’s.
A. Regelson, Angels of Thought, p. 68.
The best known are Wittgenstein’s early ideas in his logical-philosophical tractate.
Hakukot, p. 7.
Hakukot, p. 9.
Hakukot, p. 8.
Hakukot, p. 19.
Hakukot, p. 19.
Hakukot, p. 17.
Hakukot, p. 10.
Hakukot, p. 10.
This is reminiscent of the midrashic tale that God created the world out of the letters of the Torah. This
association could have well been on Regelson’s mind when he wrote these lines, yet is further from the
overall viewpoint presented in the poem than would first seem. The main point is that in the midrash God
is active, whereas Regelson does not see God as a separate entity but rather as being expressed by the
Hakukot, p. 22.
Hakukot, p. 23.
Hakukot, p. 23.
Hakukot, pp. 23–24.
A. Regelson, A Tallith, pp. 22, 23–24.
Hakukot, p. 19.
Hakukot, p. 20.
Alluding, most probably, mainly to Tel Aviv, which was designed by Patrick Geddes in the 1920s in
accordance with Ebenezer Howard’s concept of “garden city.”
Hakukot, pp. 20–21.
Hakukot, p. 22.
Hakukot, p. 15.
Hakukot, p. 12.
Hakukot, p. 25.
Hakukot, p. 26.
For example, at the end of stanza 2, Hakukot, p. 8.
Hakukot, p. 22.