Page 155 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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Uri Zvi Greenberg, 1894-1981
h e
p o e t r y
o f
the late Uri Zvi Greenberg does not permit a
reader’s neutrality. The unmistakability of the message, the force
with which it is made and the demands implied, compel a re­
sponse, either of acceptance or rejection. His view of his own
personality and destiny is tied up with his view of Jewish history,
again demanding involvement. This view is a simple one: there
has been a call, a vision and a demand on the part of God to His
chosen people. There has been an erratic and partial acceptance
of these by the Jewish people over the course of generations; and
the non-Jew has treated the Jew with hostility rising to a crescendo
of fierce hatred.
This is the poet’s historical structure; it is indeed the poet’s
mythical structure expressing itself again and again in the verse.
The individual Jew can find renewed comfort in return to the
sources, or, to put it in Greenberg’s language, if he listens again to
the voice booming out of Sinai. I f he does not, as is the usual case,
he will suffer a sense of breach and bereavement — in theological
terms, he will be punished. This view of history does not take
account of subtleties, changes of direction, reasonable appor­
tionment of blame for situations gone wrong, appreciation of
those considerable passages of time when things have gone right.
Robert Alter argues that Greenberg’s historiography in his
poetry is too simplified: “To render history as myth . . . is to
violate the essentially multifarious character of history. This is
precisely what Greenberg does.”1 It should be clear from our
discussion that such is undoubtedly the case. But Greenberg is not
a historian. Poetry cannot pretend to be history. Aristotle argued
in his
that poetry is, in its essential nature, superior to
history. Because the view of history (in so far as it remains tied to
1 Robert Alter “A Poet of the Holocaust,”
Defences of the Imagination. J ewish Writers
and Modem Historical Crisis.
Phila., 1977.