colorful hebrew manuscript with two angels and a verse from jeremiah
Venetian Ketubbah (1754) containing a poetic verse from Jeremiah, Chapter 7:34. (Wellcome Trust, via Wikimedia Commons)

Poets and Armies

I spent my junior year of college at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. There I studied English and Scottish literature and wrote a letter home to my parents about how I had fallen in love with the poetry of Byron and Burns and Wordsworth and the canon of literature I was learning.

My father wrote back a beautiful letter that I have sadly lost. But I remember his saying that, pleased as he was that I had discovered the great poets, “Remember that English poetry became the poetry of the world on the backs of British soldiers. We too had out Wordsworths; they were named Yehuda Halevi, Ibn Gabirol, Tchernichovsky and Bialik. What we did not have was an army to bring their words to the world.”

In the end words outlast armies. The thought and poetry and art of the Jewish people is deep and rich in beauty and wisdom. Rediscover its resonance: As poet Nelly Sachs wrote: “open your eyes/where a new star/ has already left its reflection.”

Rabbi David Wolpe’s musings are shared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter, Recharge, a weekly collection of readings to refresh your soul. Sign up to receive the newsletter.

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