Like Bashevis’s “Stories from Behind the Stove”, Sutskever’s “Ode to the Dove” was also written after the Holocaust. But this poem is a message from a completely different world than Bashevis’s stories. The poet’s mission has nothing to do with “creating a country or a public,” explains Berger in his introduction to the book published by Ben Yehuda Press. The poet is an individual who creates his own temple of sounds.
“Here, with the pen, I conduct my own, silent chapel.”
Berger emphasizes that Sutskever actually uses the international word “temple” and not the literal “beys hamikdesh.” In this way, Sutskever continues the tradition of the Polish romantic poets Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki and Cyprian Norwid, whom he studied in the Polish-Jewish high school in Vilnius.
Berger ends his introduction with a question: To whom does Sutskever turn in this poem, which was written in 1954 in Tel Aviv?
And he speculates. “Perhaps to the dead who drag the poet from his bed and embrace him at night.”
Usually one reads Sutskever’s poems in poetry anthologies, one after the other. Berger’s book slowly soaks in the difficult rhythm and long lines of a single poem.
On each page, the reader’s gaze wanders between the Yiddish source above and the English translation below, and between the pages one pauses at the charming background illustrations by Liora Ostroff.
No digital copy can replace this experience of slowly reading and turning the pages.