Page 45 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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The hinges groan: a rush of forms
Shivers my name, wrenched out of me.
I stand at the terrible threshold, and I see
The end and the beginning in each other’s arms.
The first line combines biblical allusion and contemporary Eu­
ropean disaster before the poet describes his own mourning
in the rest of the stanza. Having stripped himself to enter a
liminal state, he stands at the terrible threshold of personal and
universal history. While the curious legend of his youth refers
to his father’s suicide, the carving on the monumental door also
alludes to the hidden
of his ancestry. The forms that
shiver his name are the interior messages that whisper a
of identity for himself and his God. In the last line Kunitz’s
apocalyptic vision of a linked scroll at the terrible threshold
demonstrates his ritual process of embracing his fellow Jews
suffering “in each other’s arms.”
If the hinges next to the hidden
groan silently, we
may interpret that silence in the light of Kunitz’s quoting from
his heritage: “when the Tzartkover Rabbi, celebrated in Hasidic
lore, was asked his reason for failing to preach Torah for a long
time, he gave as his answer: ‘There are seventy ways of reciting
Torah. One of them is through silence’.” Similarly there are sev­
eral ways of interpreting the terrible threshold not only of Kunitz’s
poetry, but of much contemporary Jewish poetry.
M.L. Rosenthal’s “The Gate” bears certain resemblances to
Kunitz’s “Open the Gate.” The poem begins with the ritualistic
question, “Have I passed through the gate without knowing?”
and ends with, “I did not know of the gate, my dear. / I did
not know. I did not know.” And in between is the poet’s ini­
tiation, his seeking knowledge about passing through the mys­
terious gate where he encounters son and father. The second
stanza begins with “I did not know where I was going” as the
poet searches for directions in his quest. By the third stanza
he has found his son but it is too late: “I had passed through
the gate, without knowing.” So, in the final two stanzas the poet
turns to his father to understand his mortality and the expe­
rience at the gate. Gates, doors, keys, thresholds, walls, windows,
crossings, and rites of passage all form part of a pattern of
the hidden
in American poetry.