In this moving collection of poems and translations, all of them composed during the rise and fall of the Third Reich, Edouard Roditi gives thanks to God and to his forebears for the blessing of his Jewish-mystic heritage.
As an American student in Berlin in the 1930s, Roditi witnessed at firsthand the shocking rise of German anti-Semitism. Upon resuming his education in England, he began to study of Hebrew and ancient Jewish texts as a supplement to his study of the Greek and Latin classics and, more important, as an act of cultural memory. As Charles Reznikoff had done in the 1920s, Roditi began his exploration of Jewishness by writing narrative poems based on Old Testament sources, including the Creation story and the tale of Lot's wife. He also wrote "Cassandra's Dream," a poem based on a dramatic monologue by Lycophron (3rd century B.C.), whom Roditi considers "the only Greek poet endowed with the same gift of prophecy as the Hebrew prophets." Later, after the Holocaust, he wrote tributes to the survivors and prayers for the dead, and translated lyrics by German-Jewish poets who perished in the camps. All of these poems are collected here, but the centerpiece of the volume is Roditi's best-known poem, the "Three Hebrew Elegies," a sad, stubborn, compassionate expression of righteousness and despair that at least one critic, Paul Goodman, ranked with the best of Eliot and Rilke.