Page 37 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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S H M U E L Y O S E F A G N O N
L Y R I C I S T O F M O D E R N F I C T I O N
B
y
J
u d a h
S
tam p f e r
T
h e
w i n n i n g
o f
t h e
Nobel Prize by Shmuel Yosef Agnon
smacks more of a medieval morality play than of con-
temporary events, the Stockholm journey of a literary Everyman
on his path of truth, a Peretz innocent, but one witty and charm-
ing, receiving his just reward in the heavenly court to fanfare
and television, and returning to Jerusalem. Agnon was mistrust-
ful at first, having no premonition of the award. He spread a
kiddush
for the Swedish envoy, and when that official rushed
away, said, “I hope you have more time to spend the next time
I win the Nobel Prize.” Agnon greeted the Swedish king with
the ancient Talmudic greeting for monarchs. Strolling to syna-
gogue in Stockholm, Agnon walked Sabbath-observing streets;
out of courtesty, the Swedes blocked off traffic. Agnon told the
Swedish bishop he must be close to Moses, because when the Ten
Commandments were copied and spread throughout the world,
the northern copies, like Sweden’s, weren’t melted and lost.
Agnon’s narration of such a trip, with his embellishments, would
have been truer than our newspaper accounts. History was mo-
mentarily engaged in a pastoral dance. These days, the
New York
Times
is seldom so enjoyable. A poet’s life is traditionally his
truest creation. This trip partook of Klee and Hieronimus Bosch.
Only Agnon could have created it.
Agnon the man was born in 1888, just fifteen years after Hay-
yim Nahman Bialik, but belonged to still an earlier generation.
Those first literary moderns, Bialik, Sholem Aleichem, and Peretz,
were essentially bridge builders, rendering articulate, amid mil-
lions shocked dumb by pogrom and revolution, their past world,
and the path they must travel. Scrambling from Volhyn to Lithu-
ania to Odessa to Tel Aviv, from
shtiebel,
to Yeshivah, to track-
less forest, to the land of tomorrow, Bialik articulated his
hegira,
as did Sholem Aleichem, tossed from princely household to vaga-
bond beggary, to immense wealth, to a crumbling business, to an
inexhaustible literary career. Their world was on the move, and
they knew it. Bialik’s first poem,
“El Hazipor”
celebrates a
solitary bird in flight; Sholem Aleichem was always fascinated
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