Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
aleihem ha-shalom,
we speak the poet’s tender farewell:
“Approach thy grave / Like one who wraps the drapery of his
couch / About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”
Agnon was a scintillating luminary in the firmament of Hebrew
belles-lettres. His novels and short stories, translated into sixteen
languages, stamped him as the lyricist of modern fiction. They
are studded with a wealth of Jewish scholarship, folklore, and
glowing imagery (sometimes Kafkaesque) that derived from his
Hasidic background. When Mr. Agnon came to Stockholm to
receive the Nobel Prize, the streets leading to the synagogue were
closed to traffic on the Sabbath, in deference to his profound
In compliance with a request in his will, Mr. Agnon was buried
on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem. The Israeli Cabi-
net rescinded a proscription, in effect since the Six Day war,
against burial on the Mount. President Zalman Shazar, Premier
Golda Meir, cabinet members, and a host of personalities in the
arts and letters were among the multitude in the funeral cortege.
Now, while the gentle breezes dance the hora at the foot of his
sepulchre, Shmuel Yosef Agnon will hear the music of Infinity,
echoing the ineffable rune of Eternity beyond the vast dome of
moonglow and stellar spaces.
Nelly Sachs’s verse, outstanding in its sublime lyrical and dra-
matic qualities, centers around the sufferings, the anguish and
the horror of her people mangled in the maelstrom of Nazi in-
humanity. When informed of her Nobel Prize award, she com-
mented, “Agnon represents the State of Israel. I represent the
tragedy of the Jewish people.” When, during the Hitler inferno,
civilization’s values seemed to have been permanently obliterated,
Nelly Sachs’s prodigious redemptive contribution was attested by
Professor T . W. Adorno, philosopher and literary critic at the
University of Frankfort. He had voiced the disconsolate prophecy
that “there can be no more poetry in German after Auschwitz.”
Later he retracted his doleful prophecy with the comment, “Sachs
has disproved this.”
The Nobel Prize citation depicts Miss Sachs not only as a
superb poet but also as a sublime human being: “The poetic works
of Nelly Sachs are a testimony to Jewish reconciliation. . . . Her
lyrics and plays are works in the German language at its best;
they are works of forgiveness, of deliverance, of peace.” An
English poet must have had in mind such literary colossi as Agnon
and Sachs when he wrote, “Literature is the immortality of speech.”
Solomon Kerstein, our cherished colleague on the Jewish Book
Council of America, was a founder, vice-president, and Executive
Board member of that body for many years. He also served on the