The Poems of Henry Weinfield


In his Foreward to this astonishing book, Henry Weinfield calls the prophet Elijah “one of the most daemonic and uncanny figures in literature.”  And with these poems, Weinfield himself becomes one of the most daemonic and uncanny poets writing today. The high formality and decorum of his verse produce an unparalleled lucidity and sublime resonance.  In “The Book of Elijah,” modern English poetry, mediated by the inescapable language of the King James Bible, is now the vehicle for an epic tale drawn from the archaic Jewish tradition.  But this is hardly an exercise in antiquarianism.  Look at Weinfield’s “Praise and Lamentation”: in a fluid,  conversational style, he has written one of the most powerful and intelligent political poems in recent memory.  This is a book to read at Passover—and all year long.     – Norman Finkelstein

In A Wandering Aramaean, Henry Weinfield offers the reader original poems and renderings of biblical verse on Elijah and Moses.   The contemporary dilemmas of particularism and identity are outlined in terms of  the mythic characters of the Bible and then shadowed by the predicament of the diaspora Jew’s and Israeli’s place in today’s world.  Together, the translations and new compositions situate questions of religious and ethnic meaning within an ongoing set of ethical tensions, especially those concerned with the thrownness of being, as a result of which our choices and our ability to exert control over our lives are more limited than we are ready to admit.  (“To be, essentially, is to be thrown / Into a world of possibilities / Impossible to grasp,” writes Weinfield.)”  These sensitive, contemplative pieces, beautifully composed, serve as portals for deep reflection upon Jewish history and contemporary identity.    – David H. Aaron

An Excerpt

My Father Was a Wandering Aramaean

“. . . you shall make this response before the lord your God: ‘a
wandering aramaean was my father; he went down into egypt
and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a
great nation, mighty and populous.’” (Deuteronomy 26: 5)

My father was a wandering Aramaean,
Bordering upon the Gentile and the Jew.
The promised land was never his to stay in,
He had no church or synagogue to pray in –
music was the religion that he knew.

My father was a wandering Aramaean,
enlightened by the darkness that he found.
He never lifted a triumphal paean:
No one is chosen – Hebrew, Greek, or pagan –
The self-same cloud encompasses us round.

My father was a wandering Aramaean,
not reconciled or reconcilable.
Whether in egypt or the deep Judaean
Plain, or sheol where the shades complain,
The rigor of his refusals rings out still.

About the Author

Henery WeinfieldHenry Weinfield’s most recent books are Without Mythologies: New and Selected Poems and Translations (2008) and The Music of Thought in the Poetry of George Oppen and William Bronk (2009).  His verse-translations include the Collected Poems of Stéphane Mallarmé  (1995) and a version of Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, done in collaboration with Catherine Schlegel (2006).  He is also the author of The Poet without a Name: Gray’s Elegy and the Problem of History (1991) and of a new critical study, The Blank-Verse Tradition from Milton to Stevens: Freethinking and the Crisis of Modernity, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press in 2012.  Weinfield teaches at the University of Notre Dame.